It’s happened again. China is welcoming another football superstar to the country’s Super League, and Didier Drogba is the biggest name yet.
The Ivorian may be 34, but would still be welcomed by about any club in the world. Just a month ago, he was scoring Chelsea’s goal in the biggest game in club football, the UEFA Champions League final. That bullet header put the English club back in the game against Bayern Munich.
If that wasn’t enough, he scored the all-important penalty in the shootout that gave the trophy to the London team for the very first time. It was his last act in the blue shirt.
He’ll still be wearing blue, but now with Shanghai Shenhua. The club, backed by online gaming tycoon, Zhu Jun, is ambitious. It signed Nicolas Anelka in December and hired French coach Jean Tigana.
But the season has been something of a nightmare. Tigana didn’t last much more than two months, disillusioned with what he thought was a lack of control over transfers.
Results have been very poor. At the time of writing, Shanghai are 12th out of 16 teams in the league, with just 14 points from 13 games. Anelka and his team mates have managed to score a paltry nine goals between them. Only three points above the relegation zone, there’s virtually no chance of the title in 2012.
Drogba certainly can help in that regard.
“Drogba will be the highest profile player to join the China Super League,” said Titan sports commentator Yan Qiang. “He is going to get about 12 million euro ($15 million) per season, the highest salary ever offered by China’s sports.”
Yan also pointed out that what Chinese football really needs is an overhaul of its youth development system. But that doesn’t seem to be on the mind of owner Zhu.
“I bought Drogba to make supporters happy,” he wrote on his microblog. “I believe his professionalism is not just on the field, but other strengths will also have a great impact on other players. His values are many, he has an international vision as well as international recognition.”
Drogba can’t be blamed for accepting such a large amount of cash to play football before he hangs up his boots. And while he’s sure to score goals in the league, he could contribute just as much to Chinese football if he works hard off the pitch to promote it and works with team mates and others to try and improve standards.
For a while at least, there’s excitement in the city. But it won’t last unless results improve quickly. A little more money invested where it’s really needed, in the grassroots, would make a big difference, even though the headlines and the plaudits might only come 10 or 20 years down the line.
For those spending money, that seems to be too long to wait.