Striker set to leave Shanghai Shenhua
23 December ~ Barring something remarkable, Nicolas Anelka, who barely a year ago was signing for Shanghai Shenhua amid global fanfare, looks set to have his contract annulled. It brings an end to a bizarre 12 months for the striker, who has hardly covered himself in glory since his arrival in China. Things looked ominous even before the Chinese Super League (CSL) season got underway after Anelka was pointedly late to Shenhua's pre-season training camp in protest at what he saw as lack of preferential treatment from his new club.
Despite the transgression, the team took the captain's armband from the popular Yu Tao – who had been with Shenhua for over a decade – and gave it to their new star player instead. Once the season got underway it soon became apparent that things were not going to go well. Within four games, Shenhua's newest captain had led a dressing room coup that ousted Jean Tigana from the dugout. Appointed player-manager for the subsequent game against Tianjin Teda, Anelka's tactics were so bad that Shenhua got booed off the pitch at full-time as the visitors won in Shanghai for the first time in their history.
Prone to voicing his displeasure with the club during press conferences and occasionally threatening to retire, Anelka also missed several games due to "'injuries" as a shareholder dispute resulted in unpaid wages and training ground strikes. Increasingly marginalised following the mid-season arrival of Didier Drogba in Shanghai, a disinterested Anelka would regularly drift out of position during games, much to the fury of local supporters. As the season went on Shenhua fans threw coins at him during a cup game while Chinese newspapers ran cartoons of Drogba carrying Anelka on his back.
With the CSL season now over, Anelka's tally of three goals in 22 appearances represents a poor return on a reported weekly salary of £190,000 and he will become the latest departure from Shenhua amid the ongoing boardroom power struggle. Yu Tao recently signed with local rivals Shanghai Shenxin, while Feng Renliang and Wu Xi, who were regulars in the Chinese national team, have been also sold on and Drogba is reportedly the next player to go.
All of this has been hard to take for the Shenhua fans, who saw 150 per cent increases in season tickets this year following promises that the team was going to win the league. Instead the Shanghai club, one of the oldest in China, is in freefall with a would-be saviour whose stubbornness weighed the team down for most of the season. Anelka has certainly left behind a legacy in Shanghai but not a lot of it is positive. Andrew Crawford