The Carlos Tevez saga has come to its predictable conclusion, ending a year in which the Argentinian proved little has changed with himself or, indeed, Shanghai Shenhua.
Tevez’s criticism of the Chinese Super League (CSL), poor form and eventual return to Boca Juniors came as little surprise given the striker’s track record, while for Shenhua the past 12 months carried echoes of the hapless signings of Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba more than half a decade ago.
The landscape of Chinese football was very different when the former Chelsea pair arrived in 2012 — Anelka at the start of the year; Drogba six months later — with the duo the only global stars prepared to trade life in Europe for a stint in China at the time.
Xi Jinping had yet to make his ascent to the Chinese presidency, and football was a long way from being the flavour of the month for the wealthy property barons who currently bankroll the CSL.
Anelka and Drogba were lured on the promise of huge salaries but it all soon turned sour, with both departing under a cloud as the reputation of Chinese football was tarnished over Shenhua’s mismanagement and reports of unpaid wages.
Thanks to the flurry of big-name arrivals into the Chinese Super League in the last two years, the incident has been largely forgotten, but the season-long Tevez drama has reignited a sense that Shenhua remain a club prone to self-sabotage.
The publicity around the striker’s arrival and unconfirmed reports of a salary in the region of US$800,000 per week did little to help build on a quietly impressive 2016 season when, under Gregorio Manzano, Shenhua had finished fourth in the league to qualify for the preliminary rounds of the AFC Champions League.
Manzano, though, parted company with Shenhua during the close season, to be replaced with Gus Poyet and before long Tevez was swapping one blue shirt for another as he moved from Boca Juniors to Shanghai. But right from the start it was clear that while Tevez was at Shanghai’s Hongkou Stadium, his heart remained at the Bombonera.
“His performances were disappointing for many Chinese fans and I’m not really sure what he did that was good for the club or for football in China,” Titan Sport’s Ma Dexing, one of China’s leading football journalists, told ESPN FC.
“I think he thought it would be easy and he said some things that weren’t good for the club as well. You could see from the beginning that so many fans expected he could do something for the club, but in the first match they lost against Brisbane Roar in the AFC Champions League and after that Shanghai Shenhua went down. He got so much money, but he didn’t prove that he deserved it.”
Tevez certainly fell well short of providing value, earning unfavourable comparisons with the likes of the tirelessly impressive Hulk at cross-city rivals Shanghai SIPG. The 33-year-old played just 16 times in the league, scoring four goals in a season supposedly blighted by a calf injury.
Shenhua fans christened him “Homesick Boy” while insiders railed against his laziness and lack of professionalism. That Shenhua salvaged the season by winning the Chinese FA Cup against SIPG without Tevez featuring in either leg of the final speaks volumes.
The realisation by new coach Wu Jingui — who hit out at Tevez’s fitness when he took over from Poyet in September — that Shenhua were better off without the striker for those final games of the season presaged his departure amid a hint of what might have been for Shanghai but for a disruptive close season a year ago.
Manzano’s departure precipitated a signing that was clearly folly from the moment the rumours began to circulate at the backend of 2016 that the former Manchester City and United forward was set to sign a two-year contract.
But perhaps the greatest surprise given the endless conjecture over the last year has been that he completed one half of a deal which many thought was two years too long.
Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch