Three years ago, Zhu Jun, the boss at Shanghai Shenhua football team and chairman of Nasdaq-listed The9, posted a photo that went viral on the internet.
In it, Zhu is seen sitting behind a table piled with renminbi notes. He is also holding a calculator, showing the figure “10,000,000”.
His point? Zhu had said that he wanted to buy Liverpool Football Club, and was suggesting that he had the resources to do so.
Players at Shanghai Shenhua have found it harder to glimpse Zhu’s money when it comes to getting their monthly salaries, it seems. In fact, such was the difficulty of getting paid that Didier Drogba has just ditched Shenhua to sign for Turkish club Galatasaray. This follows the departure of his former Chelsea colleague Nicolas Anelka, who joined Italian side Juventus last week.
The transfers mark a damaging moment for Shenhua and the Chinese Super League, with the two best-known players in the competition both leaving in the space of a few days. There is also the prospect of an ongoing row between Drogba’s advisers and Shenhua in the weeks ahead, with the Shanghai club denying that the player has permission to sign for the Turkish side.
Both men leave China after persistent reports that the club has not been paying its players on time, in part due to a shareholder squabble over funding for the club (see WiC164).
Zhu denies this, saying that Drogba’s contract includes a clause allowing the club a 28 day grace period for wage payments each month.
“The payment delay was due to many reasons, but we have never violated the contract,” Zhu insists.
Galatasaray disagrees. “Drogba hadn’t been paid in three months in China, he had a clause giving him the right to terminate his contract in the case of non-payment of wages,” countered football agent Ceylan Caliskan on Turkish-football.com. “We signed Drogba on a free contract, we didn’t sign him from Shanghai Shenhua.”
Of course, when Drogba arrived in China last year he made it clear that financial considerations were not uppermost on his mind. “Really, I didn’t come here with the idea of making a lot of money. I come here because it is a completely different challenge from what I have seen in Europe before,” he told media at the time.
But perhaps he underestimated quite how different life in Shanghai was going to be, not least as Shenhua gives the impression of being a chaotically managed team, with its shareholders at war with one another.
On the pitch too, the management style has been unorthodox. Former coach Jean Tigana was sacked unexpectedly last year and replaced briefly by Anelka himself, before the arrival of Sergio Batista, the former Argentina coach. Shenhua’s 15th manager in 10 seasons, Batista sounds like an unusual character in his own right, after advising the Oriental Sports Daily that he was a “simple man who enjoys simple pleasures” including the unlikely habit of hitching lifts on municipal garbage trucks.
“Oh, those kind of trucks they have to carry away rubbish, we wait for them to empty their rubbish out, then we pay the driver Rmb30 for a 10 minute ride,” he explained to bemused reporters last October.
Given Batista made his remarks in Spanish, WiC wonders whether something got lost in translation or whether he was having some fun at the expense of the reporters…
Drogba departs Shanghai having scored eight goals in the 11 games that he has played since arriving in China and the team’s supporters seem understanding about his move, as well as appreciative of his efforts on the pitch. The African star never belonged on the “third-class stage of Chinese football,” Oriental Sports Daily noted.
Anelka, scorer of three goals in 22 matches, is looked upon less kindly by the fans.
Despite their high profile signings, Shenhua didn’t climb the table as rapidly as many had predicted, finishing in ninth place last year and failing to qualify for the Asian Champions League. And with the shareholder dispute dragging on and Zhu overseeing the departure of a number of first team regulars, the speculation is that he might try to move the club to Wuxi in Jiangsu.
This follows the latest round of machinations in Dalian, where Dalian Shide, China’s most successful club and winner of eight championships, is heading out of business after Super League officials blocked a takeover bid from city rival Dalian Aerbin.
Mentioned in WiC169, Shide has been hit hard by the fall from grace of its former owner Shide’s Xu Ming, who has been caught up in the Bo Xilai affair. The tycoon has been detained since last March, allegedly for corruption. His absence has crippled the football team’s finances.
Football fans in Dalian are desolate at losing a top-flight club. Dalian Shide’s place in the Super League has now been awarded to Shanghai
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