SHANGHAI, China, Jun 28 – Oscar is suspended for eight games after a brawl. Carlos Tevez riles fans with a trip to Disneyland while his club are playing. Ezequiel Lavezzi and Hulk deny being anti-Chinese.
As the Chinese Super League (CSL) hits the halfway point of the season this weekend, the megabucks lavished on imported players has triggered unprecedented interest, but the headlines have been dominated by foreigners behaving badly.
While nobody is chasing them out of the country just yet, Brazilian international Oscar — who received the mammoth ban for sparking a mass brawl last week — is not even the latest acquisition to run into trouble.
Beijing Guoan’s Turkish striker Burak Yilmaz was sent off on Monday night after appearing to slap an opponent during a melee at the end of a bad-tempered scoreless home draw with Fabio Capello’s Jiangsu Suning.
Prior to the rush of blood in which he lashed the ball directly at two Guangzhou R&F opponents, attacking midfielder Oscar, who cost an Asian-record 60 million euros from Chelsea in the January window, appeared to have settled well into life at Shanghai SIPG with a string of highly-rated performances.
Far better than Argentine forward Tevez who has so far failed to ingratiate himself with fans at neighbouring Shanghai Shenhua and is rumoured to be eyeing a move away from China despite signing a contract reported to be worth a staggering 38 million euros ($40 million) a year in January.
Lavezzi, another Argentine forward on big money following his move last year from Paris Saint-Germain to Hebei China Fortune, was told by the Chinese Football Association (CFA) last month to “regulate his words and actions more” after promotional photos emerged of him in a slant-eyed pose, causing outrage on social media.
– Worth the money –
Forward Hulk, while flourishing with nine CSL goals on the pitch alongside fellow Brazilian Oscar at SIPG, was also hauled before the CFA last month over allegations that he punched the Guizhou Zhicheng’s assistant coach and made anti-Chinese comments in the players’ tunnel at half-time.
The burly striker and the club both denied the claims and the CFA said there was “no evidence” against Hulk after an investigation.
Yang Qinnong, 25, a diehard SIPG fan, said the money his club shelled out on Hulk and Oscar — at a combined cost of 116 million euros ($132 million) — had been worth it.
Yang said it would benefit Chinese players to come up against the likes of Oscar, but felt some big-name imports have the wrong attitude and were motivated by money.
“They think they are hot shots and think they don’t need to train and have self-discipline like others because they make more money than others and have more experience,” he said, supporting a ruling that caps the number of foreign players to three a match in China.
“I think certain limitations on foreign players is a good thing but it could make the CSL less attractive to watch,” he added.
– ‘Higher expectations’ –
Across Shanghai all is not well.
The 33-year-old former Manchester United and Manchester City striker Tevez scored just his second goal for Shenhua last weekend as they beat bottom club Yanbian Funde 2-0.
Shenhua, managed by former Chelsea and Tottenham midfielder Gus Poyet, are languishing in eighth place in the 16-team CSL, 21 points behind pacesetters Guangzhou Evergrande, and failed to reach the group stages of this season’s AFC Champions League.
Liu Yuan, a hardcore Shenhua supporter, accused the imports of failing to make an effort to blend in and were there only for the money.
“Foreign football players did not change their state of mind. They came to China seeking only a high salary,” he said.
Fang Hui, a 30-year-old football fan in Shanghai, said Chinese football was attempting a tough balancing act between attracting star names to raise the profile of the league while not squeezing local talent.
Fang, who says she does not support either of the Shanghai teams, added that foreign players were being unfairly singled out for criticism.
“Fans have higher expectations of foreign players,” she said.
“They would make a big deal when Tevez went to Disneyland in his own time (instead of going to a Shenhua game when he was injured) and once they do anything that is not so good fans think they’re not worth the money they are being paid.”