By Cal Widdall
Nicolas Anelka, arguably the highest-profile foreign footballer ever to sign for the Chinese league, arrived at Pudong airport yesterday before being whisked through security to a special VIP backdoor exit.
Anelka, or ‘Ā nèi ěr kǎ’ (阿内尔卡) as he is now to be known, wasn’t fast enough to evade China’s army of Weibo users, however. A member of staff at the airport posted a picture (right) on his account, before another claimed to have seen him eating breakfast at his hotel on the Bund.
In what may not be the most piercing piece of investigative journalism you read in 2012, our research revealed that Anelka hasn’t yet partaken in any ‘noodle diplomacy’, opting instead for the home comforts of a salad and a croissant, washed down with a refreshing cup of juice.
Though the French footballer hasn’t visited Shanghai before, he told reporters he was looking forward to coming to ‘the Paris of the East’, citing an obsession with Asian culture as the factor that persuaded him to transfer to Shenhua. That and the reported 2 million RMB weekly wage, we’d guess.
Before arriving in Shanghai, Anelka spent three weeks with his new team at a training camp in Spain, culminating in a 2-0 defeat by Huracan Valencia, who play in the third tier of Spanish football.
Shanghai Shenhua also attempted to sign Anelka’s ex-Chelsea teammate Didier Drogba in January and, according to Ma Yue (an official with Shenhua), discussions are still ongoing. Drogba’s contract expires in June, leaving him a free agent to join the club of his choosing.
Additionally, rumours abound that Stoke defender Matthew Upson may be heading to Shanghai in the summer.
We may not share the same ‘saviour of Chinese football’ hopes for Anelka that some seem to hold, but we do think it will boost the league’s international image, paving the way for more high-profile foreign players and intensifying the scrutiny on corruption. Mostly we just hope we don’t end up with Anelka alone in his hotel room, drinking three bottles of whiskey a day whilst crying and clutching a Chinese bible.
The new season kicks off on March 10th, when Shenhua play at home against local rivals Jiangsu Sainty.