Beijing: Former Chelsea striker Didier Drogba's long-expected move to big-spending Shanghai Shenhua has been confirmed by the Chinese club's owner, media reports said on Tuesday. Zhu Jun, who reportedly visited Drogba's native Ivory Coast last week, said the 34-year-old was joining the club, but said no date for his arrival has been set and refused to discuss terms of his contract, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
Unconfirmed local reports said Shenhua was willing to offer the centre-forward as much as $15 million per year. A club spokeswoman declined to comment on the reports, saying an official notice would be posted to its website.
Backed by Zhu's online gaming fortune, Shenhua has already hired former Argentina coach Sergio Batista and another former Chelsea player, Nicolas Anelka.
Drogba's move to Shenhua has been speculated for months. He had also been approached by Al Wasl of the United Arab Emirates, coached by Diego Maradona, but their bid was less than Shenhua was believed offering.
Drogba capped his Chelsea career by scoring the equalising goal and then the penalty shootout winner in Chelsea's win over Bayern Munich in last month's UEFA Champions League final. Prior to his nine years at Chelsea, he had spells at French clubs LeMans, Guingamp and Marseille.
Chinese club football has long been dogged by mismanagement and corruption, with the level of performance trailing well behind that of neighbours South Korea and Japan. But rapidly escalating salaries are beginning to attract big-name players while authorities have ramped up measures to stamp out fixing.
Among other recent signings, Super League champion Guangzhou Evergrande broke the Chinese transfer spending record to sign Argentine playmaker Dario Conca for $10 million from Fluminense, reportedly making him the third-highest paid player in the world.
Guangzhou followed up by hiring coach Marcello Lippi, who guided Italy to the 2006 World Cup title and Juventus to the 1996 Champions League crown and five Serie A championships.
The hope is that the big names will in turn boost sponsorship and give the Chinese league wider recognition, although a lack of home-grown talent remains a problem for the perennially underperforming national team.