tigana out press conf (Small)

WEF Special: The bizarre downfall of Jean Tigana

International media  interest in Shanghai Shenhua is peaking once again, this time over the Jean Tigana saga. gives the definitive word on the affair in a must-read feature article for all Shenhua fans. This is a modified version of a post which originally appeared on Goal.com.

What a mess Shanghai Shenhua now find themselves in. After their astounding capture of Nicolas Anelka during the close season, the club was expected to be in the thick of the 2012 Chinese Super League title race right from the off. Instead they are now third bottom of the league and new manager Jean Tigana appears to have been fired after just one win in six games.

Exit stage left: Tigana departs Hongkou Stadium

Confusion rules at the moment with Anelka apparently becoming the caretaker manager, and the club set to announce a new head coach any day soon, possibly former D.R. Congo national team boss Florent Ibenge. Former coach Wu Jingui, a fan favourite who led Shenhua to their last title in 2003, is also in the running.

Bizarre and chaotic scenes enveloped Hongkou Stadium last week when three French assistant coaches brought to the club by Tigana were fired by the board, due to player discontent. But the club announced Tigana had not resigned or been fired, even as contrary signs started to appear such as veteran midfielder Jiang Kun openly criticising his boss on the eve of Shenhua’s league game against Tianjin Teda.

Then step forward Nicolas Anelka. Later that same day, the press corps were treated to the odd, and slightly amusing spectacle of the introverted Frenchman holding court during a press conference at Shenhua’s training base. Tigana was strangely absent, his place taken by a bespectacled Anelka who sat in front of bemused reporters timidly explaining through an interpreter of his promotion to the coaching team, and that he was unaware of Tigana’s whereabouts.

Later that night, the situation became even more ridiculous when the former Chelsea man abruptly announced on his official Twitter account that: “I just become [sic] player-manager of Shanghai Shenhua.” Football fans around the world were stunned by the tweet – as even casual fans are well aware, Anelka simply isn’t football manager material. But at Shenhua, it seemed such an absurdity just might be possible, given the club’s eccentric 40-something owner, Zhu Jun, who once named himself in the starting line-up in a pre-season friendly against Liverpool.

The lights are on but no-one is home - a sparsely populated home bench

The fantasy reached its height at Hongkou Stadium on Friday night, with the utterly bizarre sight of a deserted home dugout. Was Anelka in charge? No one seemed to know, and Shenhua lost 1-0 to Tianjin Teda – a side who had never won in Shanghai before in the 18-year history of the Chinese league. Later it would transpire that Tigana had travelled to the ground on the squad bus but left before the game even kicked-off, reportedly hailing a taxi, in what could only be described as a very strange evening for all concerned.

Anelka seems to have the full respect of his team-mates, and was besieged by autograph-hunting fans after last Friday’s match despite the result. In the eyes of this correspondent, Tigana has rightly been made the fall guy. In his first moments in Shanghai he was mobbed by exuberant fans at the airport, but looked ill-at-ease and ended up running away from the arrival gate shenanigans, chased by the Chinese paparazzi. A fan interviewed by the club’s online TV channel said his first impression of Tigana was “he’s alright, he seems like a person who doesn’t love to talk,” – a polite way saying he had been rude. Players also complained of his uncommunicative nature during training sessions, his ineffective tactics and of playing them out of position.

Is Anelka in charge? No-one seems to know.

By contrast, Anelka’s arrival in his new country has been nothing short of a PR masterclass, patiently signing as many autographs as possible, starting to learn the language and charming the Chinese with his apparent shyness and modesty. This is why criticism of Anelka has largely been absent – the belief is that the problems at the club are not of his making. Indeed Shenhua’s opening five games could not have been harder, including two local derbies and matches against Beijing and reigning champions Guangzhou Evergrande.

It’s not too late for Shenhua to turn things around, but they face an uphill battle. Zhu Jun’s attention-seeking mutterings on the Chinese Twitter equivalent Weibo are becoming increasingly tiresome, and his behaviour is likely to hinder any efforts to stabilise the club going forward. The appointment of Wu Jingui would help put the club back on much needed solid ground, but there are even murmurings in certain sections of the support of some discontent with his last stint at the club in 2008.

Nothing is ever simple at Shanghai Shenhua and a complicated times lie ahead.

Author: Cameron Wilson

UK trained journalist and long-time Chinese football observer Cameron Wilson has been writing about Chinese football since 2005 for various International and China-based news outlets such as Agence France-Presse, Goal.com, Shanghaiist, China Sports Review, That’s Shanghai, Time out Shanghai and City Weekend. In August 2010 he decided to launch a website dedicated to Chinese football as a central despository for all of his writings ont he subject.

He’s traveled all over China following Shanghai Shenhua as a fully paid-up member of its infamous Blue Devil’s supporters group.

His association with China stretches back over a decade, having first arrived in August 2000 to teach English for a year in a rural town a few hours northwest of Shanghai. He took in his first Chinese football match during this time – a 2-1 victory for Shanghai Shenhua against Dalian Shide. He went home to the UK in July 2001 but returned to China to live in Shanghai in 2005. Since then he’s been a Shanghai Shenhua season ticket holder and a member of the Blue Devil’s supporters’ club. The views expressed by him on Wild East Football may suffer from a slight bias to this effect.

He is also however, still very much a fan of his hometown team, Dunfermline Athletic. A “Par from afar”, as it were.

A passionate believer in the power of the beautiful game to build bridges between diverse peoples and cultures, he was the first foreign fan to travel with the Blue Devil fans’ club to an away match – a tremendous 3-2 victory for Shenhua over Beijng Guoan in September 2007.

Cameron speaks decent mandarin and can crack jokes in Shanghainese.

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