CSL review of the season

By Jonathan White Source:Global Times Published: 2015-11-6 5:03:03

A look at the real winners of this year’s Chinese Super League

Ricardo Goulart of Guangzhou Evergrande shoots in their home game against Shandong Luneng on October 25. Photo: CFP

The 2015 season of the Chinese Super League (CSL) drew to a close on Halloween and it was a case of the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Guangzhou Evergrande, or Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao FC as they were renamed in 2014, were the champions once again. That makes five CSL titles in a row for the southern giants, and they also have the opportunity to double their AFC Champions League haul, the debut win coming in 2013, if they can beat Al-Ahli of the UAE over the two-legged finals.

This season has been the best yet. Ten years after the CSL began - and on the eve of Ti'ao Power's record deal for broadcast rights, which outstripped the Supersports deal for the English Premier League - great goals, star signings and a title challenge from unexpected quarters made sure of a remarkable season but it ended with a nightmare for all the teams but the reigning champions on Halloween. This is our review of the winners this year.

Manager of the Year

Luis Felipe Scolari may have only joined Evergrande in June but once the Brazilian replaced former World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro, who overtook his own former boss Marcello Lippi in the hot seat, as head coach, he has never looked back. In just five short months he has added to his World Cup win with Brazil and titles in his native land, Kuwait and Uzbekistan. Former Chelsea manager Big Phil took over the champions when they were in first place but kept them at the top of the standings amid a strong challenge from Shanghai SIPG, Shandong Luneng and Beijing Guoan. The powers-that-be at Evergrande are notorious hard taskmasters - aside from sacking Cannavaro at the top of the league they let South Korean Lee Jang-soo go after he led them to their first title - but it seems that Scolari will be allowed to continue as the club seek a historic sixth title.

Player of the Season

Ricardo Goulart is already ninth on the list of all-time top scorers for Guangzhou Evergrande with 27 but he has bagged all of those in his debut season, including one in the title-clinching win away to Beijing Guoan. The Brazilian striker may not have matched his compatriot Elkeson's 34 from last season but he has already repaid the 15 million euros ($16.3 million) that he cost from Cruzeiro in January. A goal almost every other game for his former club was a hint at what might come but Goulart has kicked on and the 24-year-old may not be in China long.

Goal of the Season

Giovanni Moreno of Shanghai Shenhua. A free kick at halfway was clipped down the right-hand channel and bounced in front of the Italian at the corner of the box. It was all quiet on the Guangzhou Evergrande front as their defense watched the Italian as he chested the ball away from the goal to control it. But then he turned the unexpected into the unforgettable with a left-footed scissor kick that flashed into the bottom corner of the Guangzhou goal. Something out of nothing doesn't really capture it but gaining a point against the champions was something to remember.

Most Unexpected Hero

Paulinho was almost the forgotten man at Tottenham Hotspur, and that was mostly because of the Brazilian's performances for the White Hart Lane outfit. Spurs fans could not believe their luck when they recouped 14 million euros from Guanghzhou Evergrande but they did not have the last laugh. A ridiculous 40-yard (36.6-­meter) free kick set his side towards a win over Kashiwa Reysol in the AFC Champions League before his last-gasp strike against Guoan meant that the title resided in Guangzhou once again.

Now who's laughing?

Breakthrough of the Season

Zhang Linpeng might just be a right back but he has attracted ­interest from Inter Milan this season and deservedly so. Never more so than the start of the season when collecting the ball just inside the Liaoning Whowin half, he took a touch and struck a drive over the flailing keeper to bag a ­Beckham-esque banger in the ­champions' 6-1 win over a team who might have wanted to have been renamed Liaoning Wholose after their mauling. Zhang's celebration in the arms of Fabio Cannavaro on the touchline was proof of how fleeting these moments can be in soccer.

Remember the name.

Name Change of the Year

While Guangzhou Evergrande bought into success with their ­Taobao alliance, it was a more impressive rebranding from Shanghai SIPG, formerly Shanghai East Asia. The second city side brought in former England manger Sven-­Goran Eriksson and Dario ­Conca, the ­Argentine ­playmaker who was the star of the Guangzhou Evergrande side who lifted the 2013 AFC Champions League. They have risen from ninth in 2013 then fifth in 2014 to take the title-winners down to the wire this season: A Beijing Guoan win over Guanghzou Evergande in the final game would have meant a new name on the trophy. Look out for them next season.

Quote of the Season

"But what the Japanese players have done, the Chinese players are now doing and the league is improving." - Luis Felipe Scolari

The boss said this before his side's AFC Champions League quarter­final second leg against Kashiwa Reysol. Scolari coached Jubilo Iwata in the J-League in 1997 so is well-placed to determine the CSL's rise in comparison to its neighbor, the league that has been widely accepted as the best in the region since it began. Another Champions League could prove his point.

Region to Watch

Hebei China Fortune were promoted to the top flight on the last day of the season to join province-mates ­Shi­jiazhuang Ever Bright, who came up last year, alongside perpetual bridesmaids Beijing Guoan, who missed out on an AFC Champions League place for the first time since 2011, and neighbors Tianjin Teda to make a quartet of teams from ­Huabei (North China) in next year's CSL.

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