The Far East: football's new frontier
CHAOTIC Chinese football has cleaned up its act, thanks to a match-fixing clampdown in the last two years, but Didier Drogba and former Orlando Pirates midfielder Isaac Chansa can still expect a rollicking journey when they begin their Super League careers.
Ivorian Drogba has signed to play for Shanghai Shenhua, where he will join former Chelsea striking partner Nicolas Anelka, who has been in China since the end of last year. Both will earn more than £200 000 a week.
Africa Cup of Nations winner Chansa will join Zambian teammate Chris Katongo at Henan Jianye. They continue the recent trend of Chinese clubs bringing in foreign expertise to bolster what has been a corruption-plagued league, where the football has been of a low standard.
China, the world's most populous country (1.3 billion), has historically been suspicious of foreign influence and was slow on the uptake when the Asian football boom swept the east in the 1990s.
Match-fixing became endemic in the country, though in the last two years a crackdown against corruption has seen dozens of officials arrested and handed jail terms, including three FA vice-presidents.
As in other leagues in the world, the signings of players such as Drogba and Anelka, and former Fluminense star Dario Conca to Guangzhou Evergrande, have been as the result of investment by billionaires in football clubs.
Owners such as Henan's flamboyant web gaming magnate Zhu Jun and Guangzhou's property giant Xu Jiayin have achieved fame and exposure for their businesses through football, and have curried political favour with incoming Chinese president Xi Jinping, an avid fan of the game.
Guangzhou have brought in 2006 Italy World Cup winner Marcello Lippi as their coach. Henan this year replaced former Fulham manager Jean Tigana with Sergio Batista, the man who succeeded Diego Maradona as Argentina coach before resigning last year after a disappointing Copa America. Anelka will already have stories to tell Drogba of the eccentricities of the Chinese game.
These will include having partnered Zhu upfront in a friendly against Liverpool, after the Shanghai owner forced his manager to field him in the starting line-up. Zhu was substituted at half-time after missing a few sitters.
Zhu will be pinning his hopes on his star attractions to be more potent in front of goal and help his team win a first championship since the businessman merged Shenhua with Shanghai United in 2007.