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Asian Eye – Confusion reigns at Shanghai Shenhua with Tigana's exit

Nicolas Anelka (pictured) was supposed to transform Chinese football.

The eyes of the football world are being drawn to China’s second city as that transformation happens, though not for footballing reasons. A bizarre soap opera of epic proportions has just kicked off, and it makes for gripping viewing.

Quite what has happened at Shanghai Shenhua, or to be more precise, what is happening, is unknown. More evidently, the players, the coaches, and perhaps even the club’s Bond Villain-like owner seem to have no better idea than the man on the street.

Before the season kicked off, some seven games ago, things looked promising for Shanghai fans. The biggest name ever to grace the Superleague had arrived, in Anelka, and former French midfield supremo Jean Tigana had taken the reins as manager.

But the season could not have started worse for Shenhua – after six games, they were joint bottom of the table, with a goal difference of minus 2, and smarting from a defeat to their bitterest of rivals, Beijing Guoan. However, the table could not even begin to reflect the calamity that had been going on at the club.

Tigana 'not a successful manager'

After five games, the club decided to fire the entirety of Jean Tigana’s coaching staff without informing him. One of the club’s senior players then publically berated his manager, telling assembled journalists at a press conference that Tigana was “absolutely not a successful manager”.

This is, of course, the same Tigana who took Fulham into the EPL, won the Turkish Cup at Besiktas, and has managed at Bordeaux and Lyon in Ligue 1.

To make matters worse, it seemed that Tigana was unaware of the fact that he had actually been disposed as top man at Shenhua on matchday for the home game against Tianjin. Reports say that Tigana turned up to the stadium before the game, only to leave before the game had even started.

Tigana must not be a fan of the Internet, because if he were, he might have noticed that his star player, Anelka, had earlier tastefully tweeted news that he had now taken charge of the club on a player-manager basis.

It appears that Anelka was actually in charge for the game versus Tianjin, where his new charge slumped to a 1-0 defeat that saw the side jeered off by its own fans.

Former England keeper Walker on the backroom staff

Meanwhile, the club has brought in a host of new backroom staff, including former England goalkeeper Ian Walker, Birmingham City’s Dan Harris, ex-Man City and PSG player Alioune Toure, and countryman Jean-Florent Ibenge.

Few know exactly who was in charge for the club’s seventh game of the season, which they actually won, beating the hapless Dalian Shide. However, the little-known Ibenge seemed to be taking the role of commander in this weekend’s game.

Tigana has now left the club, though it seems unclear as to whether he resigned or if he was pushed. If the latter is the case, he will be entitled to a settlement deal from Shenhua, but for moneybags despotic owner Zhu Jun, this is not an issue.

Zhu is used to wielding the axe. In the past two years, Shenhua have been through five different managers from four different countries.

The club seem to have publically hinted that the exact set-up at the time of writing has Ibenge installed as caretaker manager, with Anelka the assistant manager of the side; though quite how this little power sharing deal is working out is anybody’s guess.

Although this weekend’s win has taken the heat off the side for the moment, the eyes of the footballing world will remain focused on the train wreck that seems to be Shenhua’s season so far.

Unable to keep his mouth shut

Anelka has been unable to keep his mouth shut throughout this whole daytime drama-like affair, announcing that he saw the situation with Tigana as an “impasse”, before going on to tell reporters that he was targeting two big-name foreign stars like Didier Drogba and ex-PSG player Salim Benachour.

“I hope they will be joining us soon,” he said.

Yet more havoc was wrought in the wake of the win against Dalian Shide, a female reporter alleging that she had been severely beaten by staff from the Dalian side during an interview with Ibenge.

While Shanghai flounder in the bottom half of the table, the egomaniac forces at the side seem destined to sink this ship before she has ever really set sail.

Quite why Tigana was ousted so abruptly is still a mystery, and the question of who is actually in charge of playing matters at the club seems to be anybody’s guess.

Regardless, Shenhua seem intent on making this season of the Chinese Superleague unmissable stuff – for all the wrong reasons.

By Tim Alper

Tim Alper writes for South Korea’s leading football monthly, Best Eleven

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