Qin's stamp on Witsel puts CSL unease with international attention in spotlight
For former China national team midfielder Qin Sheng, international fame felt like an unlikely achievement. A competent defensive midfielder, Qin is a double league title winner from his time with Guangzhou Evergrande and also played a part in the Cantonese side's 2013 AFC Champions League-winning campaign. However, even in China, he is more famed for controversy than his footballing ability.
Yet, for all his reputation, the stamp on Axel Witsel that saw Qin achieve international infamy last weekend was only the second straight red card of the 30-year-old's career -- the first coming after a poor tackle in an international fixture against the Netherlands in 2013.
Since then, Qin's only major moment of controversy was confronting FC Seoul's assistant manager during the final of the 2013 AFC Champions League from the substitutes' bench. Even then, it was the opposition coach who was ejected from the field.
Qin undoubtedly has the reputation of a wind-up merchant on the pitch and is often the first in the face of the referee, yet his disciplinary record is far from the worst around. For all his 11 yellow cards in 27 games last campaign, the extent to which Shanghai Shenhua have gone out on such a limb to punish Qin's latest discretion appears a major overreaction.
For all the stupidity of his actions, it now appears Qin's greatest crime was to target one of the league's most high-profile recruits. While stamping on an opponent's foot cannot be accepted, this fell more into the category of petulant than outright dangerous.
Indeed, Witsel himself was arguably guilty of a more dangerous offence when his elbow to the face of Fredy Guarin in the second half of the encounter was greeted only by a yellow card. It warranted far more.
Yet Qin has, in the week following the incident, been the focus of significant public debate. His club, not content with the likely four-match ban the CSL will surely hand out, have fined him £35,750, demoted him to the reserve squad for an undefined period of time and, most shockingly, have at least threatened to put him on Shanghai's minimum wage while his future behaviour is assessed. He will now earn approximately £250 a month.
"I made the announcements because this incident badly hurt the feelings of the club's management team, the coaches, the players and our fans," said club chairman Wu Xiaohui, according to South China Morning Post.
"You either show your sincerity and apologise with real actions, or just give an end to your career."
Qin was also forced into a publicly broadcast apology to his teammates and has been told in no uncertain terms that he will not be allowed to seek a transfer.
"We will not let someone who hurt the club's image and benefits leave the club and seek personal benefits elsewhere," Wu added.
The charge to be seen as taking action has descended into a witch hunt. There have been and will be worse offences than that which Qin committed last weekend, yet none have provoked the same response.
When Tyrone Mings was recently banned for five games for stamping on the head of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, there were no calls for AFC Bournemouth to take further action against the defender. Equally, Manchester United did not rush out to punish the Swede further for his highly deliberate response. A red card, the subsequent suspension and fine are deemed just punishment.
It is the club who appear to have had their feelings hurt, with the game carried by an international audience and Qin's actions drawing much ridicule for their sheer needlessness. CSL clubs and their owners, often involved in football simply for marketing purposes, are rarely used to such international attention. China's much dreaded "loss of face" has ensued.
Given the player has, thus far, conformed to all of the club's demands, it is perfectly clear where the balance of power lies in player-club relations. After all, there is no players' union to defend Qin's rights as an employee.
Chinese football undoubtedly has issues at times with unprofessional behaviour -- there are regular red cards for violent conduct and excessive playacting is commonplace -- and the CFA's tough stance on violent conduct is to be applauded. But when clubs take it upon themselves to infringe on agreed contractual terms there are major issues at hand.
In order to work, punishments must be fair, regulated and befitting of the offence. Owners should not be allowed to arbitrarily lay down punishment due to their perceived public embarrassment.
Qin, it would appear, is now suffering due to the status of his opponent more than the actual nature of his crime.
Chris Atkins is based in China and writes for ESPN FC about the Chinese Super League. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisAtkins_.