It’s been a crazy 12 months or so for the Shanghai Shenhua football club and the roller-coaster ride shows few signs of slowing down.
The Chinese Super League club made international headlines in 2012 by signing world stars Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba. For a few months Shenhua was one of the most talked about clubs on the planet.
It didn’t last long. The pair returned to Europe at the end of the season when a dispute about money and behind-the-scenes control put their sizable salaries in danger.
Fans could be forgiven for thinking that it was all a promotional gimmick created by Shanghai owner Zhu Jun. Whatever did or didn’t happen off the pitch, it certainly raised the international profile of Shenhua’s as well as Zhu’s new online game Firefall.
But the departure of the famous stars did not make life less ordinary in Shanghai. The financial problems linger.
Shenhua's foreign players, Colombian midfielder Giovanni Moreno, Argentine Rolando Schiavi and Argentine midfielder Patricio Toranzo – the current crop are not quite as pedigreed as last season’s vintage – went on strike for two games after not being paid. They were paid recently and returned to the pitch.
Shanghai needs all the help it can get after starting the season under a cloud – not because of what was going on behind the scenes but because of what took place even before a ball was kicked.
After Shanghai was implicated in a past match-fixing scandal, the club not only had its 2003 title removed – a real pain for a team that has finished second eight times since 1995 – but it also docked six points.
In response, Shenhua coach Sergio Batista, who led Argentina at the 2010 World Cup, said that he just wants to ensure that Shenhua can stay in the league at this point. Batista’s statement is understandable, as the club struggled for most of 2012. Only a late run earned the team a relatively respectable mid-table ranking – a big disappointment considering how much money had been spent.
Problems off the field may continue to plague the club this season, but the situation has improved on the field. Shanghai is off to a good start this season and is unbeaten after six games. If it wasn’t for the deduction, the team would be in the upper reaches of the standings.
Now Batista has his sights set higher than mere survival. He has set the same target as was set in 2012 when the team was the talk of the football world. He wants to qualify for the Asian Champions League, which means finishing in the top three at least.
"I'm very satisfied with the performance of my players,” Batista said after a recent game. “As I said last time, I have 27 players and they can play when I need them,”.
With all the upheavals and chaos that surrounds Shanghai Shenhua, reaching the Asian Champions League would be quite an achievement.