A seemingly managerless Shanghai Shenhua tamely surrendered their proud record of never having lost at home to Tianjin Teda with a dreadful performance in a match played in bizarre circumstances.
Shenhua’s match preparations were reduced to an utter shambles by the ongoing confusion over who would be in charge of picking the team. Earlier in the week, Jean Tigana’s three coaching staff were fired, and it was announced that Nicolas Anelka would assist Tigana in coaching the squad. The Shanghai media said Tigana had not been fired and was continuing at the club, before Anelka shocked Chinese football by abruptly announcing on his twitter on Thursday night that he was now player manager. This had followed Shenhua midfielder Jiang Kun’s very public criticism of Tigana at a press conference the same day – it was a sign that surely Tigana was on his way out.
However the following day, in fact the day of the match, Shenhua owner Zhu Jun told the media Tigana had neither resigned nor been fired and that he was assisting in reforming the training setup. No-one seemed to acknowledge Anelka’s tweet the night before saying he was manager, least of whom Jean Tigana who turned up at Hongkou before the match, and told foreign media on the day of the game he was completely in the dark as to what his future role would be at the club, as the club declined to clarify to the media what Tigana’s status was.
As it turned out, Tigana was spotted leaving Hongkou before the match even kicked off, according to the Chinese media he had travelled to the ground separately without the rest of the squad. This resulted in the surreal sight of the Shenhua technical area being virtually empty during the match apart from the club physio, veteran player Chen Liang and another backroom staff, as the picture at the head of this post reveals.
For the first time in your correspondent’s long experience of watching football matches, one had made his way to the game uncertain of who would be picking the team that night – something which would remain a mystery for the rest of the evening.
Whoever picked the team brought back Dai Lin into defence after his injury. Song Boxuan was also back, but this time on the left of midfield. Wang Lin continued at left back, Manset was up front on his own, and Griffthis was strangely absent. Yu Tao and Jiang Kun returned to the Shenhua midfield, where they were joined by Anelka, who seemed to be playing in some kind of libero role. Cao Yunding was in there too somewhere, but as the game kicked off any semblance of tactical shape or strategic purpose was impossible to make out.
The game’s opening period was devoid of much action. Tianjin had a couple of hopeful long-range shots, and Chen Tao has the chance to score against his former club with a free kick, but he wasted the chance with a weak effort.
Shenhua were looking disjointed and playing without confidence or direction, and it was no surprise when Tianjin took the lead in the 39th minute when Bai Yuefeng’s shot from the edge of the six yard box was parried by Wang Dalei, but the ball fell into the path of Dutch forward Sjoerd Ars who gleefully smashed it home from close range.
Shortly after the goal, Shenhua had the chance to equalise when Cao Yunding created a chance out of nothing with a fantastic threaded through pass to Manset, putting the on-loan Reading star through on goal. But the Frenchman’s touch was awful and he completely screwed up the chance without even getting a shot away.
Just before halftime, Moises hit the bar with a header from a corner, before Jiang Kun came close from a free kick just outside the Tianjin area. However, these two late efforts did not disguise a poor performance from the home side who went in one goal behind.
Tianjin almost went two up not long after the interval when Chen Tao hit a great long range shot which Wang Dalei only just managed to tip around the post, as Shenhua’s passing went to pot for the most part. The post-match stats would reveal Shenhua had only two shots on target all match.
Anelka had been sauntering around in the midfield, not looking particularly effective, but he had the chance to equalize for Shenhua midway through the second half when a Wu Xi lobbed pass forward found him in the box. But Anelka could only hook his own lobbed shot wide. He had a another chance in the closing ten minutes which he blasted over the bar, and even got himself booked for diving, but that was about the size of the would-be Shenhua manager’s contribution to the game.
Fans watching the game just knew Shenhua were never going to score and the referee put everyone out of their misery after three minutes of injury time. Shenhua were booed off the park, and didn’t even bother approaching the north terrace to salute the fans as is their normal post-whistle custom – their performance was miserable and they knew it.
The game was the most winnable of the six fixtures the Hongkou side have played so far, and the match itself was nothing short of a horror show for those of a Shenhua persuasion. The club are drifting rudderless on the high seas without a helmsman, uncertain days lie ahead and Shenhua now look in grave danger of having a year of mediocrity.
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