China ready to pick up where A-League left off


Marouane Fellaini has had a busy 2020 so far; the former Manchester United man scored all four goals in Shandong Luneng’s pre-season warm-up in Dubai in February.

After an impressive debut season in China, following his move from the Premier League last January, he looked to be as sharp as ever.

After Dubai came to an end, he headed back to Belgium. Then came a trip to Morocco and then a break in the Maldives, the last time he had to himself before reporting back for club duty in the eastern city of Jinan where Shandong are based.

Last Thursday, he took a flight from Singapore to Shanghai. Arriving in China’s biggest city, he took a taxi to the station and jumped on the train north to Jinan and was then placed in mandatory quarantine for two weeks.

The next day, he was tested for coronavirus. The results came back positive and while he is not showing any symptoms, he faces time in isolation.

The ex-Belgium international is the first Chinese Super League player to be confirmed positive.

The news meant that public health authorities moved quickly to find the 17 people that Fellaini came into contact with in Shanghai and also put paid to any hopes of an April restart.

But May was always likelier. With the A-League the last domestic competition of international standing to stop playing due to the coronavirus outbreak, the first league to be affected by the virus could be the first to reopen.

The 16 teams in the Chinese Super League should have been in action since February 22 but the balls are still waiting to be kicked.

Conversation is turning towards an early to mid-May restart. It is a possibility as major cities such as Shanghai and Beijing are slowly, very slowly, starting to return to something approaching normality.

For the first time this year, all 16 teams are back in the country after spending much of January, February and even March overseas.

Some teams are already training and some are still going through the mandatory 14-day quarantine period imposed on those entering the country.

The Chinese Football Association is to ask FIFA for a three-week transfer window to take place in April so squads can be bolstered for what is going to be a very crowded campaign.

It all depends on what the government decides but even if the green light is given by Beijing, there are still issues to be discussed and sorted.

The first it whether fans will be allowed to watch the first few games. It is likely, however, that empty stadiums will be ordered.

More complex is the fact that while the Chinese players are finally home, there are around 50 foreign players spread around the world.

For example, former Barcelona star Paulinho is still in Brazil as all the imports were allowed to return back to their homelands after training camps ended.

Usually, these players return to China from Brazil via Europe. With governments imposing stricter travel restrictions by the day and airlines grounding aircraft, what was always a lengthy and tiring trip has now become complex and uncertain.

The Fellaini situation means that authorities may look to bring as many of them back at the same time as possible so they can go straight into quarantine and not take trains or taxis.

Only when that is finished, can they start training with their teams, so time is still needed.

Yet there is hope that if the league can start relatively soon, it will not only act as a symbol of hope for the population but can show the rest of the world that China is moving forward.

Just as the A-League enjoyed some unprecedented international exposure in recent weeks as it became the only league that was going ahead, the Chinese Super League can pick up the baton and give the waiting world some live action to watch and also show that there is some light at the end of the tunnel.