By Andrew Crawford, writing from Shanghai
If only to make a sweltering Chinese summer that little bit more overwhelming, the ongoing saga at Shanghai Shenhua continues to roll on and the soap opera that is the city’s biggest football club found a new plotline to explore, namely a recent game with local rivals, Jiangsu Sainty.
In the build-up to the game on Sunday night, Shenhua slipped further towards the bottom of the Chinese Super League as a result of having played one game less than the other teams around them. Whether by coincidence or design, fans of the other team in the city, Shanghai East Asia, who are top of the second division in China, then reportedly laid siege to the Shenhua message boards, taunting their cousins about the latter’s form in the CSL. Indeed, when East Asia rose to the top of the Chinese second tier (China League One), it was thought that there might be a Shanghai derby for the first time in several years in 2013. Now it is possible that East Asia and Shenhua could simply swap places.
The East Asia angle is also interesting because of how Shenhua’s little brother has helped them out in their hour of need. The globally reported signing of Didier Drogba largely overlooked one important detail- the Ivorian’s new employers already have their maximum quota of foreign players. East Asia, who are owned by Xu Genbao, a former league-winning Shenhua manager and the effective godfather of Shanghainese football stepped in to send defender, Bai Jiajun, to the Hongkou on loan whilst receiving the Bosnian midfielder, Mario Bozic, in exchange. The move benefits Shenhua immensely- not only can they clear a roster spot for Drogba but they also get the services of a talented young full-back to assist an ailing defence. Xu’s blood, according to the Shanghainese media, is still blue but Shenhua fans will be far from delighted that they had to rely on a second division club to help them get out of a fix.
As for the match itself, it was a spectacularly fiery derby game and well worth the price of admission for the fans that braved the heat of Nanjing- known within the country as one of the ‘three forges of China’.
Jiangsu took the lead twice via highly contentious penalties before both times getting pegged back by a determined and resilient Shenhua team in what was probably one of their best games this season. Nicolas Anelka did not trouble the score sheet, but new Colombian signing Gio Moreno, who previously wore the #10 in Argentina with Racing, hit the post and looked like a great addition to the midfield.
Both sets of fans also added to the drama of the occasion. There were brawls in a service station between rival groups of supporters in the build-up to the game whilst during the match itself, two Jiangsu supporters broke into a commentary box to punch a Shanghainese pundit in the face for celebrating the first equaliser too loudly.
It is hoped that the fight shown in the 2-2 draw against Jiangsu might just be the turning point in Shenhua’s troubled season- although parts of its fan base are already starting to lose patience with the players.
As Shenhua laboured to a recent penalty-kick victory over Shenzhen Ruby in the Chinese FA Cup, someone hurled a coin at Anelka as he took a corner. The Frenchman evidently didn’t notice but tellingly, the fans around the offender didn’t seem to mind either. The very next game- a 1-0 loss to Qingdao Jonoon, the only other team in the league with such a bad record this season, Anelka clashed with a supporter after the final whistle.
With Drogba still not due to make his debut for Shenhua until after the upcoming derby game against Beijing Guoan (he will, however, greet the fans at halftime), the same team that survived their visit to Nanjing will now have to hold firm against their most hated of rivals. Anelka, who has not scored since early April, needs to finally come good for Shenhua in a game often dubbed ‘the derby of China’.
The good work accomplished against Jiangsu will count for nothing if Shenhua embarrass themselves against Guoan. Drogba, who will be watching the game from the stands before and after his halftime meet and greet, will only then get an idea of the passion, hope and frustration currently engulfing his new employers.
This was written by Andrew Crawford. You can follow or interact with Andrew on twitter @ShoulderGalore. Comments below please.
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