Who are Tim Cahill’s new team, Shanghai Shenhua?

Tim Cahill signs with Chinese Super League side Shanghai Shenhua
Shanghai night field

When Tim Cahill takes the field for Shanghai Greenland Shenhua he will be at the centre of a push to grow the world’s most popular sport in the world’s most populous nation.

“We are a recognised professional football club with a glorious history, a wide range of fans and great prestige,” said a statement from the club

The reality is that the team has consistently fallen behind its rivals,  the 2013 Asian Champions League winners, Guangzhou Evergrande.

Shenhua has taken out the Chinese Super League twice, in 1995 and 2003, the latter was stripped from the club in 2013 by the Chinese Football Association after it found evidence of matchfixing.

In 2011 it drew 1-1 with Sydney FC in the Asian Champions League.

For a club that has promoted its glorious history, it has been slim pickings over the past decade.

It is a trend that Shenhua is hoping to reverse with the signing of Cahill and fellow Australian born player, Avraam Papadopoulos.

Papadopoulos was born in Melbourne but the defensive midfielder has played for the Greek national team since 2008.

He signed for over €3,20 million [$4.6 million] in January.

Cahill remains the highest profile signing for Shenhua since Ivorian striker Didier Drogba. Australian’s Mark Milligan and Joel Griffiths have also worn the club’s metallic blue jersey.

For a squad that has counted both Drogba and Nicholas Anelka among its marquee players, it has struggled to perform on the domestic and international stage.

Drogba, Chelsea’s former star striker, was hailed as a saviour of the Super League club when he joined in 2012, but the title drought since 2007 continued.

The lack of recent triumphs in domestic or international competitions has been reflected in the crowd numbers. Despite holding up to 33,000 people, Shanghai’s Hongkou stadium rarely filled passed halfway in 2014 when the club finished 9th in the league.

The lack of success is not for a lack of finances.

Like its rival, Guangzhou Evergrande and up to 13 other Chinese Super League clubs, the side is backed by multinational property developers.

In 2014, the club changed its name from Shanghai Shenhua, which it had maintained since its foundation in 1993, to Shanghai Greenland Shenhua.

Chinese Property developer, the Greenland Group, now has a 28.5 per cent share in the club.

The Fortune 500 company has also added another Australian connection to its team.

Part of Cahill’s salary may end up coming from the sale of the company’s high rise residential apartments that are currently being built on Bathurst Street in the Sydney CBD. 

Property developers continue to drive the growth of the Chinese league, with their backing allowing for the signing of marquee stars such as Cahill.

Their place has come under scrutiny in the past after some reportedly received cheaper land from local administrators in exchange for their support of the local football club, according to the Economist. 

Chinese president, Xi Jinping, will be hoping that Cahill, the man who sent his country out of the Asian Cup with a spectacular bicycle kick, will help reignite the country’s passion for football after the end of the national team’s campaign.

The football-mad president is investing heavily in the sport.

From 2017 he aims to make the game compulsory in all schools, with over 20,000 fields being built in schools across the country.

According to the most recent Chinese population data from 2011, that’s over 17 million primary school students playing compulsory football alone.

It points to a bright future for the sport in the country’s burgeoning league, but mini Cahills could well be practicing bicycle kicks across the country before then.

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