Youku video for those in China — plus the entire game — after the jump.
The most expensive player in Chinese soccer history made his belated Super League debut yesterday in Beijing after sitting out last week’s CSL opener with a knee injury. About 51,000 people packed Workers Stadium to see it. Even without Anelka, the 33-year-old striker nicknamed “Le Sulk” during his time at Arsenal, the game probably would have drawn massive interest, considering it was the National Derby, played between hated rivals Beijing Guoan and Shanghai Shenhua, and it was Beijing’s home opener. But Anelka’s presence, at the very least, piqued the attention of international media. “Former Chelsea striker brought a crowd of 51,000 to its feet,” read the sub-head on a Goal.com story (neglecting to mention that many of them were chanting “stupid cunt” at anything that moved); ESPN wrote, “Nicolas Anelka made an instant impact in Chinese football on his Shanghai Shenhua debut”; Xinhua called him “impressive.”
None of the praise is really merited, you know. Perhaps hampered by his injury — which would be a fine excuse — Anelka actually did very little. His goal was the result of a defender’s gift, an egregious error in the backfield by Ma Nu at the 4:19 mark in the above video. He had a few bright spots — a nice 25-yard-run in the 12th minute (0:27 mark) before the ball got poked away, and a seeing-eye through-ball at the 34th minute (1:48 mark) — but there was also a lot of standing around and some remarkably feeble attempts at controlling goal kicks (which I didn’t include in the above because he never actually “touched” the ball in those instances).
I’m not faulting Anelka, though. Compared to some of his teammates, he did just fine. Shenhua got dominated in the first half and outplayed over 90 minutes — they were lucky to have scored any goal at all (their first came courtesy of a handball in the penalty box). The team finished 11th out of 16 in the CSL last year, and it looks like it’ll be a battle for them to enter the league’s upper echelon even with their $14.1 million import.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t say a word about Australian Joel Griffiths, who switched from Beijing to Shanghai after last season, drawing the ire of some Guoan fans who think he sold out. He was the one who caused the Guoan handball before converting the penalty, his second goal in two league games. No one expects him to outscore a healthy Anelka over the course of the season, but I for one wouldn’t be surprised if he outplayed him.
The entire game: