Shenzhen enjoy golden moment
Tim Maitland in Shenzhen and Meryl Chow
In a glistening finale to their championship winning season, Shenzhen Jianlibao completed the formality of their final league game - a 2-2 draw with the once mighty Dalian Shide - and then donned the traditional golden jackets to collect not one, but two trophies to mark the strangest league title imaginable.
'I can't think this could have happened anywhere else in the world,' said striker Djima Oyawole of the comic book tale, as he and the other players celebrated the city's first national title, seven months after last seeing a pay cheque.
Next weekend things could get stranger still - strange enough to make the plot of Shaolin Soccer seem ordinary - as Shenzhen can also win the inaugural Chinese Super League Cup (they face Shandong Luneng in the final in Jinan).
The championship finale had threatened to be an even greater celebration as Shenzhen led the team that dominated the Jia A era 2-0, through a fantastic Li Jianhua drive in the 43rd minute and a Li Ming header after an hour.
'Dalian like water' the fans sang - a phrase used to describe fake goods. Ironic, because time will prove that the northerners, seven-times champions in the last 11 seasons, are the real deal and that in only a few months Shenzhen will be the ones looking like the cheap imitations.
The speed with which Dalian recovered confirmed that, thanks to the towering figure of Zhang Peng, who headed home the first in the 66th minute and won the penalty, dubious though it appeared, converted by Zoran Yankovic four minutes later.
Shenzhen coach Zhu Guanghu has already signaled his intention to leave and in the wake of the trophy presentation China captain Li Weifeng confirmed what everyone knew. 'I've stayed in Shenzhen for so many years,' said the star defender who, except for a six-month loan to Everton has been in the city since 1998. 'It's not possible for one person to stay in the same place forever. I think it's time for me to begin another period of my career. I think my transfer will be decided quickly.'
Remarkable as it may be that the team stayed together despite the financial woes of the parent company from whom they take their name, it is clear that few of the players will be back. 'I have no idea what will happen, but they will have to pay me for this year before I will start next year,' said Oyawole. 'Anything else is out of the question. I can't come back otherwise. My family has to live.'
Last month's Huizhong Tianheng buyout of the Jianlibao Group seems only to have muddied the waters as far as the football club is concerned. The investment company has made it clear that the sport is not a priority for them: after lifting the trophy Li Weifeng suggested where the team sits in local priorities will decide its future. 'If the Shenzhen government wants us to stay, they'll find some way of keeping us here. If they don't we'll go,' he said.
Elsewhere yesterday Chongqing Qiche were looking good for a 1-1 draw at Beijing Hyundai but a costly mistake opened their defensive floodgates in the final 10 minutes. Keeper Li Jian fumbled an easy shot from Gao Leilei on 81 minutes, allowing Branko Jelic to thump in the loose ball. Then Beijing added a direct free kick by Xu Yunlong and a second strike by Gao.
There was also disappointment for Shanghai Shenhua, who plunged from being champions last year to a lowly 10th-place finish this season. Teammates of departing German midfielder Jorg Albertz had promised to see him off in style against visiting Liaoning Zhongyu. But they lost 1-0, the goal coming when Liu Bin broke the offside trap.
Shandong Luneng salvaged a 1-1 draw at Tianjin TEDA thanks to a last-gasp equaliser from Zhou Haibin. Travelling Inter Shanghai scored a 3-0 victory over Shenyang Ginde courtesy of a brace from midfielder Wang Yun. Qingdao Beilaite and Sichuan Guancheng shared the points with a 1-1 draw.