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.

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders