Next Wednesday July 25th Shanghai Stadium will be buzzing red and blue. The hometown heroes Shanghai Shenhua FC and Didier Drogba will host global giants Manchester United and new-kid-on-the-block Shinji Kagawa during the 2012 United Summer Preseason tour. Both sides’ new star signings are likely to make appearances as they familiarize themselves with their respective squads. Those interested in seeing which of the two proves their worth can find tickets online via piao.com
United Visiting the Largest Red Devil Fan Base
For Kagawa and United it will be their third match of the preseason and their only match in Asia this year. The first two matches saw the Red Devils take on South African clubs Ajax Cape Town and AmaZulu inSouth Africa. United will then travel to face Valerenga in Norway, Barcelona in Sweden and Hanover in Germany during the 22,000-mile (35,400-kilometre) pre-season tour. For a club that has been visiting Asia since the 1970’s Sir Alex Ferguson’s United, (there are an estimated following of 70-100 million within China) is likely to have strong support at Shanghai Stadium. In an interview with Manchester United CEO David Gill said of United’s 2009 visit to Hangzhou, “Last time we were here, Dimitar Berbatov described the feeling as like being in the Beatles!” However, Shenhua remains an ambitious club in Asia aiming to become a leader in the sport in China and Asia.
Turning Point for Shanghai Shenhua
Twelve months ago few would have believed the Chelsea duo of Anelka and Drogba would be again suiting up together in blue, only over 9,000km (5,700miles) away in Shangai. The duo’s shocking move to Shanghai has only been trumped by Shenhua’s dismal performance in the Chinese Super League thus far. Over half way past the season and Shenhua remains in the bottom half of the table, but Drogba, who arrived last week, is hardly to blame. Last weekend’s 3-1 victory over rivals Beijing Guo’an coupled with a potential victory this weekend could mark a turning point in Shenhua’s 2012 season. Meanwhile, United will be looking to recover after a dramatic second place finish in this decade’s most exciting EPL title race.
Eye on New Talent
Manchester United, the most valuable sports team in the world (according to Forbes 2012 report) and most decorated club in English professional football history, needs little introduction. However, preseason’s are often a great opportunity to get a glimpse at new signings and up-and-coming talent looking to establish themselves in the side. Making their debut with the first team squad will be Tyler Blackett, who recently signed a professional contract after coming through the United academy system as well as Jesse Lingard, Nick Powell and Ryan Tunnicliffe are similarly trying to break into the first team. For Shenhua’s younger talents it’s their best shot at primetime, and the likes of creative midfielder Caoyunding will relish such opportunities to stand out among the Shenhua stars.
Key Match Up – Nicolas Anelka vs Rio Ferdinand
Nicolas Anelka has already scored against Manchester United for three separate teams (Arsenal, ManchesterCity, and Chelsea) and could add Shanghai Shenhua to that list. Ferdinand, likely to be disappointed after missing out on the Euro Cup and losing out on the EPL title to rivals Manchester City this season, will be keen to start the 2012-2013 on the right foot.
The Kagawa Kid
Shinji Kagawa’s £20m ($31M) transfer from Borrusia Dortmund to United makes him the most expensive Asian football player ever. The price tag is a testament to the 23 year-old’s key role in Dortmund’s back-to-back Bundesliga championships with 29 goals from midfield. He’s been dubbed the Japanese Messi for his ability to take on players and tenaciousness in front of goal. Somewould call him the replacement for Sung Ji-Park, who is leaving United for Queens Park Rangers after eight years as both a Korean and Manchester Red Devil. They would be making a mistake as both players are completely different, Park a utility player and Kagawa an dynamic attacking threat. Sir Alex has placed high value on Kagawa and stated the significance this tour is for him. “It’ll be important for Shinji Kagawa, who will be coming on his first tour with us,” said Sir Alex. “Since he doesn’t speak English well…hopefully, by the time he comes back, he’ll speak good Scottish!” While Kagawa will be learning English for his stay in Manchester it’s doubtful if Drogba will be picking up Mandarin or Shanghainese.
Big Didi in the House
The hero. The messiah. The savior of Shenhua and Chinese Football. There is no shortage of ridiculous superlatives describing the Ivorian’s coming to China. Perhaps expectations are unreasonable, but the hype is understandable. Drogba is a player that has scored in all seven of his cup final appearances, most notably the recent 2012 FA Cup and Champions League goals (and penalty kick). He is at the peak of his already decorated career and only likely to have a huge impact on and off the field ( report on this). As an ambassador for the sport Drogba can bring a pedigree of professionalism and class that is both refreshing and desperately needed in Chinese football league. If he’ll get a chance to add to his habit of scoring in cup finals with Shenhua is another question.
What it Means for Both Clubs
2011-2012 left United with its first trophy-less season in seven years so Sir Alex’s men will be readier then ever in preparation for the 2012-2013 campaign. Kagawa will be establishing himself alongside midfield counterparts Scholes, Carrick, and Valencia. For Shenhua the match may simply offer an opportunity to step up in a prime time game. Having lost out on the Chinese FA cup, and most likely beyond reach of the league title, this match may be their best chance to show their quality in and outside of China. Plus, a solid performance would only encourage the much needed support from Shanghainese, who could be converted from Red to Blue.
Traveling Roster for Manchester United
Lindegaard, Amos, Johnstone, Ferdinand, Veseli, Vermijl, Wootton, Blackett;Valencia,Anderson, Carrick, Scholes, Powell, Kagawa, Bebe, Tunnicliffe, Lingard, Brady, Petrucci; Berbatov, Chicharito, Macheda.
Shenhua Roster TBA
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