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Shanghai East Asia chairman calls for merger with Shenhua

Shanghai East Asia chairman Xu Genbao

The chairman of China League side Shanghai East Asia FC has raised eyebrows by saying he hopes his club can merge with city rivals Shanghai Shenhua.

Xu Genbao (徐根宝), who is also founder of East Asia, made the suggestion at the close of last weekends round of 2nd tier league fixtures, which saw Guangzhou FC and Chengdu Blades, both relegated from the Chinese Super League last year due to a match-fixing scandal, return to the top league at the first time of asking. But with only three games left, Shanghai East Asia, currently in third, have no hope of promotion.

Sina sports described Xu’s call as “astonishing” and also carried some commentry discussing the future of the Shanghai football scene, pointing out that Shanghai had won just two titles in 16 years of professional football in China, way behind Dalian, and Shandong.

Xu founded Shanghai East Asia FC in 2005 following a long managerial career which included a spell in charge of the national team, and also at the helm of Shenhua, who Xu steered to their first championship title in 1995. Wikipedia covers East Asia’s brief history in good detail, the club entered China’s regional 3rd tier league in 2005 as a youth development team based on Shanghai’s Chongming Island. They won promotion to the China League in 2007 and narrowly missed out on promotion to the Chinese Super League last season, finishing 4th, having been in a promotion-winning position for much of the season.

Shanghai Shenhua are of course no strangers to mergers – they controversially merged with Shanghai United in 2007 after United owner Zhu Jun bought Shenhua and combined the teams. Although it caused disharmony at the time on the Shenhua terraces, in effect Shenhua took over Shanghai United – Shenhua kept their name and playing colours. However Shenhua’s coach at the time, the ever-popular Wu Jinggui, was turfed out in favour of then-United boss Uruguayan Osvaldo Gimenez. United did not have a significant fanbase to speak of, so dissenting voices from the other side were few if any.

Significantly, Shenhua inherited several key players from United, notably promising young goalkeeper Wang Dalei, and midfielder Jiang Kun, both of whom are now first team regulars for Shenhua.

Currently, East Asia is still predominantly a youth side but your correspondent doesn’t think this merger will happen and isn’t sure what benefit such a move would bring to Shenhua. Perhaps there are some future stars in the East Asia squad, however a merger of the entire squads seems like overkill, signing any promising players would surely be easier. East Asia does have a good youth system and infrastructure, including the Genbao training base on Chongming Island, but that appears to be about it.

East Asia, who play at the caldronous 80,000 capacity Shanghai Stadium, also have their own modest following in the city, mainly football fans dissaffected by Shenhua’s lack of success, former Inter Shanghai fans, and new fans attracted by the fact that one of the biggest names in Chinese football, former Crystal Palace defender Zan Zhiyi, is manager.

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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