As I said in my first of these blog posts after seven days in China, in general everything here is a great experience because the culture and traditions are so different to what I’m accustomed to. But, I am starting to see some similarities with certain aspects of life and the way of doing things in Europe.
There are a couple of things which clearly remind me of Newcastle. The first is the hotel we’re staying in, ‘The Castle’, which reminds me daily of the good times I had in Newcastle and of the ongoing kindness and positivity I received there from the fans, to which I will slightly digress. They appreciated the commitment we had when choosing to stay at Newcastle, and the efforts we made to continue being there, but unfortunately, as they say in England, ‘a leopard can’t change its spots’. A lot of things kept us attached to the club, to the city, and to its fans, but a lack of project as well as unfulfilled promises meant we had to look forwards and follow a different path, as others such as Alan Shearer and Kevin Keegan have done whilst continuing to be supported and to support the team. There’s nothing wrong with thinking about the past, but it’s also important to look to the future. For this reason, all I have left to say is that I truly wish the team and Steve Bruce the best for the following season.
Back to the similarities mentioned earlier though and the topic of this blog. The next similarity regards the football world, and is the fact that it is very difficult to sign the players you would like. Due to the scarcity of Chinese players available on the market, the strongest teams sign them almost immediately - and with long contracts – meaning there are few whom you can access and who will really better your team. The regulations state that you need to play with eight Chinese players on the pitch, one Under-23, and then out of the four foreign players you have, a maximum of three can be on the field. Therefore, the foreign players can mark a difference, but the Chinese players bring important consistency to the team.
In relation to our daily work, this hasn’t changed much compared to what we have done in other teams. All my technical team, as well as being good professionals, are hard-working. We leave the hotel at 7:30am to go to the training ground, our driver is very good (although he has us on the edge of our seats the whole journey with his ability to weave between cars, changing lanes often and finding the best shortcut every day!), this experience is similar to the ones we’ve had in Rome, for example!
Every day we pass a taxi rank which reminds me of Del Boy and ‘Only Fools and Horses’ due to the three wheeler cars (for the Spanish readers, this is a famous British TV show). Here they’re called ‘three-wheeled motorbikes’, but some foreign visitors call them ‘tuk-tuks’, referring to the similar three wheeled vehicles used in places such as Thailand.
Then, after the long and intense working day, we return to the hotel between 6pm and 8pm, depending on the day.
Yet, the journeys we take to go and play matches have nothing to do with the ones we made in England, Spain or Italy. As I’m writing these lines, we are going from Dalian to Chongqing, which is more than a three-hour flight journey away. We have to go two days earlier because it’s necessary to do the press conference the day before the match and therefore we train in the rival team’s stadium in the afternoon before the match. If we had wanted to leave the day before the match we would’ve had to do a few different stopovers and that wasn’t worth it. The same thing happened when we played against Guangzhou Evergrande, and we (the technical team) went from there to Hong Kong to get a long stay visa, and we took the chance to do a bit of tourism too.
We visited the Po Lin Monastery and the Tian Tan Buddha statues, and always with care not to offend anyone and to respect all beliefs, we admired the beautiful statues and buildings we walked through.
(Mikel, Antonio, Rafa y Paco, visit to Po Lin Monastery)The statue of Buddha presides over everything from above and the monastery is (according to a tv documentary I watched), specially constructed based on parts of the Forbidden City in Beijing, which has buildings that are constructed for withstanding earthquakes due to the shock absorption that the wood provides due to being entwined in a certain way.
As a curiosity, what is called ‘Dougong Braces’ is a system of interlocking wood which allows for increased support of the structure without using adhesives or nails. The columns, which aren’t fixed to the ground, adapt with their movement to better support earthquakes and the strong winds in the area. This form of construction, dating from 1044 to 206 BC, was perfected from 220 AC using more pieces of wood interlocked in order to be able to construct higher buildings.
Onto football once more, the work routine is similar, as are the training sessions and the matches, but the biggest difference is the communication. If you don’t speak the language of the country you’re in, although it depends on the person, usually you learn it. However, here they tell us that you need around five years to learn to speak Mandarin, and so we are slowly learning the most necessary words (and you always have an interpreter at your side shadowing you). Mine, Justin, is copying my gestures at training and at the matches and each day we are more in sync.
We have just flown over the city of Chongqing – which again reminds me slightly of Newcastle with the bridges over the river. It has over 30 million inhabitants, and is about the size of Austria, surely it’s one of the biggest in the world.
I also can’t ignore the constant presence of Liverpool fans in each of the cities we visit (although, today I was also gifted a shield of Valencia, and a few days ago in Tianjin, we spent some time with two legends of Valencianism, Luis Milla and Fernando Giner), and I am constantly signing photos and shirts from the different teams which I have been at, which shows just how many Chinese fans follow European football with a lot of fierce passion.
As everyone knows, I have been reunited here with Hamsik after our time in Napoli, and we have incorporated Rondon, who has scored three goals and is adapting well to the group. I have also had the chance to speak to Mascherano, who told me about his experiences in Hebei, for example using acupuncture to treat injuries, and to other Spanish coaches who have shared their experience with us.
Let’s hope that everything continues going well and I look forwards to writing once again on this experience which is completely different to anything I have experience before and which is allowing me to see life from a different perspective.