While T-Mac insists his alleged dissatisfaction with basketball in China is a media creation, French striker Nicolas Anekla’s tenure with Shanghai Shenhua lasted just shy of one year. While at least one club has described Anelka’s salary demands as onerous, When Saturday Comes’ Andrew Crawford provides some background on the former Arsenal / Chelsea star’s rough time in the Far East.
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.
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.