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Zhu Jun: Blue Devils could see red

Batton down the hatches — a rumpus is brewing over plans to change Shanghai Shenhua‘s trademark blue playing strips to red — the colour of the team who bought them out last week, local rivals Shanghai United.

Shenhua, the city’s premier footballing outfit and China’s “glamour club”, have seen a number of other Shanghai teams come and go since their establishment 13 years ago at the dawn of the launch of the country’s first professional football league. However, owner of Shanghai United, IT tycoon and Zhu Jun, seems to have adopted the old adage, “if you can’t beat them, join them”, paying 150 million RMB to buy a controlling stake in Shenhua.

But there is a correction to make, your correspondent speculated that Shanghai Shenhua’s fans would probably not mind their being bought out by rivals Shanghai United FC and merged into one team, as the Shenhua name would be used for the “new” team, which would combine the best players from both.

Afterall, its nothing like, for example, merging Manchester City and Manchester United. Shenhua have only been around since 1993 and Shanghai United were formed just over a year ago.

But Frank Ding, spokesman for the Shenua fan club known as the Blue Devils, told Shanghaiist, “We don’t trust Zhu Jun or his motives. He is already talking about changing the playing strips from blue to red — it’s a crazy idea.”

Frank also said that the decision to sack popular Shenhua boss, Wu Jing Gui, who led the team to its last league title in 2003, and replace him with Uruguayan boss Osvaldo Gimenez, who was managing United before the merger, had also not gone down well with the Shenhua faithful.

The Shenhua fans feel their traditions are being eroded by the merger, with Wu part of the club’s history. Frank said, “Wu Jing Gui is a hero for many of us, and it’s a real shame for him — especially as he lost his mother in the same week he lost his job. We aren’t happy, and if Shenhua don’t get nine points out of nine in the first three games, we will fight Zhu Jun.”

With the first two games against the teams who finished immediately above and below them in the league last year, Shandong (1st) and Beijing (3rd), that seems a tall order to say the least.

Frank appeared on CCTV5 last week to make public fans’ concerns about Zhu Jun. Blue Devil leader Xu Feng also met reporters from the state sports channel, but despite being interviewed for 30 minutes, only a brief clip of him was broadcast, saying “we support Chinese football”, according to Frank.

As we reported before, Zhu Jun is something of a controversial character. He becomes the latest in a long list of Chinese Da Laoban’s who buy domestic league teams and pour endless amounts of cash into them for short term glory — hence the constantly changing names, colours stadiums and even home cities for many Chinese sides. Although the start of the season is just days away, this is more than enough time in the surreal world of Chinese football to have things like the colour of playing stripes changed.

A leading international commentator on Chinese football frequently quoted by the world's top media. Offers piercing and resolutely honest insights into the bustling crossroads where football, society, economics and politics meet in contemporary China. Based in Shanghai since 2005, observer of the Chinese game since 2000.

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