Didier Drogba was given a hero's welcome as he arrived in China
on Saturday to start a two-and-a-half-year contract that is
expected to make him one of football's highest-paid players.
Hundreds of fans, many clad in "Drogba 11" shirts, greeted the
former Chelsea star at Shanghai's Pudong airport, some carrying
flowers, others brandishing his name in English on placards and
many jostling to touch him.
"What I experienced at the airport this morning was unbelievable.
Even when I was at Chelsea I never experienced anything like
this," the 34-year-old told reporters at a press conference to
launch his career with Shanghai Shenhua.
The Ivory Coast striker sealed a deal that Chinese and British
media have said is worth 200,000 pounds ($314,000) a week, making
him the highest-paid player in China and in the top bracket
But he insisted money was not the reason he had moved to a side
languishing near the bottom of China's Super League, just weeks
after he scored the penalty that won Chelsea the European
"China is a big sports country and it is a big challenge. For me
it would have been easy to go to another team in Europe but I
chose China because of the challenge," he said.
"The money is not the most important, everybody knows that I give
a lot of money to my foundation... I didn't come to China with
the idea of making a lot of money."
Drogba joins a fast-expanding group of foreign stars who have
been lured to China on enormous salaries, which are typically
funded by Chinese business titans.
Drogba will play alongside French striker Nicolas Anelka, who
signed with Shenhua in January on a deal believed to be worth
nearly as much.
The pair will work under former Argentine coach Sergio Batista,
who joined the club in May. Shenhua are bankrolled by
high-profile video-game tycoon Zhu Jun.
In the far south of the country, World Cup-winning coach Marcello
Lippi is at the helm of league-leaders Guangzhou Evergrande, and
Nigerian striker Ayegbeni Yakubu has just signed with cross-town
rivals Guangzhou R&F.
Shenhua are just one point off the bottom of the 16-club Chinese
Super League, halfway through the season, and there are huge
expectations on him being able to lift the team.
"These legs may be 34 but they still feel 26 and I am not
thinking about retiring anytime soon," Drogba said.
Shanghai Shenhua play Beijing Guoan on Saturday night at home in
what is regarded as one of the biggest fixtures on the Chinese
domestic football calendar.
Drogba will not play and said he was not yet sure when he would
represent Shenhua for the first time.
"I've been on holiday for three weeks and put on a little bit of
weight so I will need to train a little bit. I'm going to speak
with the manager, he has to make the right decision," he said.
The Chinese Football Association believes the domestic game,
which has endured years of corruption and repeated failures by
the national team, is set to take off thanks to the infusion of
expensive talent such as Drogba.
"The high-level world-class players and coaches will be able to
provide a learning opportunity to our domestic players and
coaches," CFA spokesman Dong Hua told AFP.
Critics say the money is being wasted, with the foreigners
sometimes getting paid more than the salaries of the rest of the
players combined, while grassroots football is being ignored.
However for Chinese football fans, having Drogba is purely a
cause for celebration.
"Let me tell you something, now we have Drogba, Shanghai is not a
common city anymore, Shanghai is a world mega-city now," said one
elated fan, Lu Xiaobo, who went to greet him at the airport on