Shanghai (AFP) – 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 football — reported weekly wages of 730,000 euros — 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 semi-finals 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 ($72 million, £54 million) 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-of-towners who do not understand the city of 24 million, its local dialect or its football.
– 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 football 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 football 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.