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A3 Champs Shenhua in Tianjin clash

Newly crowded A3 cup winners Shanghai Shenhua get back down to domestic business tomorrow night in their first home fixture in five weeks when Tianjin come to town.

Things on the Shenhua front have been rather busy of late. Not content with winning the A3 Championship for the first time (see You Tube clip), controversial new signings coming in and domestic stars going out have been the order of the day. Former Middlesbrough striker Hamilton Ricard is the Chinese Super League side’s latest glamour signing, and the home faithful will be hoping he can perform much better than Shenhua’s last big name import, Carsten Jancker. Shanghaiist thinks that won’t be hard – the German’s half-season spell was a miserable one. Controversy surrounds this latest acquisition though – Ricard is known for his fiery temper and rude gesture-making, not to mention a prison sentence hanging over his head.

Much was written in the sports press about the signing of the Columbian not helping the Chinese football authorities clean up the tarnished image of the game here, but the Chinese Super League is certainly not unique in giving fresh starts to bad boy footballers. Eric Cantona, kung-fu shenanigans and Manchester United spring to mind.

Ricard becomes the fifth foreign player on Shenhua’s books which poses boss Osvaldo Gimenez with something of a selection headache due to restrictions on the number of overseas players who can appear. Since this is China, clear and unambiguous rules are, how can one say, lacking, but last season Shenhua had three foreigners and only two ever appeared on the field at once. The situation puts the squad in a state of flux — Uruguayan Fernando Correa is reported to be on the verge of leaving, as is favourite Saul Martinez who only recently re-joined Shenhua. But reports are also abound that Giminez will continue the Hispanic connection by signing Uruguayan Alvaro Recoba who was recently freed by Inter Milan. This typical Chinese Super League mid-season dogs dinner of a situation reflects the end of the season in Europe when many players are released or move clubs.

Shenhua and China’s star player Sun Xiang’s on-off move to top Dutch side PSV Eindhoven is now most definitely off, but a move to The Netherlands seems to be still on, with Vitesse Arnhem being his potential new destination. Sun was also quoted as saying staying in the Chinese Super League would result in his personal development as a player stagnating.

Meanwhile, the game in China received much-needed good news this week when Chinese FA vice president Nan Yong told Sinosoc that things may be looking up at last. In a story unlikely to be picked up by news sources hungry for Chinese soccer scandal, he revealed that crowds were up 27% on last season to an average of 16,400 per match.

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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