Money, iden­tity stoke derby ri­valry

Shen­hua to visit crosstown ri­vals SIPG

Global Times - Weekend - - SPORTS - Page Edi­tor: wanghuayun@ glob­al­times.com.cn

Shang­hai Shen­hua cross the city into en­emy ter­ri­tory on Satur­day to face Shang­hai SIPG for China’s big­gest derby, an in­tense ri­valry spiced by money and iden­tity.

Shen­hua make the trip in tur­moil: For­mer Chelsea and Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur mid­fielder Gus Poyet quit as man­ager on Mon­day un­der pres­sure with the club lan­guish­ing be­low mid-ta­ble in the 16-team Chi­nese Su­per League (CSL).

Shen­hua shelled out some of the high­est wages in soc­cer – re­ported weekly wages of 730,000 eu­ros ($867,000) – to lure for­ward Car­los Tevez to China this sea­son, but he has scored just twice and is not ex­pected to fea­ture at the week­end af­ter Poyet’s re­place­ment Wu Jin­gui said the Ar­gen­tine was over­weight.

In con­trast, An­dre Vil­las-Boas on Tues­day guided SIPG into the semi­fi­nals of the Asian Cham­pi­ons League for the first time and they sit sec­ond in the CSL.

They ac­quired Os­car from Chelsea for an Asian record 60 mil­lion eu­ros in the win­ter and also boast his fel­low Brazil­ian in­ter­na­tional Hulk up front.

But to Shen­hua fans, SIPG are un­wel­come up­starts who bought their way to new­found suc­cess and are sup­ported by turn­coat for­mer Shen­hua fol­low­ers or out-oftown­ers who do not un­der­stand the city of 24 mil­lion, its lo­cal di­alect or its soc­cer.

Switch­ing sides

It’s a bit like how Manch­ester City fans ac­cuse United sup­port­ers of be­ing from just about any­where in the world ex­cept Manch­ester.

Shen­hua fans some­times chant in Shang­hainese, bur­nish­ing their claim to be the true home side.

Wang Wei used to be a Shen­hua fan. Now he sup­ports SIPG.

Changing sides like that would be vir­tu­ally un­heard of in es­tab­lished soc­cer fan cul­tures such as Bri­tain’s, but Wang is not alone.

“Lots of SIPG fans used to be Shen­hua sup­port­ers. It is just that Shen­hua are too dis­ap­point­ing th­ese days,” said the 29-year-old.

“Shen­hua al­ways thought they were the big brother in Shang­hai but now there is this lit­tle brother com­ing out with bet­ter per­for­mances and deeper pock­ets.”

The two clubs may dis­like each other from the fans up to the board­room, but un­like decades-old soc­cer ri­val­ries else­where, Shen­hua-SIPG re­ally only goes back to 2013.

Shen­hua be­came a fully pro­fes­sional club in 1993, but its roots go back decades, whereas SIPG only came into be­ing in 2005 un­der the name Shang­hai East Asia.

In 2013 the lat­ter gained pro­mo­tion to the top tier and was re­branded Shang­hai SIPG af­ter the wealthy Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Port Group stepped in. That’s when re­la­tions quickly soured.

Steve Crooks, a Shen­hua fan since 2010, uses the same si­b­ling anal­ogy.

“There was this big brother, lit­tle brother thing when SIPG were com­ing through the leagues be­cause they started as a youth academy and they had a lot of Shang­hainese play­ers and they played nice, pass­ing foot­ball,” said Crooks, who writes for the Wild East Foot­ball web­site ded­i­cated to the game in China.

“There was a very non-threat­en­ing ri­valry, then they got this big cor­po­rate takeover and changed the name, so it be­came very much old money ver­sus new money.”

Toxic at­mos­phere

Crooks said the fact that some aban­doned the blue of de­te­ri­o­rat­ing Shen­hua for SIPG red makes for a “toxic” at­mos­phere come derby day. “It used to be a lot friend­lier but in re­cent years, since the takeover, there is a lot more nee­dle and it’s nas­tier and you see oc­ca­sional scuf­fles out­side the ground,” he said. Re­sults in the derby have been roughly split be­tween the two sides in re­cent years, but Shen­hua are seek­ing revenge on Satur­day for a 3-1 home de­feat in May. Andy Strong, an­other Shang­hai expat and an SIPG sup­porter, says ac­cu­sa­tions that they bought their way to suc­cess are hyp­o­crit­i­cal, point­ing to Tevez’s wages. “A lot of it stems from bit­ter­ness and jeal­ousy,” said Strong, adding that sev­eral play­ers in Vil­lasBoas’ start­ing 11 came through SIPG’s youth ranks, in­clud­ing 25-year-old Wu Lei, the so-called “Chi­nese Maradona.” De­spite the ri­valry, Strong, sports client man­ager at the Shang­hai-based sports mar­ket­ing and in­vest­ment com­pany Mail­man, said he hoped Shen­hua – in dis­ar­ray af­ter go­ing through a suc­ces­sion of coaches – will rise once more. “I would much rather have a strong Shen­hua side and have a com­pet­i­tive derby, fight­ing each other for the league ti­tle and AFC Cham­pi­ons League,” Strong said.

Shang­hai SIPG striker Hulk cel­e­brates scor­ing against Guangzhou Ever­grande on Tues­day in Guangzhou, Guang­dong Prov­ince.

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