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Big money, but is China worth it?

SHANGHAI (AFP) – If Frank Lampard is to swap Chelsea for China, he might do well to first consider the colourful experiences of his former team-mates Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba.

Pay disputes, off-pitch rows and an alien culture have seen many of the foreign stars to have joined the Chinese Super League beating down the door to get out again, sometimes months after arriving, after being unable to settle.

Former France striker Anelka became the first genuine world football figure to play in China when he was snapped up by Shanghai Shenhua for a widely reported 175,000 pounds ($283,000) a week 10 months ago.

He was joined in Shanghai in the summer by Drogba, who signed for an eye-watering 200,000 pounds a week.

But the 33-year-old Anelka quickly saw his move turn sour and is in talks with the club to leave, with reports suggesting Drogba might go with him.

Drogba is yet to receive his salary for December because of a boardroom row, said the Oriental Sports Daily, while Shenhua told AFP that talks are under way with Anelka to cancel the remaining year of his mammoth contract.

Drogba has at least been a hit on the pitch, scoring eight goals in 11 games for a side that finished the recent season ninth out of 16 teams. Anelka netted only three goals all season.

It is a far cry from the fanfare that greeted Anelka — who has not always endeared himself to supporters during his nomadic career — upon arrival in February. He insisted he was not going to China just for the money.

Things soon unravelled. The Shenhua head coach, former Fulham boss Jean Tigana, was sacked following a player revolt after just five games in charge.

The taciturn and media-shy Anelka — dubbed “Le Sulk” in England — was probably as surprised as anyone to be given the chance to replace Tigana in the hot seat.

Weeks later Anelka was making headlines again by threatening to quit Shenhua — whose middle-aged owner gives himself a game occasionally — after the club asked the Frenchman to make way for former Argentina manager Sergio Batista.

And then there is the strange case of the Argentine Dario Conca.

The attacking midfielder, voted the league player of the year in Brazil for two years in a row at Fluminense, has followed that up with consecutive Chinese championships at Guangzhou Evergrande.

He joined Guangzhou in the summer of 2011 for a Chinese record $10 million transfer fee, on a three-year deal worth a staggering $1.3 million a month, according to the Sina Sports website.

Now he too looks set for the exit door.

Last month he left a note with the club saying “I’ve gone and I’m not coming back”.

He told Sina Sports that he was unhappy at the “many strange things which go on here”, but did not elaborate and remains in dispute with the club.

It’s not only the current crop of international stars who have run aground in China.

Perhaps most famously was the case of former England, Spurs and Lazio midfielder Paul Gascoigne, who joined Gansu Tianma in 2003 but left after four games saying he wasn’t getting paid — Anelka and Drogba might sympathise.

Lampard, 34, who is yet to be offered a new contract with Chelsea and has been heavily linked with a lucrative move to China next season, might like to have a word with Ian Walker, a coach at Shanghai Shenhua.

The former Spurs goalkeeper has spoken openly about the difficulty of settling into a wholly unfamiliar culture on the other side of the planet.

“The worst thing is the food,” he said recently. “I haven’t been served any dog yet. They tell me they don’t do that anymore — but I did have a very suspicious burger once.

“There’s the heat and the humidity, which I found tough at first. And it’s dangerous crossing the road. Forget zebra crossings; that’s not an option here. Just try to dodge the cars. It’s very noisy, too, because everyone beeps their horn every five seconds,” he told the South China Morning Post.

He added: “I used to go out, but not that much. I’m quite happy to sit at home and watch TV. There’s one sports channel luckily. Even though it’s Chinese it has all the football and tennis and motor racing.”

Success stories of players coming from Europe’s top leagues are few. Former Everton and Blackburn striker Yakubu scored nine goals in 14 appearances for Guangzhou R&F last season, which saw members of the city’s large expat African population regularly cheering the team alongside locals.

The former Aston Villa, Nottingham Forest and West Ham striker Marlon Harewood also enjoyed a successful spell at Guangzhou R&F, scoring four times before opting to return to England after just 10 games in 2011.

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