Another sign, possibly, of the shifting sands of power from west to east. For a few years now aging European football stars have looked to the U.S. for a lucrative contract to see out their careers. One thinks of Beckenbauer and Chinaglia in the 1970s and Beckham and Henri more recently. This Bystander now sees reports that the 32-year-old French forward, Nicholas Anelka, who plays his club football for Chelsea, is in discussions to join Chinese Super League club, Shanghai Shenhua, on a three-year 60 million yuan deal (update: club says the deal is done). Another former France international, Jean Tigana, is reported to have been hired to coach the club. Ten of the head coaches at the 16 Super League clubs are foreigners, including Tigana’ compatriot, Philippe Troussier, at Shenzhen Ruby.
Shanghai Shenhua dropped to 11th last season in the Super League after being in the top five for the previous six seasons. The club is owned by Zhu Jun, founder of The9 Ltd, a Nasdaq-listed online games company. Zhu is a colorful character, to say the least, who once made his manager play him in an exhibition match against the British club, Liverpool. He is notorious for falling out with his players, so Anelka should fit right in. Zhu is also being sued by the Argentine football legend, Maradona, for alleged infringement of his image rights in a The9 game, Winning Goal.
One striker doesn’t make a spring, of course, and Anelka may prove to be the exception that proves the rule. Yet, if he does arrive as expected, he will augment a forward line that relies on the Argentine Luis Salmerón for its goals since Zhu sold some of the club’s best players. The sulky striker should also provide a diversion from the clean-up of the corruption and match-fixing scandal that has plagued the league. And if the Frenchman does prove to be a pathfinder, it would do no harm to Chinese football’s ambition to host the FIFA World Cup in 2026.