By Carlo Garganese
Wealthy Chinese Super League club Shanghai Shenhua are hoping to set up a mouthwatering partnership between recent signing Didier Drogba and wantaway Boca Juniors captain Juan Roman Riquelme, Goal.com can reveal.
Shanghai have tabled an undisclosed offer for the departing Boca playmaker, and make up a list of five clubs to have bid for the 2006 World Cup star. A mystery Saudi Arabian club - as revealed by Goal.com on Tuesday - two Argentine sides and a Brazilian outfit, almost certainly Flamengo, whose sponsors, Olympikus and Batavo, are prepared to pay 50 per cent of the value of the deal, are also in the hunt.
And, despite Chinese Super League rules stating that clubs must not have more than five foreigners in their squad, including a place for a player from the Asian Football Confederation countries, of which Sergio Batista's side currently have a full quota, it is understood that Shanghai are willing to sell one of their foreign stars in order to seal a deal for Riquelme.
Another stumbling block, however, could be the fee of €4.08 million ($5m), the value of the remainder of his contract, which runs until 2014.
After the Buenos Aires outfit's Copa Libertadores final loss to Corinthians, the former Barcelona man stated that he had nothing left to give the side, but indicated that he would decide whether to carry on in football based on his family's wishes.
And Shanghai, who have successfully attracted stars like Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Giovanni Moreno to the club in 2012, are extremely interested in adding Riquelme to their ever-improving ranks.
Coach Batista, who left his role with the Argentina national team in 2011, has been personally involved in his side's attempts to lure his countryman to Asia.
Boca revealed on Tuesday that they had held a meeting with the player's representatives, where his desire to leave La Bombonera was reiterated.
"The paperwork is ready for Roman to continue playing at Boca, but his agent repeated the decision the player made last week after the game with Corinthians," said Boca vice-president Oscar Moscariello.
Riquelme's agent Daniel Bolotnicoff confirmed that his client will be departing the club, saying: "After playing the final, which was very important to him, he ran out of targets. His decision to leave is a personal matter."
The player himself is willing to consider any offer that meets the value of his contract, but will consult with his family before making his next move.
"Riquelme's intention is to resolve the situation quickly because that way is best for Boca," Bolotnicoff explained before going on to say that the veteran was "very moved" by the thousands of fans who took to the Buenos Aires streets begging their idol to stay.
Riquelme has also been linked with a number of English clubs, including West Ham United and Bolton Wanderers.