Chinese Super League side Tianjin Tianhai fold amid Covid-19 uncertainty

The Chinese Super League club Tianjin Tianhai, who once had the World Cup winner Fabio Cannavaro as manager and signed Alexandre Pato and Axel Witsel, have declared bankruptcy and folded.

Tianjin, founded in Inner Mongolia as Hohhot Binhai in 2006, have struggled since the arrest and imprisonment of their former owner Shu Yuhui, finishing second bottom of the CSL last year.

Shenzhen, who were relegated after finishing bottom, have been reprieved and will replace Tianhai in the CSL for the 2020 season, which has been delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Given an unsustainable financial situation, the club is no longer able to maintain normal operations,” Tianjin said in a statement. “After a period of thoughtful consideration … the club has no choice but to formally announce Tianjin Tianhai is disbanding.”

The club were one of the league’s most ambitious at the height of the gold rush in Chinese football when huge sums were spent on foreign players and managers.

Then called Tianjin Quanjian after billionaire Shu’s traditional Chinese medicine company they won promotion to the CSL in 2016 under Cannavaro. With Witsel in midfield and Pato, bought for $20m (£16.2m), scoring 15 goals, the club finished third in 2017 and qualified for the Asian Champions League for the first time.

Things started to unravel after the arrest of Shu for running a pyramid scheme in January 2019. Without his backing the Tianjin football association was forced to step in and take over, changing the name to Tianjin Tianhai and imposing budget restrictions. Shu was sentenced to nine years in prison and fined £5.7m in January this year.

The CSL season should have started in February. The Chinese FA is looking at plans to begin the season, pending the approval of China’s sports ministry for professional sport to resume.