Shanghai Shenhua will field several of their latest signings as they start their warm-up for the 2009 Chinese Super League (CSL) season today against Australian A-League side Sydney FC in a friendly match at Hongkou Stadium at 2pm.
Tickets for the match are free, and the game will also be a testimonial for recently retired forward Xie Hui, who scored 45 goals for Shenhua in two spells for the club between 1994-2000 and 2005-2008.
Shenhua, who snatched defeat from the jaws of Championship victory with a bumbling display during the final match of the 2008 CSL season, look determined not to stuff it up yet again, with a very impressive batch of new players joining the club in the close season.
The perennial league runners-up raised eyebrows by signing the Australian international defender Mark Milligan from tomorrows opponents Sydney. Australian commentators weren’t too happy that a promising A-League player left to join a club in a league they believe to be inferior, but past encounters between Chinese and Australian clubs in the Asian Champions League show the football standards to be equal. Comparison of the management systems of the two leagues its another story though, as it were, and best left for another time.
Shenhua owner Zhu Jun, one of China’s richest men, must have really splashed the RMB on this deal, as Milligan had been trialling with top teams in Europe. The Shanghai club has made three other very strong-looking signings, raiding Belorussian side FC MTZ-RIPO to sign 25-year-old Belorussian international forward Vyacheslav Hleb, (brother of Barcelona star Aliaksandr Hleb) and his team-mate, Bulgarian defender Yanko Valkanov.
Not content with that, Shenhua also picked up striker Hernán Barcos from Argentinian side Racing Club. The fact that none of these signings are household names is a blessing in disguise – all of these players are in their mid-twenties and yet to reach their full potential, unlike some of the washed-up has-beens the Shanghai club have signed in the past.
This means Shenhua have a very strong four non-Chinese players for next season – taking advantage of the new 3+1 rule, which allows all Asian clubs to field three foreigner players plus one other player from an Asian Confederation member country. The new regulation has created something of an inter-Asian transfer market overnight as the regions top clubs rushed to sign players for this seasons Asian Champions League.
Sydney FC striker John Alosi was supposed to join Shenhua on a three-month loan, but opted to stay with the A-League’s glamour club. Seems that Alosi is not so glamorous himself though – he thought his luck was in when approached by a camera-wielding Chinese woman at Sydney airport, only for her to give him the camera and ask him to take a picture of her together with her group.
Shenhua’s first competitive game of the season is against Singapore Armed Forces FC in the Asian Champions League on March 11 at Hongkou Stadium.
Pictured: Australian international defender Mark Milligan