Pay threat to Anelka and Drogba in Shanghai Shenhua shareholders' row
Futures of Anelka and Drogba in the balance as dispute over investment rocks Shanghai club
Shanghai Shenhua have been rocked by a row over investment that could threaten the futures of star signings Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba.
Sources say chairman Zhu Jun may stop paying the former Chelsea players' salaries, said to be more than US$300,000 a week, if funds are not committed by the five other state-owned shareholders.
Zhu, founder of The9, a Nasdaq-listed online game developer and operator, took management control of Shenhua in 2007 when he secured his 28.5 per cent share of the club.
According to the 2007 agreement, Zhu's share in the club would rise to 70 per cent if his total investment exceeded 150 million yuan (HK$183 million).
The state-owned Oriental Sports Daily reported that Zhu had invested about 600 million yuan into Shenhua.
Meanwhile, the other shareholders - five local government-owned companies - have not put in any money at all, according to three people with knowledge of the matter.
One of the companies is the Shanghai Media & Entertainment Group, which controls the city's major television and radio stations.
This season, Shenhua signed former English Premier League players Anelka and Drogba, the most prominent imports in the history of the Chinese Super League.
The combined value of their contracts, which expire in two years, is about US$70 million.
The sources said Zhu, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, was trying to use the contracts with the two stars as bargaining chips. "He is betting that the local government will step in and order the other shareholders to give money," said one source with knowledge of Zhu's thinking.
Shenhua are one of the mainland's top soccer teams, winning the national title twice since China launched its professional league in 1994.
But the financial storm could threaten to disrupt the team's challenge for glory this season.
On Saturday, Shenhua's Giovanni Moreno missed the match against Shandong Luneng because Shenhua failed to pay the Colombian's former employer, Racing Club of Argentina, the US$7 million transfer fee.