Cross the Shanghai derby from your local sporting calendar this year — the chief participants, Shenhua FC and Shanghai United FC, are to “merge”, according to an official statement from the former team’s website.
The news comes, as tends to be the case in Chinese football, as something of a shock — the start of the 2007 season is just weeks away and fixture lists have already been published.
According to several news reports, colourful IT tycoon, Zhu Jun, owner of Shanghai United, has purchased a controlling stake in Shenhua, who are owned by Shanghai Media Group, television manufacturer SVA, Shanghai Electric Corp and Huangpu District government.
The timing of the takeover seems bizarre to say the least. We were at a Shenhua fan’s party last Saturday, and at no point did anyone mention anything about such a momentous event. Indeed, at the event Xian International goalkeeper, Zhang Chen, was introduced to the fans as an imminent signing, but now this deal looks dead, according to the club. Accordingly, Shanghai United had very recently signed three Uruguayan players in preparation for the new season.
The transactions have been agreed and the takeover is now awaiting official approval from the Chinese Football Association. Should it be approved in time for the start of this season, Shenhua will retain their name, and the best players from both squads will form a new team. General manager Wu Jinan is expected to remain in his position, Sinosoc reported.
The motivations of Zhu Jun will no doubt be questioned. Owner of online gaming giants The9, he previously owned Shanghai 9th city, who were promoted from China’s regional lower leagues into the second-tier China League in 2004. The team played one season there finishing, funnily enough, 9th, before Zhu grew impatient in his efforts to own a top-tier team and decided to buy Super League side Shanghai Zobon and merge his two clubs together to create Shanghai United. This new team finished a credible 7th in the Chinese Super League last season — but now Zhu Jun has gone one step further by splashing the cash to buy one of the biggest Chinese teams of all, Shenhua. He previously had an unsucessful bid to buy Shenhua’s former city rivals, Inter, before they moved to Xian at the start of this year.
Jun is no stranger to controversy, and offered his Shanghai United players a half million pound bonus if they beat Shenhua in last season’s derby, by carrying boxes of cash into the dressing room to motivate players.
Time will tell if his approach works for Shenhua — the team have a history of spending big but have only won two league titles since China launched its pro-football league 13 years ago. In any case, we suspect that instead of a “merger”, this is more a case of Shanghai United paying to join with Shenhua — as long as the name isn’t changed, the Shenhua fan’s will not object strongly, and United have no fans to speak of, so, it could be a good-old Chinese win-win situation.
Shenhua, assuming they will still be called that, are due to kick off the 2007 season against Qingdao Zhongneng on March 3 at Yuanshen Stadium in Pudong.