It is not money but the big challenge in an unfamiliar land that lured Didier Drogba to China, the Ivory Coast striker said on Saturday. More than 300 fans gathered at Shanghai airport to welcome Drogba on his much-anticipated arrival to join the Chinese Super League strugglers Shanghai Shenhua.
Drogba has signed a two-and-a-half-year contract with the club for a reported salary of $300,000 (£193,000) a week, ending weeks of speculation on his future after he announced his decision to leave Champions League winners Chelsea.
“I decided to come here because when the club and the president approached me, I looked at the project and it came with ambitious ideas and he wants to … help football develop in China,” Drogba said after his unveiling. “I know China is a great sports country so for me it was also a big challenge because it could have been easy for me to stay in Europe and go to another team, another big team.
“Really, I didn’t come here with the idea of making a lot of money. I come here because it is a completely different challenge from what I have seen in Europe before. And that’s the idea, there are many challenges but this one is a big one.”
Drogba’s arrival is the latest in a long list of high-profile names who have made the move to China in recent months. The Italian World Cup winning coach Marcello Lippi is in charge of a Guangzhou Evergrande side packed full of skilful South American talent. Drogba, who scored 157 times in 341 appearances for Chelsea making him the club’s fourth all-time leading scorer, is the biggest catch of them all.
The 34-year old striker will join his former Chelsea team-mate Nicolas Anelka at the club struggling in 13thplace in the 16-club Chinese Super League. Shanghai Shenhua are coached by the former Argentina manager Sergio Batista.
“The results of my new team, they are not so good, not so great. But you know, the second part of the season just started and I think we have time to make some better results and to bring the club to a better place,” Drogba said. “With my team-mates, we are going to perform as much as we can. And I came here to win the league, I am not coming here as the beginning of the retirement or something like this.
“I want people to make sure and to understand that I am here to win. I am not here to sit and relax.”
The fans arrived in the early hours of the morning at the Shanghai Pudong International airport, many dressed in the club’s blue jersey bearing “Drogba 11”, and their hopes were also pinned on the Drogba-Anelka strike force. “I believe that with his arrival, our results will improve significantly, because he has a good rapport with Anelka,” the 23-year-old Zhu Hongbo said.
“Also, we have brought in a midfield player in [Giovanni] Moreno. I think for the second half of the year, our results will improve and we can be in the top three.”