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SBD Global/June 25, 2012/People and Pop Culture

How Owner Zhu Jun Got Drogba To Sign With The Shanghai Shenhua

Ivorian footballer Didier Drogba turned down top European clubs to sign with Shenhua.
Chinese Super League Shanghai Shenhua FC owner Zhu Jun is featured in "The Interview" with the FINANCIAL TIMES' Patti Waldmeir, who writes he persuaded Ivorian footballer Didier Drogba "to join a team that most have never heard of, in a country not usually associated with football." Last week, after turning down offers "from top European clubs believed to include Real Madrid," Drogba signed for Shenhua FC, which currently places 12th out of the 16 teams in the CSL. Zhu "does not want for confidence." Zhu asked, "Don't you think my thoughts are great?" as he insisted the translator relay the question in case Waldmeir did not catch it the first time. Zhu "seems to view himself as a kind of philosopher-entrepreneur, somewhere between Bill Gates and Buddha. Zhu: "My thoughts are up here, but others don't understand them." In a May match, Zhu started himself alongside player and Assistant Manager Nicolas Anelka in a friendly match and played until halftime. Zhu makes it clear that "he also intends to play up front with Drogba." Zhu: "We will surely play football together. I played football with many international football players. My goal is not to play with them. I can play with everyone." Waldmeir wonders, "But as the owner, why is he playing at all?" Zhu said, "Football is a game every man loves. Through playing football, we hope to become stronger. From my point of view, China is rich, rather than strong." Zhu added, "I think many rich people will be jealous when they see me playing football with professional players." Zhu made his money in online gaming before buying Shenhua and merging it with its local rival Shanghai United. Zhu has threatened on his microblog to sell the team; "and has a habit of selling players to fund his other business activities when he runs out of money." Yet he "insists football is a hobby, not a business." Zhu: "Football can express China's thoughts. Football helps us to express complicated thoughts in a simple way; 400-500 million people watch football, and young people will one day understand the meaning." Despite Zhu "billing Anelka's signing as a stride forward for Chinese football," the impact on attendance at Hongkou Stadium, a purpose-built 33,000 arena in the north of the city, has been limited. Shenhua "still regularly fail" to top crowds of 15,000 in a city of more than 20 million and play in a "half-empty stadium" (FINANCIAL TIMES, 6/22).

BAR SET HIGH: Drogba is hoping to create a similar impact in the CSL "as David Beckham has made in Major League Soccer in the U.S." Drogba said that he was "determined to help the game in China develop." Drogba: "It's a challenge. People say 'Yea, Chinese football is not so good.' Maybe it's a bit ambitious as a reference point to take David Beckham, but people were saying when he went to America that it's not a good move" (REUTERS, 6/23).
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