Peter Davis speaks to Shandong Luneng’s Socceroo Ryan McGowan on returning to Chinese football following his first World Cup in Brazil...
Football fans weren’t without Chinese Super League players to watch during Brazil 2014. Zvjezdan Misimovic turned out for Bosnia and Herzegovina and a few featured in South Korea’s squad but arguably the most impressive of the CSL contingent was Shandong’s Ryan McGowan for Australia.
For regular viewers of Chinese football this was unsurprising. McGowan featured heavily in Shandong’s side last season and has found his way back into a much-changed 2014 squad while putting in strong performances.
McGowan could be considered lucky as an unfortunate injury to Ivan Franjic against Chile brought him into the World Cup fray as a substitute - the former Hearts man featuring in the 3-2 loss against Holland and the 3-0 defeat against Spain.
Now with 12 caps for the Socceroo’s and a Chinese FA Cup in his sights, 25-year-old McGowan comes to terms with life after Brazil and the positive growth of Chinese football which is taking his game to the next level.
“The World Cup was a massive opportunity for me, everyone dreams of playing in a World Cup but your club football is your bread and butter and I was looking forward to coming back to Shandong and getting in the rhythm of playing again,” McGowan says.
“At the World Cup there is a lot of scrutiny and everyone’s watching, but it’s part of football and you get that here in Shandong too.
"We attract big crowds and it’s important to get back into it and get us back up the league where we belong.
“The CSL is getting a lot stronger. Teams like Guangzhou R&F and Shanghai SIPG are putting good runs together and getting the results.
“We struggled with all the games in the beginning with the AFC Champions League and the CSL.
"Now we have nine games in 27 days but we have a big and good enough squad to handle it and being in the cup semi-finals means we can get into the Champions League again which would be huge for the club,” he says.
Shandong Luneng dropped 17 points behind league leaders Guangzhou Evergrande and are sitting sixth, a disappointing position given their pre-season hype and the big signings of Brazilian international Vagner Love and talented Chinese goalkeeper Wang Dalei.
The emergence of Sven Goran Eriksson’s third-placed Guangzhou R&F and Daniel McBreen’s Shanghai SIPG in fourth, shows a growing competitiveness in the Chinese top tier.
Not all is not lost for Shandong, however, who face second tier Qingdao Hainiu in the Chinese FA Cup semifinal with the competition winners earning a spot in the Asia Champions League.
“Shandong being in the semi-final of the CFA Cup is a great opportunity for us,” McGowan says.
“If we play to our capabilities we can get to the final and concentrate on winning that.
“It’s huge for us - we can make our season with the cup and Champions League spot there. Our performances haven’t been as good as we would have liked for many reasons but we have a great chance here to win a trophy.
“The CSL is growing, the attendances are getting higher and that attracts a better standard of players. Even Evergrande are not running away with it and that’s what you want from a league – to be tested every week. That’s good for next season to make the league much better.”
Looking back at Brazil, McGowan recalls a certain World Cup goal against Holland that he had a hand in, a goal he states was possibly the greatest ever for Australia.
“It was a great goal by Tim Cahill,” he says.
“It was among the top three goals at the World Cup and may go among the best Australian goals, with the whole situation and how that game was going, it’s certainly a bit better than my goal last year for Shandong but hopefully I can score a few more,” he says.
World Cup over and no losses in his four games back for Shandong, McGowan is clearly enjoying his football and enjoying the challenges that both international and Chinese football present him.
“(Coming up against) players like Robin van Persie and players of his calibre is unique,” he says.
“It’s great playing against people like him and pitting your wits against them but even here in China we are playing against good teams every week with good attacking players, I always enjoy that.”