The potential departures of Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka threatens to end Chinese soccer's biggest story before it has a chance to unfold.
Shanghai Shenhua is running out of cash, and its largest individual shareholder, Zhu Jun, will stop pumping money into the team unless a longstanding dispute with other investors is immediately resolved, according to China Daily.
The dispute involves promises that five state-owned business made to Zhu in recent years. He became an investor in 2007, buying a 28.5-percent stake in the team. At the time, the owners all agreed that if Zhu put £15 million ($23.7 million) of his own money into the club's coffers then that stake would rise to 70 percent in 2009.
Zhu more than obliged, putting around £60 million ($94.4 million) into the club. But the other owners failed to hand over their shares in 2009 and 2011. Despite all this, Zhu continued to cover the club's expenses, including the salaries of high-priced imports like Drogba, Anelka, Giovanni Moreno and Argentine manager Sergio Batista.
But it appears Zhu has reached his limits.
"If the stalemate continues, Zhu Jun, who has been signing all the checks for the club, will stop showing his generosity, only shouldering 28.5 percent of the club's expenditure," China Daily reports. "And the consequence will become serious, meaning the players will not get paid on time."
If Drogba, who earns £250,000 ($395,000) per week and Anelka (£200,000 or $316,256) aren't paid on time, they could be sold at a discount or allowed to leave the club as free agents. It's unknown what their intentions are. Drogba has spoken of wanting to lift Chinese soccer and strengthen bonds between China and Africa as his reasons for moving to the Far East. Anelka claims an "obsession with Asian cultures" brought him to Shanghai. But those are just words, and China Daily claims they may have played their last game for the club.
Shanghai Shenua burst onto the international stage when it signed Anelka in January and Drogba in June. Their arrivals brought glamor and increased attention to the club and the fledgling Chinese Super League, but things haven't been rosy on the field. After 23 games, Shanghai is 10th in the 16-team league.