My prediction for 2018: Meixian to be promoted

As people in China started another struggle to buy their ticket home for the Chinese New Year, the dust for the new season of the Chinese Super League has also been sprayed. Hebei China Fortune Football Club finally made the official announcement of the arrival of Javier Mascherano. Beijing Guo’an’s long flirtation with Cédric Bakambu has also been outed by journalists who are following the team’s winter training camp in Haikou. At the same time, Shanghai SIPG also unveiled their squad for the Champions League without confirming the big shock of dropping Elkeson. Dario Conca, who suffered a major injury during his loan back to Flamengo last season, was dropped instead. The Argentine made only two league appearances last season and his contract has only a year to go.

However, somewhere away from the hotchpotch in the top flight, there is a team that has already done the pre-season strategising and preparation without much noises in the background, if without much fanfare either. Meixian Meizhou Techand in the China League has now assembled a scary team judging by the standards of the second tier football. Had Meixian in the CSL this season already, they would have no trouble in avoiding relegation – given how down to earth they are, they might have a shot at a Champions League spot.

But 2019 Champions League they won’t appear in – unless they win the FA Cup this season – a high impossibility given the team’s clear priorities. Instead, they should be able to sweep across the League One this year as like their neighbour Guangzhou Evergrande did ten years ago. And they are in a pole position to do so: all other rich and ambitious teams – with the notable exception of Wuhan Zall, who just signed Brazilian striker Rafael Silver from Champions’ League winners Urawa Diamonds of Japan – have been promoted. The teams demoted from CSL have long been in a fit of sickness and a fit of decline. Indeed, Meixian have just signed the very man who propelled Evergrande from a second tier backwater to continent-beaters. Muriqui is now ten years older and has suffered numerous injuries – some of which serious and long, but he still proved an agile predator in the games he played for Evergrande last season. Several teams wanted to signed him, but Meixian’s geographical closeness (just over 400km) to Guangzhou proved a contract-winner. In the post-signing press conference, Muriqui described Meixian as ‘just like Evergrande ten years ago, just with better equipments’.

If Mexian beat stiff competition, its signing Aloisio as the only club in the running will make observers stretch their heads. The Brazilian might not the Mascherano the top teams are after, but he is still a proven player in CSL. The team also signed Inner Mongolia Zhongyou defender Shi Jiwei, who was one of the rising stars in the second tier but decided CSL is where he would belong.

But most illustrative signing for Meixian is their new coach, the Spaniard Juan Ignacio Martínez, who coached several La Liga teams and had Europa League experience. He guided Shanghai Shenxin to the semi-final of the FA Cup last year. The Jingshan side is now accused of deliberately giving up in the semis to Shenhua to avoid Champions’ League duties, something Meixian will certainly savour in the year after the next. To achieve that, they need to get to CSL first; a direct gain from a major opponent will not harm their ambitions.