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Hero's welcome

Zhou Jun (R), director of Shanghai Shenhua Football Club, and soccer player Didier Drogba hold up a Shanghai Shenhua FC jersey during a news conference in Shanghai on Saturday.

Publication Date : 15-07-2012

 

Former Chelsea striker touches down in Shanghai and proclaims he is in China to win a title, Wang Zhenghua reports.

Cote d'Ivoire striker Didier Drogba said yetserday that he was lured to China by a huge challenge in an unfamiliar land and vowed to stay with Shanghai Shenhua for the entirety of his 2 1/2-year contract.

The latest in a long list of big names who have made the move to China in recent times, the former Chelsea striker arrived in Shanghai yesterday morning and watched the game between his new side and Beijing Guo'an.

"Really, I didn't come here with the idea of making a lot of money. I came here because it is a completely different challenge from what I have seen in Europe," the 34-year-old said at a media conference.

"I decided to come here because when the club and the president approached me, I looked at the project and it came with ambitious ideas and he wants to help football develop in China. I know China is a great sports country, so for me it was also a big challenge because it could have been easy for me to stay in Europe and go to another team, another big team."

At the Chinese Super League club, Drogba joins former Chelsea teammate Nicolas Anelka, who had been linked with a move away from the outfit.

But Drogba is confident the Frenchman will stay in China now he has arrived, and predicts Anelka will fulfill his contract in Shanghai.

"Before arriving I read some news about it and heard the rumors; I need to understand his situation. Anelka has been waiting for me. Now I am here, so I don't think Anelka will leave.

"Every time I signed a new contract with Chelsea I would commit to it seriously. I will still be here in two years time. I came here to fight for the title and win, not retire," he said.

In an interview earlier this week, Anelka, who has had an indifferent time in China since joining Shanghai on a two-year deal last December, also dismissed rumors linking him with a return to England and insisted he will retire at Shanghai Shenhua.

Before its battle with Beijing Guo'an, Shenhua was 13th in the Chinese Super League, one point above the drop zone, having managed only three wins and 13 goals in 16 games this term. Drogba said he would work hard to help the team move up the table.

"The results of my new team, they are not so good, not so great. But you know, the second part of the season just started and I think we have time to make some better results and to bring the club to a better place," he said.

"With my teammates, we are going to perform as well as we can. And I came here to win the league, I am not coming here as the beginning of my retirement or something like that. I want people to make sure and understand that I am here to win. I am not here to sit and relax."

Drogba is the latest in a fast-growing number of foreign stars to have been lured to the country on enormous salaries that are typically funded by Chinese business tycoons.

He signed with Shanghai Shenhua on a deal that media have said is worth 200,000 pounds (US$314,000) a week, which would make him the highest-paid player in China and in the top bracket globally.

Early yesterday, he was given a hero's welcome at Shanghai Pudong International Airport as the club released his arrival information days ahead and encouraged fans to greet him.

As such, hundreds of Shenhua supporters, many clad in "Drogba 11" shirts, showed up at the airport in the early hours of yesterday, some carrying bouquets and others brandishing his name in English on placards.

Xu Feng, the head of one of Shanghai's biggest fan associations, the Blue Devils, said it was unprecedented in Shanghai for hundreds of fans to show up to greet a single player.

"Our excitement is beyond description. If you know how it feels when your dream comes true, then this is it," said Wang Xiaolong, a private company employee who got up at 5 am and traveled from Baoshan district in the city's far north with four others to catch a glimpse of the star.

After a long journey from London, Drogba appeared in high spirits, signing autographs and shaking hands as he walked past the crowd.

Meanwhile, Anelka said he was excited by the arrival of his former teammate.

"I am waiting for him," Anelka said in an earlier interview.

"There were a lot of games when I was alone in front. I would think if Didier was here the situation would have been better. I could pass him the ball."

Despite the team's poor performance so far, Anelka is optimistic now that Drogba is alongside him, saying his team can avoid relegation and move well up the table.

"Although we're now at the bottom of the league, the gap with the other teams is not big and we can climb up after even winning two games," Anelka said. "I am not worried about relegation."

However, both stars missed the game with Beijing Guo'an yesterday night in what is regarded as one of the biggest fixtures on the Chinese domestic soccer calendar.

Drogba is expected to play his first game for his new club next week when Shenhua plays Changchun away in the Chinese FA Cup.

 

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