by Andrew Crawford
Having even the remotest interest in Shanghai Shenhua should probably come with a health warning. When I die a decade prematurely, blame it on the side from the Hongkou stadium for weakening my heart and badly damaging my sanity. Shenhua is a dangerous interest to have. Believe me, its lots of fun but if you can, enjoy it in moderation.
The Chinese Super League (CSL) has recently been thrust into the spotlight via the big money arrivals of Nicolas Anelka and Jean Tigana at my ‘local’ club, who having not won a title in almost a decade, have now exploded into relevance once again. No-one is entirely sure where the money has come from for these signings but equally, no one really cares – Shanghai is a brash, loud city where success is expected and demanded. As long as the new arrivals help the club win, everyone’s happy.
For the hardcore fans, the ones who transform the north and south ends of the club’s otherwise sparsely filled stadium into swaying, swearing, boisterous carnivals of noise, the signings are a mixed blessing. Anelka is still a very good player and Tigana, despite being a big fan of resigning without warning, is a proven top level coach. For a success starved club, this is exactly the sort of bold investment that the fans wanted.
However, one can only imagine that there will be more than a little frustration at the sudden influx of new supporters who have been enticed by the hype of Anelka. Ticket prices will go up, not only to fund the wages of the new arrivals but also because there will be more demand, certainly for the first half of the season.
There is also the problem of our chairman, Zhu Jun, who frankly is about as likeable as small pox. This is a man who recently made Shenhua play their ‘home’ games for the Chinese FA Cup in Wuhu, a city in the neighbouring Anhui province over two-hundred miles away from Shanghai. Last season, he sold off all Shenhua’s best players midway through the season, sparking a spectacular nosedive from the top-half of the table and into a relegation dogfight. There are more unicorns in the city then there are people with nice things to say about Mr Zhu.
However, the Anelka singing has given the eccentric videogames mogul a new platform in which to shamelessly promote himself to anyone who’ll listen, much to the delight of rumour mongers everywhere. You’ll probably be reading about Shenhua’s interest in Didier Drogba, which is highly unlikely to go through as the club already have two foreign strikers (Anelka and former Australian international, Joel Griffiths) and need to get an overseas defender or two to strengthen their backline. Fans of Brazilian club, Internacional will be equally curious about the fate of their Argentine playmaker, Andres D’Alessandro, who is also rumoured to be moving to Shanghai. Basically, if you have played in a big European league in the last five years, chances are you’ve been mentioned in the same sentence as Shenhua. Guti and Michael Ballack are among the names that have been recently mentioned and with Zhu reluctant to deny almost any rumour, the pick-a-name reporting shows no sign of slowing down.
As someone who likes to spend his Saturdays encamped with the Blue Devils, one of the supporters groups in the Hongkou’s north stand, I can’t wait for the season to begin. The all-standing atmosphere in that part of the ground is a joy to behold, especially when tickets plus a beer can be as little as a fiver. I desperately want this season to be a success, not only as a writer who likes the romantic story of a once great club returning to its former glory but also as a resident of Shanghai who wants to see his club do well. Some fans would like a title run but for me, a decent league finish with a couple of wins over rivals Hangzhou and Beijing would be just fine. And the less Zhu, the better, obviously.
You can follow Shenhua’s fortunes by following Andrew on Twitter @ShouldersGalore