Shanghai Shenhua appear to be in meltdown after team captain Yu Tao, who has been with the club for 11 years, sensationally moved to city rivals Shanghai Shenxin today.
The 31-year-old midfielder has signed a three-year deal with the club based in Jinshan suburb who look set to escape relegation following Dalian Shide’s demise.
However, Yu Tao becomes the third key squad member to leave Shenhua during the off-season, following the controversial exits of national teamers Wu Xi and Feng Renliang. Rumours are that newly promoted Wuhan wish to sign defender Qiu Tianyi and hugely promising midfielder Zhang Kaimu – more bad indications.
The completely unexpected switch has left many fans in a state of shock and is the latest sign that the club is in free fall. Zhu Jun’s threat to relocate Shenhua to Wuxi, Jiangsu province if other shareholders don’t hand him a majority stake by December 31 is casting a huge shadow over the club’s future at present. Whilst doesn’t believe such a move will come to pass, the Oriental Sports Daily – says Zhu Jun is “not joking” and in Chinese, and particularly Shanghainese, football, nothing can ever be completely ruled out.
The club has been in turmoil for the last couple of months, with Aneka expected to officially leave any day soon, and seemingly no way back for Drogba if the shareholder dispute doesn’t get resolved to Zhu Jun’s satisfaction.
Other signs that there has been a serious disturbance in the Shenhua force include the uninspiring nature the players so far signed for next season. Li Jianbin, a 23-year-old defender who only played one game for Guangzhou Evergrande last season, and 31-year-old Bejing Guoan midfielder Xu Liang who is a useful pickup but not the top-notch domestic level player Shenhua could afford if they have 175,000 UK pounds to blow every week on Anelka’s wages.
Another new arrival at the club has muddied the picture even more. Former Beijing Guoan manager, Shen Xiangfu, who recently led Henan Construction down into the second division, has been named as “Chinese player head trainer”. A strange appointment, given that the team already has a coach supposed to be in charge of all players, Sergio Batista. His contract was described as being “basically agreed” but not yet signed – which of course means nothing anywhere, least of all in China.
Naturally, this has led to speculation Batista will be exiting the Shenhua hot seat, so much so that Shen Xiangfu publicly stated his contract says nothing about taking over head coach duties. It’s interesting to note that Shen is one of China’s most experienced coaches and has not occupied an assistant management role since the mid 90s with Guoan. The scenario of both Batista and Shen handling the team next season is nothing other than a huge banana skin waiting to be stepped on.
Regardless, the departure of Yu Tao, a man expected to hang up his boots at Hongkou, is profoundly shocking. During difficult times for the club, Yu would often act as intermediary between the fans and the rest of the squad. Now this ambassador for the team has gone in the middle of arguably the club’s biggest crisis. Letting go of a player who is a hero to the fans, a Shanghai born-and-bred club legend and iconic figure at Hongkou who embodies the team, is a bewildering move.
reaction to Yu’s departure has been a mix of shock, vilification and dumbfoundment. Shenhua’s online PPTV channel host Zhou Liang reacted on his weibo by saying “”There needs to be serious examination of this unforgivable mistake” – very strong words indeed from someone who is to all intents and purposes a club insider and a serious indication that all is not well.
The event has further destabilized a club already on very shaky ground due to the on-going shareholder dispute. On the pitch, Yu is not a massive loss, he is a competent midfielder with a good football brain but not an essential player. However, off the pitch he is – the club need a player of his experience who knows what Shenhua is all about, someone who is a bridge between the fans and club, someone who has made more appearances for Shenhua than any other player. His departure also means that badly unfit smoker Jiang Kun is likely to feature regularly in the Shenhua midfield and that would be extremely regrettable to say the least.
The only possible upside is that there will be more room in Shenhua’s midfield for the undeniable talents of Cao Yunding (now the club’s last remaining Shanghainese first-teamer) and Zhang Kaimu. However each team can only make five domestic transfers. Shenhua have used two already as mentioned. yet the club has shifted two Chinese internationals and now a long-serving captain.
Right now it looks as if the end of the world has come a day early for Shenhua
(Pic: Yu Tao in the thick of it for Shenhua a few seasons back)
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