Chelsea striker Nicolas Anelka will sign for Shenhua within the next week, a source close to the club told today. The final details of what is said to be a three-year deal worth six million UK pounds per annum (9.3 million USD) are yet to be worked out, but the source says Anelka will soon become a Shenhua player barring any last-minute hitches.
The source said, “Right now no-one is saying anything clearly, and Zhu Jun is the king of hype, but I believe Anelka will be a Shenhua player in the next week or so.”
initally believed Shenhua’s interest in the 32-year-old French attacker to be a product soley of the Chinese football media’s prolific close season rumour mill, hence he was conspicuous from his absence on these pages. However, its since become clear that the Shanghai club are infact close to capturing his signature. Shenhua’s controversial owner, Zhu Jun, uploaded pictures onto his weibo of Shenhua general manager Zhou Jun with Anelka’s agent and older brother, Claude, leading many to believe that the Frenchman will soon join Shenhua. Zhu Jun is a flamboyant character who is clearly relishing being in the centre of the football world’s attention at the moment, however publishing such pictures means he will have a lot of egg to wipe off his face should Anelka not appear at Hongkou next season. He is no doubt aware of this, so his actions indicate a level of confidence that Anelka will sign.
Confirmed on Weibo?
Of course, the deal is not complete and the final outcome uncertain. However, in addition to Zhu Jun’s weibo indulgencies, several signs point to Anelka joining Shanghai imminently. His former boss at Arsenal, Arsen Wenger, told his club’s official website that he believed Anelka would not join another English club and was definately heading overseas. Anelka himself said on his official website that he already knew where he would be playing come January, and seemingly responded to Shenzhen Ruby coach Philliple Troussier’s claim that coming to China would be a mistake. Anelka said on his twitter, in a somewhat cryptic fashion, that he didn’t know Troussier personally and didn’t expect his advice, but that he was his own man and would make his own decision.
Another couple of factors in favour of Anelka coming to Shanghai is that MLS expansion team Montreal Impact, the other chief bidder for his services, appear to be out of the race, plus, Shenhua may soon have a Frenchman at coaching helm in the shape of former Fulham boss Jean Tigana. But it appears all will not be revealed for another week or so – and Zhu Jun’s latest weibo statement said that Anelka and his agent had delayed entering into discussions with lawyer after they heard that Didier Drogba was allegedly coming to play in the Chinese Super League for a deal worth around 16 million USD a year.
Zhu Jun said Anelka and his brother were “envious” when they heard the news and he explained the reports were baseless and carelessly written. He added that he hoped the episode was a temporary setback.
Should Anelka sign for Shenhua, it will be something of a major turn around for the club and an unexpected boost to its aspirations for next year’s Chinese Super League. The Blue Devils, Shenhua’s largest fans’ club, are already being bombarded with queries from lapsed Shenhua fans as how to get season tickets for Hongkou next year. Just last week was speculating that next season was a big unknown for Shenhua due to aparent financial difficulties at the club, and Shanghai football generally being at its lowest ever-ebb.
But Sina Sports reported this week that a “mouth-watering” sum of money had been injected into the club from a government-owned company which holds a stake in Shenhua. This appears to have turned the financial situation at the club upside down and significantly improves the prospects for next season. Even if Anelka doesn’t sign, Shenhua have, overnight, returned to their position as one of China’s richest clubs and appear to have money to burn. In addition, Chinese media are reporting that Shenhua are really kicking up dust in the transfer market and have signed Joel Griffthis from rivals Beijing – more on this later. At any rate, it would appear that Luis Salmeron will not be back next season, since Shenhua are lining up two foreign strikers.
The influx has begun
Earlier this season, predicted the arrival of more top rate players to the Chinese Super League, based on other teams playing catch up with Guangzhou’s huge spending this year. There is now doubt that this process has now begun. Anelka is a bigger name than any of Guangzhou’s big money foreign buys and his arrival in the Chinese Super League would really set the league alight in terms of it being a destination for big names. It’s also interesting to note that, according to Sina, the top salary for domestic Chinese players is around 2 million RMB a year (375,000 USD), and that “Anelka’s salary could pay for around 30 domestic players’ salaries.” Such a gap shows how much clubs are now willing to push the boat out to attract top players, but, its not sustainable. Despite the foreign media’s perception that the Chinese Super League is a cash-rich league, its not the league or clubs themselves that are cash-rich, it is their benefactors, many of whom have no real alligence to any team and can and do pull the plug on clubs at short notice, often due to the fact that investing in a Chinese football club is like pouring money into a black hole. It’s unlikely that football clubs in China will become profitable in the near future, and it has to be hoped that the signing of big names helps develop the league so that it may become commercially more viable as well as cultivating more of its own talent.
These are exciting times for the Chinese Super League, but let us hope the likes of Anelka bring more fans to the stadiums, greater interest in the Chinese domestic league, and in turn, a renewed enthusiasm for Chinese football at grassroots level.