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Lack of good players is chasing away those who do come to CSL
The departure of Didier Drogba from Shanghai Shenhua can be linked to the poor quality of Chinese soccer, analysts said on Tuesday.
Although Chinese clubs, backed by wealthy tycoons, are able to recruit foreign stars like the Cote d'Ivoire forward and Argentine midfielder Dario Conca, the low standard of play in the Chinese Super League remains a daunting obstacle when trying to keep those players in China.
"The overall level of Chinese soccer is low and far from the top-level European leagues," Zhang Lu, a well-known local commentator, said on Tuesday.
Although they receive enormous salaries in China, the international stars still expect to perform in a top-level league while remaining in the minds of their national teams and the world's top clubs, he said. In China, they simply cannot achieve that.
Drogba, who had been embroiled in a pay squabble with Shenhua, is set to return to the greener pastures of Europe. On Monday, Turkish club Galatasaray announced the signing of the former Chelsea star to a 1 1/2-year contract. The deal includes transfer fees totaling 6 million euros ($8 million) and payments of 15,000 euros per match, plus a signing fee of 4 million euros.
The announcement was confirmed by the 34-year-old Drogba, who is in South Africa competing in the African Cup of Nations with the Cote d'Ivoire.
"I just officially signed a 1 1/2-year contract with Galatasaray," the striker said on his website. "The 18-times Turkish league champions and 2000 UEFA Cup winners are leading 'Super Lig' and have also qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League, a special competition for me, where we face Schalke 04 in the last 16.
"This is a very exciting challenge that awaits me in Istanbul. I cannot wait to discover this historic club and their fans, renowned for their incredible support. This is the beginning of a new adventure for me."
Former Arsenal, Real Madrid and Chelsea striker Nicolas Anelka also walked away from Shenhua. He joined Juventus on a five-month deal, the Italian club said on Saturday.
Shenhua, which signed a 2 1/2-year contract with Drogba that would have expired at the end of next year, didn't respond to China Daily's request for comment on Tuesday.
But Zhu Jun, the club's biggest shareholder and the man who enlisted Drogba and Anelka, was quoted by Sina.com on Tuesday as saying all the club's affairs, including the departure of Drogba, would be handled in line with FIFA rules. He declined to comment further.
Wang Dalei, Shenhua's goalkeeper, sent a farewell message to Drogba on Tuesday. "It was an honor to play soccer with you," he said on his micro blog. "Thank you for being in Shanghai for this half a year, when we were very happy and enjoyed a lot of fun Goodbye, Double D!"
Drogba's departure is bound to upset his legion of fans in Shanghai, who gave him a hero's welcome when he arrived last year.
However, his premature departure has not come as a complete surprise.
"These foreign big names come and go like passersby, because they may not be suited to Chinese clubs," Li Hui, deputy head of Shanghai BlueBoys Supporters Club, one of Shenhua's largest fan associations, said on Tuesday.
"If Drogba stayed at Shenhua, he would be wasting his talents. We understood his difficulties at Shenhua," she said, adding that the role of foreign stars in lifting China's soccer profile was appreciated.
"The future of Shenhua is troubling," said Li, echoing the sentiments of about 64 percent of the more than 16,000 people who took part in an online survey on Tuesday.
About 85 percent of those polled said they were not surprised by Drogba's departure because the CSL could not compete with the big European leagues.