Shanghai surprise

Boardroom dispute sullies Drogba’s China experience

Shanghai surprise

Wage dispute: Drogba

In 2005 Didier Drogba brought an end to a bloody civil war in his native Ivory Coast. The footballer intervened just after he’d helped his national side qualify for the World Cup. After the match he got down on his knees on live television and begged the warring factions to lay down their arms. Within a week, amazingly, they did so. “It was just something I did instinctively,” Drogba told Britain’s Daily Telegraph.

Unfortunately Drogba is now caught in the middle of another civil war of sorts, this time among the owners of his new club in Shanghai.

The striker was signed by Shanghai Shenhua in June, becoming the Chinese Super League’s best paid player, according to AFP, earning $314,000 a week. He joined Nicolas Anelka, another high-profile signing with whom he’d played at Chelsea.

Neither could have been aware of a simmering dispute between the club’s shareholders when they signed for the club. The Oriental Sports Daily reports that the impact of this falling out became evident late last month when another new signing, Giovanni Moreno, failed to appear on the pitch. The Colombian didn’t show up after his transfer fee had apparently gone unpaid. One of the disgruntled parties withheld payment to signal his frustration with his fellow Shenhua shareholders.

The origins of the dispute date back to 2007, when Shanghai Shenhua was formed through the merger of two clubs. One was owned by five local state-owned enterprises (including Shanghai Electric and Shanghai Media Group). The other was held by local tycoon Zhu Jun, the boss of Nasdaq-listed internet firm, The9 (see WiC83).

Under the agreement, Zhu got 28.5% of the merged club’s shares, while the five other parties the remainder. However, the deal stipulated that if Zhu spent Rmb150 million on the club in the coming three years, his stake would rise to 70%, reports Chengdu Business Daily.

During that time Zhu has pumped an estimated Rmb600 million into the club. But the other shareholders still haven’t given him the extra shares that he says he was promised.

According to Securities Daily, Zhu is now trying to pressure the others into conceding the stock he believes that he’s owed. That includes threatening to stop paying the wages of Drogba and Anelka unless he gets his way.

Securities Daily speculates that there is a bigger reason why Zhu is so adamant about securing a controlling stake in Shenhua. The club’s training ground in the Kangqiao area of Pudong has soared in value, given its proximity to Shanghai’s soon-to-be opened Disneyland. The team was given the land by the local government in 2001 on the proviso it spent Rmb160 million developing it. However, it is now said to be worth closer to Rmb8 billion, making it Shenhua’s most attractive asset. So it would seem that this fight between the shareholders may be as much about property as the good of the club.

Perhaps Drogba will be called to put his peacekeeping skills to the test once again – although if his wages are stopped, WiC wonders whether the striker will hang around long enough to be asked.

“Money is not the most important [factor]. I am here for a whole new experience,” he told journalists, on arriving in Shanghai just a few months ago. But this can’t be quite the new experience that Didier was hoping for…

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