CSL returns to kick off new chapter

Delayed 2022 season finally gets underway this week in much-needed boost for financially beleaguered clubs,The new Chinese Super League season finally kicks off on Friday, with clubs hoping to put recent pandemic-related financial turmoil behind them and chart a new course for the domestic game.,Last week’s disbandment of Chongqing FC was symptomatic of the harsh new financial reality facing Chinese soccer, but as the 2022 CSL season prepares to get underway three months later than originally scheduled, league bosses believe the worst of the downturn could be behind them.,”Through the hard efforts of the Chinese Super League to stage the new season, we hope to bring more confidence and positive energy to the whole industry,” said Liu Jun, chairman of the league’s management entity, the Chinese Super League Co Ltd.,”Under such very special circumstances, the start of the 2022 season is of great significance to the entire Chinese soccer industry. The host cities have also made tremendous efforts and overcome many difficulties to make this happen.”,The CSL will continue to adopt the tournament-style format used throughout the pandemic, at least during the first phase of the season. The league says a return to the traditional home-and-away format is possible later this season, depending on the pandemic situation.,The schedule for the first phase of the campaign was released on the CSL’s official Weibo account on Saturday, revealing that 18 clubs will play 10 rounds in three cities-Meizhou, Guangdong province, Haikou, the capital of Hainan province, and Dalian, Liaoning province. Each city will host six teams.,The first phase begins on Friday and ends on July 12. During that 40-day span, a total of 90 matches will be played.,Defending champion Shandong Taishan will take on newly promoted Zhejiang FC in Friday’s opening match in Haikou, where spectators will be allowed in the stands.,”So far only the opening match in Haikou will have spectators inside the stadium. Whether more games will be open to spectators will be decided later after discussions with all parties,” said Liu.,”We will have more communications with local governments. We hope to select more matches to open to the fans. But that will depend on the pandemic situation. We are hoping to allow more fans into the stadiums, and we will try our best.”,This week’s kickoff comes after a series of delays due to difficulties selecting host cities because of the pandemic.,The return of domestic top-flight action, therefore, comes as a huge relief to teams after an offseason of uncertainty.,Pedro Morilla, the head coach of newly promoted Wuhan Three Towns, told media that his players are excited for the new campaign to kick off, having trained for about five months.,Survival struggle,The CSL this season features an all-time-high 18 teams, but that expansion takes place against a backdrop of severe cash-flow difficulties for many clubs.,According to Soccer News, just seven of the league’s 18 clubs do not owe players wage arrears.,Last week, Chongqing FC became the latest casualty of Chinese soccer’s financial rut. The club, which had participated in the top flight since 1997, was forced to disband after failing to find new investors to fill the void left by Dangdai Group, which has reportedly invested over 3 billion yuan ($448 million) in the club since acquiring it in late 2016.,To help Chongqing’s players find new employers, the Chinese Football Association opened a temporary transfer window. According to the CFA, the window will be open until June 10, with the market for second- and third-division clubs running until June 15.,Dalian Pro, which was relegated last term, will take Chongqing’s place in the CSL.,”This is a big upheaval for us as we had made plans for playing in the second-tier league, including budgets, players and tactics. But it’s also very positive for us, and we definitely need to focus on the positives, even if there are challenges and difficulties to overcome,” said Dalian Pro head coach Xie Hui.,Much of the CSL’s current money troubles are attributable to clubs’ overreliance on investors to stay afloat, and a glaring lack of profitability which was badly exposed by the pandemic.,Chongqing’s demise followed the disbandment of 2020 CSL champion Jiangsu Suning just 108 days after the club won its first top-flight title.,”Chinese professional soccer is facing unprecedented challenges, and Chongqing FC’s withdrawal from the CSL 10 days before the season kicks off highlights those difficulties,” wrote sports commentator Ma Dexing online.,”We lost direction during Chinese soccer’s big-spending era. The damage done during that time goes beyond just creating financial bubbles in the sector… With such challenges, the slogan of the new CSL season is ‘Together for a new future’.,”But to create this new future, we need to learn from the experiences of the past 30 years and become stronger. Let’s hope the 2022 season will become a brand-new start for Chinese soccer.”,shifutian@chinadaily.com.cn