SHANGHAI: Three coaches, boardroom upheaval and a reported players’ strike — Didier Drogba’s first season in China hasn’t exactly been smooth, but it looks like he’ll stick around next year.
Speculation about Drogba’s future has been intense but the Ivorian striker appeared committed to the Chinese Super League (CSL) when he spoke of making a fresh start with the club next season.
“Because I joined Shenhua relatively late, I didn’t prepare with the team early in the season, so our results this year were not very good,” he said, according to the Shanghai Morning Post.
“But I hope next season I can start again from the beginning with Shenhua.” Drogba has scored eight goals in 11 games since joining former Chelsea colleague Nicolas Anelka in Shanghai mid-term, earning the nickname “Devil Beast” as he terrorised Chinese defences.
But despite his prolific record, Shenhua finished a lowly ninth out of 16 teams.
It’s a disappointing return after the club’s owner, video game mogul Zhu Jun, splashed out on Anelka and Drogba — who are reportedly on hundreds of thousands of dollars a week — in a bid to land Shenhua’s first title in nearly a decade.
However, after a season of serious internal strife, it’s something of a surprise that both players are still at the club.
Zhu made world headlines when he spent big to lure Anelka, China’s first direct import from the English Premier League, and French coach Jean Tigana to the Hongkou Football Stadium.
But ex-Fulham boss Tigana was hit by a player revolt against his training methods after just five games in charge, and was dismissed in April after weeks of speculation and rumours.
At a game against Tianjin, Tigana departed the stadium before the kick-off, leaving Shenhua without a coach for the match and with empty seats on the home bench.
The situation barely improved when Anelka, who had no coaching experience and is nicknamed “Le Sulk” for his moody demeanour, announced he had been appointed as Tigana’s replacement.
Anelka was furious when Zhu brought in ex-Argentina coach Sergio Batista to helm the team, but he was soon placated and when Drogba arrived in July it looked as if the club had turned the corner.
Drogba was given a hero’s welcome by hundreds of cheering fans at the city’s Pudong Airport.