Contrary to the headlines dominating the Chinese football press at present, Shanghai Shenhua’s proposed move to Kunming in south-west China is nothing more than political manoeuvring, an inside source told .
Soccer News carried a report to “shock the Chinese football world” yesterday claiming an un-named Yunnan province company had already paid a sum of just under 5 million USD to Shenhua’s coffers and signed a co-operation agreement to move the club to Kunming.
It added the sum was paid last July as a show of faith from the mystery Yunnan company and no further details to the deal were given, other than Shenhua’s existing ownership structure would remain unchanged, as would, crucially, the club’s name.
The reports said “Shenhua’s owners were forced to take a cruel and difficult decision to move to Yunnan to safeguard the future of the club,” but the only official comment from Shenhua was a “no comment” to several direct questions fired at board member Zhou Jun.
Whilst many outside Shanghai were indeed shocked by the news, many in the city itself greeted the development with cynicism. A source inside the management at government-owned Hongkou Football Stadium, the home ground of Shenhua, told the proposed move was gamesmanship on the part of eccentric owner Zhu Jun to get a concession from the local government to let Shenhua use Hongkou Stadium for a reduced price.
“Despite this move supposed to have being agreed months ago, we haven’t received any indication from Shenhua that they don’t intend to play at Hongkou Stadium next season,” the source said, adding, “”We have seen this before from Zhu Jun, last time it was a move to Anhui this time Kunming, I wouldn’t say it’s totally impossible but it looks like a negotiation tactic straight from Zhu’s textbook.”
Shenhua played a CFA cup game at Wuhu in Anhui province two years ago and Zhu Jun threatened to move the club to the city around this time last year.
Kunming, the largest city in south-west China, has been without a top-division team since Yunnan Hongta, backed by the tobacco giant of the same name, were bought out by Chongqing Lifan in one of their many Houdini-like escapes from relegation from the top division. The city has been mentioned before as a potential new venue for CSL football, due to its relatively developed football infrastructure. The city lies at an altitude of just below 2,000 meters and is used as a pre-season training camp for many CSL clubs, as well as a sometime home base for the Chinese national team.
However, the report also said that the CSL had not received any notice from Shenhua of any intended move. It also went on to reveal that despite Zhu Jun claiming no-one wanted to take Shenhua off his hands, Soccer News said Greenland group, a Shanghai-based real estate giant which previously confirmed an interest in purchasing Shenhua, had a 24 million USD offer for the club turned down by Zhu Jun as it didn’t match his valuation. But despite this, Zhu is accepting a far smaller offer to move Shenhua to a city nearly 2,400km away for the rather odd fixed term of three years.
Word on the Shanghai street was mixed with some fans understandably worried despite the whole matter giving rise to a city-wide sense of de-ja-vu. Weibo user “Dawei Davidsilva” summed things up well by saying, “Today’s winner is the media who leaked this so-called exclusive info, they’ve published the biggest story since the end of the season and conveniently revealed the club’s negotiation conditions,” he said, adding, “This moving to another city plot comes out every year now, aren’t you tired of it?”
Come what may, with the CSL reason now over, the matter is sure to rumble on as disputes involving Shenhua tend to do so, which means Shenhua’s long-suffering fans face yet another very unpleasant winter of discontent.
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