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Greenland group breaks silence over potential Shanghai Shenhua takeover

Real estate giants Greenland has confirmed it is interested in buying Chinese Super League club Shanghai Shenhua but say it is waiting to see how the general situation develops.

Late last month, Chinese media reported that the group had purchased the club, however the news turned out to be premature. No confirmation came from Greenland and Shenhua’s eccentric chairman Zhu Jun responded with several cryptic remarks which appeared to suggest the story was without foundation.

However on Friday, group chairman Zhang Yuliang responded to a journalist’s question on the question of buying Shenhua, after he had finished giving a speech to students and academics at Beijing University.

Zhang said, “Before Shanghainese football was good, but in recent times it has not fared so well. There were some media stories suggesting Greenland should come out and take over a team, and this is something I also considered.

“I’ve been asked about it before and my answer was just one word – ‘possibly’. For now, we need to see what the next step is, our wish is to serve the needs of society.”

At Beijing University, Zhang was delivering a lecture entitled “How much distance should entrepreneurs between themselves and politics?”. A fitting topic considering the intertwined nature of business and the government in China in general, in particular the Real Estate sector in China, an industry currently going through a boom period. The majority of CSL clubs are currently owned by Real Estate firms, most famously Guangzhou Evergrande who have invested millions to turn the club into China’s top team.

It would appear that Greenland Group does have intentions to buy Shenhua but the takeover process may be long and drawn out, indeed this statement may be the first move in their negotiation strategy. For his part, current owner Zhu Jun spoke a week ago of “waiting for other teams to decline” so Shenhua to become a leading team again, and that he would re-invest money in the club if his business took an upturn.

Shenhua fans cautiously welcomed the news and some scoffed at Zhang’s statement about Greenland wanting to meet the needs of society.

“Society needs you to lower the cost of housing. Will you do that?’ was one rather pointed remark, referring to China’s soaring property prices and inability of first time buyers to get on the housing ladder.

Others focused on Zhu Jun’s reckless leadership of the club and what they believed the be the tarnishing of the club’s name.

“Quickly, kick pig-head out of Shenhua” – a play on the family name of Zhu Jun being a homonym in Chinese for the word for pig.

“Do you really want to see the likes of Song Boxuan and Zhang Kaimu sold off next year, then amateur players taking their place? I have only one thing to say – so many years of not qualifying for the Asian Champions League, so many years of being second best to the turtles (Beijing) are you willing to be resigned to that? At least, I am not.” – a commentator responding to someone saying Zhu Jun may not wish to sell.

“Sell up quickly, let’s get rid of this “pig germ”, a tramp who treats players like migrant workers, not paying their wages properly, drive him out!” – “pig germ” being another word play on Zhu Jun’s name.

Whether or not a takeover is imminent, the desire for change at Hongkou seems clear.

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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