In a bizarre and unexpected development, Nicolas Anelka has announced he is Shenhua’s new player-manager, following a confusing day of frenzied speculation in Shanghai.
He made the announcement a little after midnight today on his official Twitter account, after the club yesterday announced the sacking of Tigana’s three coaching staff and the promotion of Anelka to the coaching team.
Although the club initially announced Anelka would be helping out with coaching duties, it now very much appears as if he is the latest occupant of the Hongkou hotseat, replacing Tigana rather than assisting him. Chinese press reports had earlier suggested that the former Fulham boss had not been fired.
However, speculation began to grow throughout the day as to how Tigana could continue with the three coaches he brought to the club having been fired due to player dissatisfaction with their methods.
And the writing appeared to be on the wall for Tigana when senior Shenhua player, midfielder Jiang Kun publicly criticised Tigana at a press conference yesterday, saying he was “absolutely not a successful coach” and that the team’s results were better at the same stage of the season last year.
Jiang added that right from the club’s training sessions when Tigana took over during the club’s pre-season tour of Spain, to winter training in Kunming, training had been “the same every day” and there had been “little communication” between the coaching team and staff.
No information has been released so far as to the fate of Tigana but clearly he has agreed some kind of severance package as he would have found it very difficult to continue with the players having been behind the removal of his coaching team.
Anelka’s new role at the club is something of a surprise development to say the least. Many, particularly those overseas, will find the appointment rather odd; Anelka’s introverted personality and well-documented awkward relationships with authority in the past make him a very curious choice of manager. With no experience of even being an assistant coach, he finds himself jumping in at the deep end in a very unfamiliar footballing environment, and the pressure on him to succeed, and the responsibility, will be new experience for him.
It appears as if the appointment has been driven by the rest of the squad who clearly have an immense amount of respect for Anelka as a professional. A new side to his personality has emerged during his time in China so far, that is his modest nature and the efforts to fit in with the local culture. In China, getting along with everyone is something which is greatly valued and, despite what those back in Europe may have previously thought about him, Anelka has succeeded at this so far.
For someone of Anelka’s standing, he is in a position to be extremely influential by fitting in and this positive and professional influence is probably what the club is buying into with this appointment, as its unclear at best what his tactical and man management abilities are.
At any rate, if he has a strong number 2 in place, he is unlikely to do any worse than Tigana.
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