Anelka brings profile to Chinese league in 2012
The eyes of football fans across Asia will be on China this
weekend as Shanghai Shenhua and its star striker Nicolas Anelka
kick off the most eagerly-awaited Chinese Super League season
The French star arrived in the city of 20 million in January
after a high-profile move from English Premier League powerhouse
Chelsea – one that reportedly made him the highest paid player in
the world – to signal that Chinese club football has arrived on the
Anelka already has a legion of fans in Shanghai, and is looking
forward to the challenge of being the biggest star in the world’s
most populous nation.
”There is always pressure in football,” said Anelka, who has
also played for Arsenal, Real Madrid and Liverpool. ”Wherever I’ve
played there have always been high pressure games. Of course,
there’s a lot of attention on me right now, but I’m just here to do
my best for Shanghai Shenhua, to score goals and play well for the
team and the fans.”
Anelka has been joined at the club by fellow Frenchman Jean
Tigana, former coach of Monaco and English Premier League club
Shanghai may be the story of the CSL, but it is by no means a
foregone conclusion that Shenhua will lift the title for the first
time since 2003 or even be in contention. The team finished a lowly
11th last season and Lee Jang-soo, coach of champion Guangzhou
Evergrande, doubts whether one signing will make a huge difference
to his rivals.
”The level of Anelka is very high and Shenhua will be hard to
deal with this season,” Lee said. ”But I have to say that soccer
is a team event and relying on one single player will not help a
team win games.”
Lee led Guangzhou to the title by a massive margin of 15 points
in its first season after earning promotion to the top flight. The
southern club started the spending spree in Chinese football in
2010 by hiring a number of well-known Chinese international stars
and adding highly paid foreign players.
The most famous is of those is Dario Conca. The Argentine
midfielder arrived in Guangzhou last July after a deal worth more
than $10 million. Along with Brazilian strikers Cleo and Muriqui,
he helped take Guangzhou to the next level.
That was in evidence on Wednesday when, in the team’s first ever
appearance in the Asian Champions League, Guangzhou traveled to the
home of 2006 Asian champion and 2011 finalist Jeonbuk Motors and
stunned the Korean team with a 5-1 victory.
”We have strengthened since last season and we want to defend
our title,” Lee said. ”We have spent more than $50 million
because we wanted to build a team quickly. We have eight Chinese
international players in our roster and we have more that are
capable of playing for the national team. We know though that this
year will be more difficult as other teams have invested in new
Dalian Aerbin is another new team in the mix. The club has
quickly risen from China’s third tier and is as ambitious as
Shanghai. Both clubs have been recently linked with moves for
Didier Drogba, another Chelsea striker.
In football terms, Dalian Shide has been the most successful
club in Chinese history. But the traditional powerhouse and others
such as Shandong Luneng and even 2011 runner-up Beijing Guoan are
in danger of being left behind. Beijing finished second last season
but has lost star Australian Joel Griffiths to Shanghai.
Not all view the money being spent as entirely positive.
Ex-Dutch international Arie Haan has experience coaching the
Chinese national team and believes the money is being invested in
the wrong places.
”You can’t build a house from the top,” Haan said. ”You build
the base and then go to the top. What China is doing now is what
America did in the seventies; they built from the top.
”A lot of famous players came to America – Franz Beckenbauer,
Pele – but what did they help?”
As evidence, Haan pointed to the fact that China’s national team
was recently eliminated from the third round of Asian qualifying
for the 2014 World Cup, the third such failure in succession. He
thinks China will be best served by developing homegrown
”The Americans started to improve later when they … developed
their own stars, and today they have a very good national team,”
Haan said. ”China will get more publicity when its players rise to
the star level.”
There are also concerns that only three of the 16 coaches in the
top division are Chinese. The other clubs have imported head
coaches from South Korea, Japan, France, Portugal, Serbia, Brazil,
Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Netherlands.
Zhu Jiong and his coaching team at Nanchang are paid a tiny
fraction of the three million euros ($4 million) that Tigana and
his staff receive at Shanghai, but have to compete in the same
Such misgivings are lost in the general excitement ahead of the
new campaign. Shanghai, which played in front of an average
attendance of 11,000 in 2011, anticipates selling out its
33,000-seat stadium for the foreseeable future. Guangzhou attracted
regular crowds of 45,000 last season.
More are expected in 2012 as China prepares for its biggest