Shenhua sets sights on shock title challenge

2021-03-17 12:06:31

Shanghai's sleeping giant bullish on chances thanks to busy offseason  Shanghai Shenhua has thrown down the gauntlet to its Chinese Super League rivals, with the longtime underachiever claiming it is ready to launch a title challenge. Shenhua's confidence is based on the recent addition of six new players, including Wu Xi and Poland international Adrian Mierzejewski. However, considering the club last won a top-flight crown 26 years ago, Shenhua knows backing up its grand plans with performances on the pitch will be far from easy. "In the coming three weeks, we will train behind closed doors. That is important for us to prepare for the new season. We need to identify the best qualities of our players and enhance the intensity of training," said Shenhua's South Korean head coach, Choi Kang-hee, on Monday in Shanghai. "The arrival of new players will boost the team's overall strength. I believe through good quality training, we can produce better performances in the new season. We don't just want better results, we are eyeing the CSL title. "We made a lot of effort to bring in new players during the offseason. The biggest problem last term was our lack of depth in attack due to injuries. In the 2019 season, however, defense was our major problem. "This season, through welcoming more new players, we can have a stronger midfield performance. If our players can stay healthy, we should see a big improvement." Shenhua was among the top teams when Chinese professional soccer was in its infancy, with the club winning the 1995 Chinese Jia-A League, the predecessor to the CSL. Despite some hefty investment in imports since then-mostly famously Argentine flop Carlos Tevez-Shenhua has not been a title contender for decades, with the spotlight now usually focused on eight-time CSL champion Guangzhou FC (formerly Guangzhou Evergrande), Shanghai Port (formerly Shanghai SIPG) and Beijing Guo'an. Shenhua finished seventh last term and 13th in 2019-making the club's bold claims to be a contender this year seem rather optimistic. With the season provisionally set to kick off in late April, Shenhua faces a race against time to gel its new signings. "It is clear that Shenhua is aiming to become a top CSL contender again. We are also aiming to secure an AFC Champions League slot. Our coach is confident in winning and what we need to do is provide everything the team needs to secure more wins," said club chairman Wu Xiaohui. "While we have been utilizing experienced players to ensure better performances, we have also been focusing on nurturing the next generation of players. In the coming years, after the young players are ready, Shenhua will have a bright future." Among all the new arrivals, Team China captain Wu has attracted the most attention. The 32-year-old midfielder helped Jiangsu FC, then known as Jiangsu Suning, win its first CSL title last season. However, with Jiangsu ceasing operations due to financial problems, Wu's next destination has been a hot topic among fans, with Shenhua last week confirming the midfielder's return to the club he played for from 2009 to 2013. "I'm honored to return to the big family. Looking at the young players, they've reminded me of the early days of my career," said Wu. "I want to thank the coach for his trust in me. I will treat myself as a new player to fit into the team as soon as possible. I will give my all to help the team have better results this year." Wu's offseason training was badly disrupted by Jiangsu's breakup, with the club unable to provide pitches and facilities to its players. In terms of fitness, he's now playing catch-up with his new teammates. "The past few months had a big impact on me. As a professional player I hope to resume my training. I need to get back what I missed during the offseason and to prepare the best of myself for the new season," Wu added. "I think as a team we have enough belief to win the title. As long as everyone fights for the same goal, I believe we will produce great results." Shenhua's new foreign acquisitions are experienced Polish midfielder Mierzejewski, 30-year-old Croatian defender Matej Jonjic and Cameroonian winger Christian Bassogog. Mierzejewski is a seasoned CSL campaigner, enjoying spells at Changchun Yatai, Chongqing Dangdai and Guangzhou City (formerly Guangzhou R&F) in the past. "I'm already informed of the fact that I'm the first foreign player to have played for four CSL clubs," said Mierzejewski. "These clubs want me, which means I'm doing a good job, so I'm not stressed. I'm an experienced player and expect to show my ability alongside my new teammates."