A Disappointing Season for Shanghai Shenhua

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The new beginning in Chinese Super League never quite materialized – at least in the team that caught the attention of the global media in the past 12 months, Shanghai Shenhua.

The team finished ninth in the just-finished season and fans are wondering whether the big stars will be back for 2013. Not just fans. The international media are linking Nicolas Anelka and especially Didier Drogba with all kinds of teams being linked to the two strikers.

It was the arrival of Anelka in December, who played for such European clubs as Arsenal, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea, the club he left to join Shanghai.

If that was big news then bigger was June’s announcement that Drogba had agreed to sign. In May, the Ivorian was scoring the goal that basically gave Chelsea a first European championship. With his work in London done, he arrived in Shanghai in July to a wild welcome from hundreds of fans at the airport.

By the time he arrived, the club was not far above the relegation zone. Due to his influence and goals, he instigated something of a revival, all relative of course as the team ended in ninth with Drogba scoring eight goals in eleven games.

His two goals and performance in a 5-1 win over nearby rivals Hangzhou was easily the high point of the season leading to a brief optimism that the team could finish in the top three and qualify for the 2013 Asian Champions League.

That was all overshadowed by off the field reports that started in August and never quite went away, suggested that at any time, the two highly-paid stars could be on their way out.

It started with reports that unless owner Zhu Jun, the online gaming tycoon who had financed the signings, was given more control of the club by other shareholders, then he would reduce his financial contributions which would result in the players not getting paid and could end with contracts being cancelled.

The dispute has not been completely resolved and the future is uncertain. Drogba, however, promised the fans this week that he would be back for the new season due to start in March.

"Because I joined Shenhua relatively late, I didn't prepare with the team early in the season, so our results this year were not very good," he said, according to the Shanghai Morning Post.

"But I hope next season I can start again from the beginning with Shenhua."

Overall, it has been a tumultuous season for the club. New coach Jean Tigana left his post early in the season with reports of Anelka being installed as his replacement. Former coach of Argentina Sergio Batista was appointed in May.

Such uncertainty looks set to persist. Predicting the future is not something that fans in Chinese football like to do and despite Drogba’s declarations, nobody knows for sure if he will be back next year.

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