The year 2014 got off to the worst possible start for fans of beleaguered Shanghai Shenhua when Shandong Luneng announced the signing of club stalwarts Wang Dalei and Dai Lin for 3.6m and 1.2m Euro respectively.
In what is likely to be the biggest domestic transfer of the season, and the highest fee ever paid for a goalkeeper in Asia, Wang Dalei, who is a week short of his 25th birthday, signed a 5 year contract with the Jinan club who already have fellow Chinese national keeper Geng Xiaofeng amongst their ranks.
Centre half Dai Lin, one of Shenhua’s most consistent and long-serving players, also headed in the same direction. The 27-year-old former Liaoning centre-half signed a four-year contract and may partner another former Shenhua big name, Du Wei, in defence at Luneng.
The two signings signal Shandong’s intent to make a serious dent at challenging Guangzhou Evergrande’s title next year, further strengthening the squad with solid domestic talent on top of big signings Ryan McGowan from Hearts and Vagner Love from CSKA Moscow last year.
The departure of yet more star players from Shenhua was greeted with fury in Shanghai. Fans of the club have grown used to a steady stream of internationally capped players leaving to join other CSL clubs and previously shrugged off the departure of domestic stars over the past few seasons such as Gao Lin, Sun Xiang, Li Weifeng, Wu Xi and Feng Renliang.
However, it was evident from looking at the social networks that the sale of Wang Dalei was the straw that broke the donkey’s back. Controversial owner Zhu Jun was verbally abused in countless posts as the sale of a player seen as the talisman and embodiment of the team spirit over the past few seasons became too much to bear.
Fans called for the head of Zhu Jun and board member Zhou Jun for “disgracing Shanghai” and “running the club into the ground”. Other’s speculated that Zhu Jun intended to sell up and was asset-stripping the club’s best remaining players before he left.
For the club’s part, Shenhua (or Zhu Jun) claim that, because the club were denied by the local FA the chance to move to Kunming and receive financial support from a Yunnan consortium, they had no choice but to accept a very high offer for their best domestic player and only member of the Chinese national team, in order to sustain the club financially.
Shenhua’s support didn’t buy it though. “You don’t sell your wife and kids to save your family” said one fan, referring to the fact Wang Dalei has been with the club seven years and was seen as part of the furniture at Hongkou Stadium.
Shenhua are expected to unveil Guizhou Renhe reserve keeper Shen Jun, who has played one CSL game in the last three years, as Wang Dalei’s replacement, within the next few days.
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