Sydney United ready to take on Tevez and Shenhua's riches

National Premier League side Sydney United are bracing for the “opportunity of a lifetime” when they face one of Asia's riches clubs, Shanghai Shenhua, in a true David and Goliath battle, captain Nick Stavroulakis says.

Nick Stavroulakis

Sydney United captain Nick Stavroulakis, centre will take on the riches on Shanghai Shenhau including Demba Ba, left and Carlos Tevez, right. Source: Getty Images

United’s team of semi-professionals will take on the might of the Chinese Super League titans who recently made history by making Argentina striker Carlos Tevez the highest-paid footballer with a multi-million dollar deal.

Shenhua also have the likes of former Chelsea star Demba Ba, Nigerian international Obafemi Martins, Colombian star Fredy Guerin as well as a host of Chinese internationals on their books.

While Ba is still sidelined after suffering a broken leg last July, United have been assured they'll face a full-strength line-up with Tevez possibly making his debut for Shenhua in the January 31 friendly.

The NSW NPL side will travel on Saturday to Shanghai for the match, which could draw 33,000 screaming fans at Shenhua’s Hongkou Football Stadium and Stavroulakis says the opportunity is a “dream come true”.

“This whole trip is completely surreal,” he told The World Game. “All the players are absolutely buzzing and can’t wait to go.

“At heart all the boys are passionate football fans and to go up against the players Shanghai have on their books is a dream come true.

“It is not just Carlos Tevez either. I have been huge fan of Obafemi Martins since I was 16 and Fredy Gurin has played for Inter Milan, won the Europa Cup and represented Colombia in the World Cup.”

The unlikely match-up was brokered by Sydney-based player agent Ante Alilovic whose CSL links have helped negotiate moves to China for Socceroo stars including Tim Cahill, who played for Shenhua before his move to Melbourne City, and most recently Robbie Kruse and James Holland, who signed with Liaoning Whowin last week.

Alilovic was contacted by Shanghai Shenhua to help the Chinese club find Australian opposition to play in preparation for their likely Asian Champions League match against Brisbane Roar on February 8. 

The Roar must first over-come the winner of Global, from the Philippines, and Singaporean side Tampines Rovers. 

While there were a few logistical hurdles to overcome to make the trip a reality, the reigning NPL champions jumped at the rare opportunity which is being mostly funded by the CSL club.

“All the boys in the team are used to waking up in the morning and doing an eight to ten-hour work day before going to training at night,” Stavroulakis said.

“For six days we will be operating like professional players with a full schedule of training sessions. This is very different to anything most of the squad has ever experienced.

“The fact we will be playing against players who would earn more in a week than we would earn in a year or even a career is very surreal.

“These guys at Shanghai have been on the world stage and we have been back here in Australia watching them do their thing on TV."

Sydney United football director Sam Krslovic said he hoped the match would be a springboard for future opportunities for the club both nationally and abroad.

“Sydney United as a club sees the importance of developing links in China going forward,” he said.

“Shanghai Shenhua would have done their research on Sydney United as a club and we are honoured to have been given this chance to build a connection with a club of their stature.

“It makes great sense for clubs, and not just professional A-League clubs, to forge greater ties in China to help with the development of our players and football in Asia as a whole. “

A junior tournament in Guangzhou last season opened Karlovic’s eyes to the growth of the game in China and how Australia is falling behind.

“Training facilities and football infrastructure leaves anything in any sport in Australia for dead,” Karlovic said.

“Everyone is amazed by the amount of money being invested into players in the CSL but it is the investment in infrastructure in china which is truly unbelievable.

“This China trip is a unique platform for our players and our club and everyone will be working hard to get the most out of the opportunity.” 

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4 min read
Published 24 January 2017 at 1:00pm
By Nick Houghton