After a dramatic season 1 with high stakes, it is no surprise that the MAFL is going through changes. Beyond the changes to the Aero Football rules, technology upgrades, and growing licensing deals with Earth affiliates, the players remain the key ingredient.
For most fans, the experience of seeing players change positions or getting traded is a big deal on its own, but the last minute trade activity between Tiangong and Huacheng at the tail end of the off-season, brings it to a new level. The sister colonies have always had their differences, with Huacheng often considered the “Chinese capitol” on Mars there has always been a sense of competition, however, the MAFL can take credit for stirring it into a true rivalry.
Back in Season 1, Huacheng was devistated by Darkeem Dennis' unexpected trade to Europa. Qigang Lian's move from Dongji to Wuji has been regarded by many Dongji fans as an outright betrayal of the colony. They have also been reluctant to accept Marcus Ekberg, a non-Chinese, with the role of Captain. With all the moaning, the benefits of Ekberg's leadership along with gaining forward Jai Cheng, and midfielder Anne-Marije Feston, the Dongji squad is actually looking better than ever.
Ekberg, a Martian-born native of Wendland colony, is not a fluent Mandarin speaker and previously showed little interest in picking up the language. At the last press briefing, however, Ekberg responded to local media questions in Chinese. Although he was certainly aided by a virtual translator, the gesture was well received. In the world of sports, the language of 'wins' is the true prize, so long as Ekberg can bring in the goals, he won't likely need to fallback on his Chinese.
As for Lian, he had been openly looking to move to the sister colony after his wife had moved to Tiangong to take a role on council. They were living apart for most of season 1. Had Wuji owner, Koh Chen, not encouraged the Wuji shakeup, the opportunity would not have been on the table for him.
“It’s an opportunity to continue my journey as athlete and captain,” says Lian, “I'm grateful for this opportunity and I’m excited to work with my new teammates.”
The serious drama, though, is in Lian’s usurping of Hachette’s captain title. Stanislas Hachette has been widely panned in Season 1 for ineffective leadership, lack of scoring ability, and general unawareness of the flow of gameplay. Some see his demotion as a gift to the team.
“We love Hachette though,” says his teammates, “His nickname is The Hachet. Not because he’s a sharp player, but he’s got a really sharp sense of humour. We feel bad for him, but relieved he's still on the team.”
However, to those loyal to the charismatic former captain, his demotion coupled with the cutting of Wuji’s manager Bobby Chung has fans grumbling. And even in the general fanbase, not everyone is quite warmed up to the idea of having Lian as captain, despite him leading Wuji to a solid start in Season 2. Time will tell, as play continues, whether the trades will prove a wise move for the two teams.
The first highly anticipated face off between the two clubs happens on week 6, the 17th of Cancer.