Zhu Jun, the controversial owner of Shanghai Shenhua, made his club an international laughing stock last night after naming himself in the starting XI against Liverpool in the Port of Rotterdam tournament.
The millionaire (who isn’t exactly the fittest of athletes) let vanity get the better of him and forced Uruguayan team manager Osvaldo Gimenez to play him upfront from the start.
Wearing the number 16 jersey, Zhu puffed his way around the Liverpool defence, rubbing shoulders with international football stars such as England’s Steven Gerrard, before being mercifully relieved of his playing duties after five minutes to be replaced by former Middlesborough man, Hamilton Ricard.
The chairman’s indiscretion surely represents the most cringeworthy event in Chinese football’s rather bulging episodes-to-forget file. With the state of the game in the country at its lowest ebb, after China’s humiliating exit from the first round of the Asian Cup, Zhu scarcely needs to attract attention to himself, his club, and the game in China for such foolish and self-indulgent reasons.
Zhu is already an unpopular figure with the Shenhua fans, following his buyout and subsequent merger at the beginning of the season with rivals Shanghai United, but after this latest party trick, it seems he has blown any chance of gaining any kind of respect from the Shenhua faithful at all.
The game itself, in common with most pre-season friendlies, was devoid any real points of interest save for a delighful chipped goal from Steven Gerrard in the second half to seal a 2-0 victory for Liverpool. Big money signing Fernando Torres scored the other goal in the first half.
Shenhua will play Porto on Sunday to complete the tournament, before getting back to league business with a visit to bitter rivals Beijing on August 12.
Ground: Hongkou Football Stadium, Hongkou District, Shanghai
Capacity: 35,000 (26,000 for football)
Honours: Chinese top-tier league champions: 1995
Chinese top-tier league runners-up: 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008
Chinese FA Cup winners: 1998
Chinese FA Cup runners up: 1995, 1997, 2015