From Russia With Love, In China With Pain
Poor Andre Villas-Boas. The Portuguese football manager, currently in charge of free-spending Chinese Super League club, Shanghai SIPG, saw his plans for Far Eastern domination destroyed just over a month before the start of the new league season. Despite the transfer window opening on January 1st, the Chinese Football Association waited over a month to announce new rules affecting the number of foreign-born and under-23 year-old players in each team. The new rules, announced on Monday, are as follows:
Foreign Players: Going forward, CSL teams will be allowed to have 3 foreign players on the field at one time, and 5 in the total squad (team + substitutes). Previously, teams were allowed 4 foreign players on the field, with an additional 1 foreign player from an Asian nation, and no limits on the number in the total squad.
Under-23s: CSL teams must now field at least 1 player of Chinese nationality under the age of 23, and have an additional 1 in the squad, compared to the previous lack of regulations in this area.
Villas-Boas (AVB to his friends), currently has 3 Brazilians and 1 Uzbek player in his squad, meaning that he will have to bench at least one of them during every game this season. He also has a severe shortage of Chinese under-23s, which will be another cause for concern. "Such a huge change shouldn't be announced about a month before the new season," he said, suggesting that most clubs had already made their plans in accordance with the old rules.
While football fans all over the world can probably sympathize with the predicament now faced by CSL team managers, with just weeks to go before the start of what is set to be the most competitive season ever, they can probably also understand the need on the part of China to encourage local talent. However, with AVB, the situation is more like something out of a comedy sketch show. The reason? He went through an almost identical situation when managing Zenit St Petersburg in Russia just over a year ago.
Towards the start of the 2015-16 season, the rules on squad and team composition in the Russian Premier League were dramatically changed at the last minute. Whereas the newly-agreed rules for that season allowed a maximum of 10 foreign players to be named per 25-man squad, with no limits on the number allowed on the field at one time, the Russian Sports Ministry got involved at the eleventh hour and forced the implementation of a '6+5 rule' - 5 foreigners and 6 Russians would be permitted in any 11-man team. Just how eleventh-hour was this rule change? The government announced the rule just one week before the start of the new season, a decision that forced AVB to sell one of his foreign stars, Salomon Rondon, and eventually pushed him to resign.
Football fans in Shanghai are hoping that he doesn't have a similar reaction to these rule changes. Indeed, by comparison, the amount of time that the Portuguese manager has to adapt to the CSL changes, when compared to those he recently faced in Russia, should come as a luxury.