Chinese madhouse awaiting Anelka

Mystery finances and a chairman who picked himself to play against Liverpool... but French striker may just succeed

Nicolas Anelka is a rich man who is about to get even richer when he leaves Chelsea next month and moves to his new side, Shanghai Shenhua ('Flower of Shanghai' in Mandarin). The trademark No 39 shirt has already been reserved for the Frenchman, and his new team-mates, and pretty much the entire population of Shanghai, are getting ready to roll out the red carpet for their new hero. That much is clear.

The mystery lies in where the funds for Anelka's reported weekly salary of £190,000 have come from. Shanghai have just endured a disastrous season that saw the club finish in 11th place in the Chinese Super League amid a sizeable exodus of players and management, and the sudden swelling of their coffers has come as a surprise, to say the least. Why has a club that very recently seemed to have no money suddenly signed a former France international and been linked to Didier Drogba? Why the sudden rumours about hiring blue-riband managers Jean Tigana and Roberto Donadoni?

The answers, as is standard in Chinese football, remain cloudy at best. The country's main sports outlet suggests that vast sums of money have been injected into the club via a government-owned company. All of this suggests some powerful backers are pushing for Shenhua to return to the top of Chinese football.

They last won the Super League in 2003, although that title has been shrouded in controversy after it was discovered last year that the head of the league's referees had bribed another official to favour Shenhua in a crucial fixture. Now there is a big push to ensure that Shanghai, in a city that feels entitled to success, win another title. Money will obviously play a part again but this time, its shadowy benefactors want success via the chequebook rather than the brown envelope.

Little of this will concern Anelka, of course. But he will have to put up with the behaviour of one of Shanghai's most controversial figures, Shenhua's chairman, Zhu Jun, an eccentric millionaire who made his fortune in the Chinese gaming industry.

The 45-year-old businessman has spent the last couple of days basking in the reflected glory of his new star player, knowing that his transfer coup has bought him time with a fan base that reviles him – and not without reason.

In 2007, Zhu, then the owner of another of Shanghai's football teams, Shanghai United, bought a controlling stake in Shenhua and immediately merged the two clubs together to the fury of both sets of fans. Zhu then sacked Shenhua's popular manager Wu Jing Gui in the same week that Wu's mother died.

Zhu did not stop there. In August 2007, shortly after the merger, Zhu named himself in the starting line-up in a pre-season friendly against Liverpool. The far-from-fit owner managed five minutes before he was replaced by the former Middlesbrough striker, Hamilton Ricard.

Last year he made the utterly false claim of having made a bid for the Merseyside club when they were put up for sale by Tom Hicks and George Gillett. Other gems include proposing to change Shenhua's blue kit to red and flirting with the idea of hiring Diego Maradona to coach the squad in the Asian Champions League, for which they had not even qualified, while leaving the Chinese Super League games to Miroslav Blaževic.

This season Zhu sold many of Shenhua's players midway through the season, causing the club to nosedive and take only one point from a possible 27 until a late rally at the end of the season saved them from relegation. He also decided to make the club play all of their CFA Cup games in Wuhu in Anhui province, a full four hours' drive from Shanghai.

Yet if Anelka can survive the madness of Zhu, he may find his time in Shanghai to be more than just a money-spinner. Despite the fan base being smaller than most clubs in the Premier League, it is arguably the most passionate in China and for a man who has played in Manchester and north London derbies, games against Beijing and Guangzhou will offer a similar fervour.

The playing squad is underwhelming, although the flying winger Feng Renliang was rumoured to be catching the eye of Tottenham Hotspur and the youth team at Shenhua has a proven record of producing technically gifted youngsters. But Chinese football has been waiting for a player to be its poster boy in the mould of David Beckham in the US and, in the unlikely figure of Anelka they may finally have their man. Quite how long the much-travelled Frenchman – this will be his ninth club – will stay remains to be seen.

The former Hibernian player Derek Riordan lasted four months in Xi'an and Paul Gascoigne four games at Gansu Tianma, but this feels different. With the financial and political backing, no matter how unexplained, Shanghai are being positioned to go for great things. Anelka could be in the right place at the right time.

Travel
travel
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan in What If
filmReview: Actor swaps Harry Potter for Cary Grant in What If
News
Our resilience to stress is to a large extent determined by our genes
science
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Pornography is more accessible - and harder to avoid - than ever
news... but they still admit watching it
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
musicKate Bush asks fans not to take photos at London gigs
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Manchester United are believed to have made a £15m bid for Marcos Rojo
sportWinger Nani returns to Lisbon for a season-long loan as part of deal
News
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment