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Zhu Jun: “Drogba is going nowhere” + Shenhua close season roundup

Didier Drogba will continue to play for Shanghai Shenhua this coming season, says erratic club owner Zhu Jun, following a close season absolutely bursting with speculation over the Ivorian’s future.

With Shenhua’s boardroom shares dispute yet to be resolved, Drogba has been touted to return to Europe, with the Italian media insisting for weeks that Juventus are serious about signing the superstar, with AC Milan in the picture too. Juventus have since went on the record as regards their interest.

However, The Beijing Times today reports that Zhu Jun says Drogba will not be leaving Shenhua. But no information as to the status of the ongoing shareholder dispute has been forthcoming so far, an issue which directly impacts upon Shenhua’s ability to pay Drogba’s massive wage. Indeed the boardroom at Hongkou seems to be asleep on the job –  Shenhua have still to submit the relevant documentation to participate in this years’ CSL, apparently because the club has yet to confirm which stadium it will play in.

understands that last year the club received support from the city government in the form of reduced or even no rent being charged for the use of Hongkou Football stadium, which is municipally owned. So this is another consequence of the share dispute, which is essentially between Zhu Jun as a private investor, and a cabal of state-owned enterprises. Regrettably, it continues to cast a shadow over Shenhua’s pre-season preparations.

Keeping his nose clean - Gio Moreno with Zhu Jun's old buddy Diego

Keeping his nose clean – Gio Moreno with Zhu Jun’s old buddy Diego

Nevertheless, the positive news surrounding Drogba’s future in China is a rare oasis for Shenhua who have been staggering deleriously through a vast desert of bad news during the close season. The shock defection of club legend Yu Tao to rivals Shexin amounted to nothing less than utter humiliation for the club. Shenhua’s attempts to save face by trying to challenge the legality of the move, claiming that they had an option on Yu for an extra season, was doomed to fail right from the start. All that was achieved was further embarrassment and all manner of other unpleasant emotions for all concerned.

The bad news continued during the off season with the departure of Feng Renliang, one of the club’s most naturally talented players, to Guangzhou Evergrande. It is a move best described as an aberration in your correspondent’s opinion. Despite a mediocre season for Feng, it mustn’t be forgotten that he was playing in a mediocre side, nor should it not be pointed out that a talented first team coach should be able to get the best out of a player of Feng’s undoubted ability.

If the departure of Feng was regrettable, but perhaps slightly understandable from a return-on-investment perspective, the sale of Shenhua’s best defender, Wu Xi, was absolutely shocking considering Batista stated last week Shenhua’s aim for 2013 is an ACL place. Wu Xi, who joined Jiangsu Sainty last month for “not a lot more money than Shenhua paid me” according to the man himself, is an accomplished footballer who, as a Chinese player in a team which is only allowed to field four non-Chinese players, is worth his weight in gold. Shenhua are clearly not serious about winning the title, and the sale of Wu Xi makes absolutely zero sense from a footballing perspective. Given that the fullback said in an interview with a Nanjing TV channel on his arrival in Jiangsu province, that he was “completely surprised” to find out he was being sold, it can only be repeated that Zhu Jun does not understand football, and respects Chinese players even less.

Meanwhile, shorn of its greatest Chinese talent, Shenhua moved to bolster their defence with a 40-year-old Boca Juniors  centreback, Ronaldo Schiavi. Much to the amusement of other CSL teams’ fans, before his move to Shenhua, the veteran was described on Wikipedia as a “former football player”. The transfer has yet to be officially announced, but this news is all over the Chinese sports interwebs, and Schiavi is currently with the Shenhua squad on their preseason tour of Argentina. So to recap, Shenhua sold their best Chinese defender, 24-year-old Wu Xi, an international cap, and sold him to a club which lacks both Shenhua’s history and prestige and wasn’t even a CSL team until a few years ago, and bought a 40-year-old foreigner. Insert your own comment here.

shenhua mobbed

Shenhua squad mobbed in Argentina

Also in Argentina is Gio Moreno who has made his rendezvous with the squad. He was the subject of a cheering crowd of Argentinian football fans outside Shenhua’s hotel, having of course previously played for Racing Club of Buenos Aires. The midfield showboater was also subject to rumours over the close season that he would be joining a Columbian club, but these appear to be groundless.

Turning to Shenhua’s domestic player signings, these have been utterly uninspiring to say the least. The club has signed two 31-year-old Beijing Guoan midfielders, Xu Liang and Wang Changqing. Whilst Xu could be described, at best, as a useful pickup, he’s not of the standard Shenhua need to avoid finishing in the bottom half of the table for the third year in a row. Wang Changqing is a nothing more than a bit-part player at Guoan and the only consolation is that he surely can’t be as unfit and effectual as Jiang Kun.

Li Jianbin has joined on loan from Guangzhou Evergrande, for whom he played only once all last season. The 23-year-old defender was an up-and-coming youngster whilst with Chengdu Blades before joining the Cantonese giants a year ago. Shenhua have the option to make the move permanent, but again, signing players who can’t get a game with the champions isn’t very encouraging.

Shenhua have also picked up 22-year-old Ni Yusong from Dalian Shide. The midfielder made five appearances in four seasons for Dalian and can only be considered an unknown quantity. Shenhua have also been linked with Shanghai East Asia forward Zhan Yilin, but nothing official has been announced. So with each club limited to five domestic signings in the winter transfer window, and Ni Yusong not counting to this tally since Dalian Shide’s squad are apparently all free agents since the club will not continue this season, Shenhua have a possible two more domestic signings to be confirmed. We say “aparently” since there is no final word on Shide’s fate yet, despite the start of the season being less than two months away.

On the foreign front, Nicolas Anelka has all but left, he’s now training with Paris SG and some French media sources claim he will pickup a 800,000 UKP termination payment from Shenhua. That is unconfirmed and Shenhua previously said Anelka and the club were to sign a mutual termination agreement which would let Anelka leave for free if he waived the remaining wages on his two-year contract. At any rate, Anelka leaving is a positive development on the pitch at least having failed to make any significant footballing contribution to Shenhua as a whole.

Elsewhere, Joel Griffiths has already joined Sydney FC, and Brazilian defender Moises is now with Portuguesa in the Brazilian Serie A. Shenhua have been linked with Firas Al-Khatib, a top Syrian striker currently playing in the Iraqi League, and there of course have been numerous silly reports about David Beckham coming, and Alessandro Del Pierro. But both of those have been circulated in tabloid newspapers with long and distinguished records of putting sales figures before factual accuracy. Indeed, “Shanghai” and “Shenhua” have become every lazy journalists’ favourite two words to drop into their banal transfer gossip stories this close season, almost all of which have lacked any foundation whatsoever.

Shenhua look to have a difficult season ahead come what may, there is still no news on season tickets which is unsurprising considering the price charged will most likely have a direct relation to whether Drogba stays or leaves.

Indeed, it is not only the price of season tickets which depends on this as yet, confirmed matter.

A leading international commentator on Chinese football frequently quoted by the world's top media. Offers piercing and resolutely honest insights into the bustling crossroads where football, society, economics and politics meet in contemporary China. Based in Shanghai since 2005, observer of the Chinese game since 2000.

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