Hailing from Shanghai, China's largest city, Shanghai Shenhua Football Club belongs among the traditional powerhouses of the world's most populous nation. Like the dynamic and exciting city itself, the club has been renowned for their passion and attacking football. They may pale in comparison with eight-time national champions Dalian Shide or four-time winners Shandong Luneng when it comes to silverware, however, Shenhua has won the hearts of fans and media alike invariably playing a captivating brand of football.
Birth of an institution
Founded on 10 December 1993, on the eve of the inception of the Chinese professional league, Shanghai was the first football club in China independent from the government. Sponsored by a local company, Shenhua, or "Flower of Shanghai" translated into English, the club was named after its first supporter and has since stuck to this title despite changes in ownership over the years.
In 2007 Shenhua merged with its city rivals Shanghai United, with the latter's boss, Zhu Jun, taking over as the new owner. But the new club's name remained unchanged with Shanghai Shenhua already an established football giant of the country.
The making of a legend
Even before Shenhua came into existence, the city of Shanghai had long been a dominant side in the domestic competitions winning the national championship in 1963 and 1964, before claiming gold in the 1983 National Games. With such pedigree it was little surprise that Shenhua entered the inaugural Chinese Jia-A League in 1994 as one of the major contenders, ending their first season in third place.
That proved just a taster as Shenhua were irresistible the following year. Under former national Olympic coach Xu Genbao, Shenhua took the second C-League season by storm, recording an incredible ten consecutive wins to clinch the league title with two games to spare. In the process a host of stars were unearthed including Fan Zhiyi, Xie Hui and Qi Hong, all of whom went into the national team with which they would feature predominantly for the years to come.
Based in China's most modern city, Shenhua were the first to sign foreign coaches and import players. The notable managers they have had include Brazilians Muricy Ramalho (1998) and Sebastiao Lazaroni, who took Brazil to the 1990 FIFA World Cup™. Former Red Star boss Ljupko Petrovic (1999-2000) was the next to follow suit, while Cameroon's Italy 1990 coach Valeri Nepomniachi assumed the reins in 2005.
At the same time, world-class stars also lent their weights to Shenhua including former Brazilian international Junior Baiano who joined the club in 2001 while German Castern Jancker had a short spell with Shanghai in 2006. Despite the big-name arrivals, their all-conquering form deserted them with the club finishing runners-up in five of the next seven seasons. But under home-grown Wu Jingui, Shanghai shrugged off their tag as the perennial underachievers to claim their second title in 2003.
With the retirement of a golden generation of players, the club entered a period of decline finishing tenth in 2004. The next years saw them clawing back their status as one the country's elite, recruiting some of the country’s emerging starlets with goalkeeper Wang Dalei, skipper Yu Tao and midfielder Chen Tao the most notable ones.
Their rebuilding process culminated this year as Shenhua, under renowned Croatian mentor Miroslav Blazevic, were in rampant early form leading at the midway point ahead of Shandong Luneng. However, they again choked when it mattered, disappointing in the closing rounds to concede the title to Shandong.
One of the country's best, Hongkou Stadium went through a rebuilding process in 1998, transforming the venue from a general sports centre into a world-class football arena. With a capacity of 35,000 and equipped with advanced facilities, it is one of the most modern stadiums China can boast. The stadium played host to a series of important games during the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup™ including staging both the final and the opening match.