Shenhua, SIPG unveil new foreign signings

Ma Yue
Shanghai Greenland Shenhua seals the signing of Italian Stephan El Shaarawy and Korean Kim Shin-wook while Chinese Super League champ Shanghai SIPG lands Austrian Marko Arnautovic
Ma Yue
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Shenhua, SIPG unveil new foreign signings
Ti Gong

Shanghai Greenland Shenhua's new manager Choi Kang-hee (left) greet his players at the club's Kangqiao training base on Monday.

The on-field competition between the two Shanghai-based Chinese Super League teams Greenland Shenhua and SIPG may not be worth talking about, considering the gap in their league standings, but the clubs tried to outdo each other off the pitch on Monday by unveiling new foreign players.

Shenhua, sitting precariously at one point above the relegation zone, introduced former AC Milan and AS Roma winger Stephan El Shaarawy and South Korean striker Kim Shin-wook — three days after naming former Dalian Yifang manager Choi Kang-hee as its new head coach.

SIPG signed Austria international Marko Arnautovic from English Premier League side West Ham United. He will replace Brazil striker Elkeson. Elkeson, a hot naturalization candidate for the Chinese national team, will return to his former club Guangzhou Evergrande.

The two local teams played their latest derby at Shanghai Stadium on Saturday in the 16th round of the CSL. SIPG beat Shenhua 3-1, thanks to a brace from Hulk. It was SIPG's sixth straight derby victory in the past three CSL seasons. The score could have been 4-1 if not for Elkeson missing a penalty in the closing minutes of the match.

The result was, however, expected given the huge chasm between the two teams currently — defending champion SIPG is just two points off league leader Beijing Guoan, while Shenhua is going through the most difficult period in the club's history.

Shenhua's two foreign players arrived at Pudong International Airport on Monday afternoon. The club also introduced 21-year-old defender Li Yang, who joined Shenhua on loan from Portuguese side Guimaraes Vitoria. A press conference will be held at Shenhua's Kangqiao training base for the newcomers on Tuesday.

El Shaarawy, whose father is Egyptian, joined Roma from Milan in 2016 after spending some time in AS Monaco in France on loan. He contributed 27 goals and 13 assists for Milan in 102 appearances; 20 goals and 26 assists for Roma in 139 appearances. He has scored three goals for the Italian national team in 23 appearances and was also part of the Azzurri team at the UEFA Euro 2016.

"We hope El Shaarawy will enrich Shenhua's strategy and strengthen its attacking ability," the club said in a statement.

It took El Shaarawy some time to accept the three-year contract from Shenhua, as the 26-year-old was hesitant to leave Europe since he hopes to represent Italy at the Euro 2020. His yearly salary of a reported 15 million euros (US$16.8 million) is the highest for any Shenhua player in history.

The transfer fee was reported to be around 18 million euros, meaning Shenhua needs to pay another 18 million euros to the Chinese Football Association for exceeding the expense limit for foreign players. The 18 million euros also broke Shenhua's transfer record of 16 million euros for Senegal striker Demba Ba in 2015.

Shenhua, SIPG unveil new foreign signings

Kim is an old acquaintance of Shenhua's new manager Choi when they were both with K League side Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. The 31-year-old striker just finished his last match for Jeonbuk on Sunday, scoring the opening goal in his team's 3-1 victory over Seongnam FC. The three-year-contract reportedly promises him an annual income of 30 million yuan (US$4.36 million).

Though the newcomers have arrived, Shenhua is yet to announce the departure of at least two of its existing foreign players, with Oscar Romero of Paraguay and Colombian Fredy Guarin being the most likely choices.

SIPG's new striker Arnautovic played for Werder Bremen in the German Bundesliga and Stoke City in the EPL before joining West Ham. The 30-year-old contributed 22 goals and 12 assists in 65 appearances for the Hammers over the past two seasons.

"With a height of 1.92 meters, Arnautovic can play both center forward and as a winger. We believe Arnautovic will bring vitality to the team's attack," SIPG said in a club statement.

According to reports West Ham will receive 22 million pounds (US$28 million) for the 30-year-old after turning down a 35-million pound bid just six months ago. Arnautovic departed despite signing a contract extension in late January.

SIPG has already advanced to the last eight of the AFC Champions League, where it will take on J League side Urawa Red Diamonds next month. Arnautovic will partner a formidable line-up of Brazilians Hulk and Oscar upfront as well as Uzbek midfielder Odil Ahmedov as the team looks to advance further on the Asian stage.

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