Thrilling Recap: 2023 Chinese Super League Concludes with Surprises and Triumphs
The 2023 Chinese Super League season saw Shanghai Port’s triumph, relegation battles, and renewed enthusiasm. Discover the highlights and challenges in this thrilling recap.
The thrilling 2023 Chinese Super League (CSL) came to a close on Saturday following an intense competition spanning just under seven months. Shanghai Port, Shandong Taishan, and Zhejiang FC emerged as the top three finishers, while Dalian Pro and Shenzhen FC found themselves facing relegation.
The season was marked by fierce competition for both the championship and survival, though there’s room for improvement in terms of overall quality, as per reports from Xinhua.
Twists and Turns
Shanghai Port, boasting the strongest squad, began the season radiating strength. At their peak, Shanghai enjoyed a commanding 17-point lead over Shandong. However, as the competition reached its climax, the gap between these two teams narrowed to just five points. Despite a tumultuous journey, Shanghai Port ultimately prevailed, securing their second CSL title.
The battle against relegation was nothing short of a drama, with Shenzhen exiting early, while the second relegation spot remained uncertain until the final moments of the last round. Dalian’s fate was sealed outside the CSL after a 3-2 defeat to Shanghai Port in the last 20 minutes, while newly-promoted Nantong Zhiyun and Qingdao Hainiu secured their places in the top tier for another season.
Despite the hopes of fans and league organizers, the emergence of fresh talent was less apparent than anticipated. The league continued to be dominated by established stars, with 31-year-old Wu Lei emerging as the top domestic goalscorer with 18 goals. Another notable mention in the top 10 scorers list was 35-year-old veteran Tan Long of Changchun Yatai with 10 goals.
A Revival of Enthusiasm
The CSL fully reinstated the home and away match system for the first time since the pandemic, injecting renewed enthusiasm and energy into the league.
The season saw an average of approximately 20,000 fans per match, with traditional powerhouses like Shandong Taishan and Shanghai Shenhua consistently enjoying high attendance figures. Impressively, newly-promoted Nantong attracted up to 12,000 despite their provincial location in the county-level city of Rugao.
Beijing Guoan’s return to a renovated Workers Stadium sparked a surge in fan attendance, with the clash against Shanghai Shenhua drawing a record-breaking 52,500 spectators. The new stadium hosted eight of the top ten highest-attended matches this season.
Chengdu Rongcheng’s home ground at the Phoenix Mountain Stadium became another fan favorite, with full-house crowds and an electric atmosphere. For the people of Chengdu, the return to top-tier professional football has rekindled the city’s passion for the sport.
“We’ve waited for this moment for far too long; I’ve been watching football since I was a teenager,” said Mr. Li, a 45-year-old fan who was moved to tears at the club’s first home game. “Over the years, Chengdu football has seen its ups and downs. Now, I can finally bring my child to watch a game live, fulfilling a dream from my youth.”
Since 2020, several CSL clubs have grappled with financial problems, notably the disbandment of Jiangsu F.C. just three months after winning the 2020 league title.
In the meantime, rumors of unpaid wages and teams contemplating withdrawal persist, causing concerns. The defending champions, Wuhan Three Towns, found themselves in a precarious situation towards the end of the season when their investors withdrew funding.
Nonetheless, CSL clubs are striving to build a sustainable financial model. Revenues from tickets and merchandise sales have shown a positive trend over the past season, viewed as an indicator of healthy operation.
There’s a critical need for the CSL and its players to seize this opportunity to enhance their professionalism and dedication, making the CSL a cornerstone for the development of Chinese football.