Trendy Shanghai District Has Soccer Team With Glitter of Its Own
SHANGHAI — The Chinese Super League season kicks off Friday, and ticket scalpers working Shanghai S.I.P.G. matches can’t wait.
“This should be the best season for business yet,” said one of the many scalpers operating under the indifferent eye of security at the club’s Asian Champions League match against Australia’s Western Sydney Wanderers on Tuesday, one fist full of tickets and the other stuffed with renminbi. “More people are coming every year.”
For a team that did not exist until a dozen years ago, the ability to attract more than 28,000 fans on a cold Tuesday evening in a city that offers plenty of entertainment alternatives was encouraging — for the team, for Shanghai and for Chinese soccer in general.
“I walk around now and the restaurant staff and owners want to ask you about the club and about the games,” said Mads Davidsen, a Dane who joined S.I.P.G.’s coaching staff in 2012. “That never used to happen. People are getting interested.”
Davidsen was sitting in the lobby of the Langham Hotel in the hip Xintiandi district.
If a soccer culture can take root here, in China’s cosmopolitan and cool commercial center, hometown of the former N.B.A. star Yao Ming, then it can anywhere in a country that has historically underachieved in the sport.
But the sport’s growth should not be a surprise.
One result is that a steady flow of foreign players and coaches, lured by multimillion-dollar contracts, has poured into the Super League in recent years. In Shanghai, locals are reacting to an on-field improvement that has made the club one of the title favorites this season thanks, at least in part, to a significant investment in talent by the team’s owner, Shanghai International Port Group.
In June, S.I.P.G. paid about $60 million to add the Brazilian striker Hulk from the Russian club Zenit St. Petersburg. In January, the barrel-chested Hulk was joined by his far more silky compatriot Oscar, who cost a similar amount when he was lured from the English powerhouse Chelsea.
They will be led by the former Chelsea coach André Villas-Boas, who replaced Sven Goran Eriksson at S.I.P.G. in November and has pledged to deliver either the Chinese Super League title or an Asian Champions League crown.
率领他们的是前切尔西队教练安德烈·维拉斯-博阿斯(André Villas-Boas)，他取代斯文·戈兰·埃里克森(Sven Goran Eriksson)担任上海上港的主教练，并承诺带来中超联赛冠军或亚冠冠军。
“I’ve promised the president that at the end of the season he would sleep with one trophy,” Villas-Boas told reporters in mid-February. “I hope that me and the players can give this special night to him at the end of the season.”
His club’s city rival, Shanghai Shenhua, could also challenge for silverware. The Blues finished fourth in 2016, a place below S.I.P.G., and bolstered their roster by bringing in the Argentine Carlos Tevez in January, reportedly making him the highest-paid player in the world at around $800,000 a week.
To have success, however, both teams will have to stop Guangzhou Evergrande from winning a seventh successive Super League title. Evergrande, a conglomerate that started out in property development, took control of the club in 2010 and became the first to invest heavily in foreign talent when it made the Argentine Darío Conca the third-highest-paid player in the world in July 2011.
Domestic success was followed by triumphs in the Asian Champions League under the World Cup-winning coaches Marcello Lippi (in 2013) and Luiz Felipe Scolari (2015). No other Chinese team has had similar success in the tournament.
在国内取得成功之后，在世界杯冠军教练马尔切洛·里皮( Marcello Lippi, 2013)和路易斯·菲利佩·斯科拉里(Luiz Felipe Scolari，2015)率领下，该俱乐部两次获得亚冠冠军。没有其他中国球队在这一赛事中取得类似成功。
The club, which averages nearly 45,000 fans for home matches and is half-owned by Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant, is not about to let its title go easily.
“What is our target for the season? The championship, every year all the way through to 2020,” said Xu Jiayin, the chairman of Evergrande Group. “This year, our target is to win four titles: the Asian Champions League, the Chinese Super League, Chinese F.A. Cup and Chinese Super Cup.”
The Chinese Super Cup was secured on Feb. 24, with a victory over last season’s league runner-up, Jiangsu Suning. Based in Nanjing, Jiangsu was bolstered by signing the Brazilian stars Alex Teixeira and Ramires, for a combined total of about $80 million in 2016, and is expected to challenge again.
Tianjin Quanjian has spent heavily on the former Brazilian striker Alexandre Pato and the Belgian international midfielder Axel Witsel, while Hebei C.F.F.C. finished seventh in 2016 and, under the former Real Madrid and Manchester City coach Manuel Pellegrini, has spent more than any team in the transfer window that closed this week.
天津权建队斥重金签下前巴西国家队前锋亚历山大·帕托(Alexandre Pato)和比利时国际级中场球员阿克塞尔·维特塞尔(Axel Witsel)；而2016赛季排名第七的河北华夏幸福俱乐部在前皇马和曼城队教练曼努埃尔·佩莱格里尼(Manuel Pellegrini)率领下，在于本周关闭的转会窗口期间花出了超过任何一支球队的资金。
Most of the $105 million that Hebei invested went to Chinese players, who have become increasingly expensive as clubs are — under a rules change announced in January — restricted to fielding only three foreign players in any one game from a total quota of five.
The teams with the best domestic talent, then, have the best long-term future, with Guangzhou Evergrande recently saying it wants a Chinese-only team by 2020. But in the short term, it is the famous foreign stars who make the headlines.
That was clear on Tuesday when Hulk and Oscar starred as S.I.P.G. thrashed Western Sydney, 5-1. “We are now at a completely different level,” Davidsen said.
The main responsibilities for stars like Hulk and Oscar in China have not changed, Davidsen added. “They must improve the team on the pitch, lift the level of the current Chinese players and they must inspire youngsters to kick a ball,” he said.
There also might be a fourth: to excite the fans. Ahead of the new season, that is certainly the case in Shanghai.