Superstars Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka may have already played their last games for China's Shanghai Shenhua, a report said on Wednesday, as a boardroom power struggle puts their futures in doubt.
Shenhua's billionaire chairman Zhu Jun is threatening to withhold foreign players' salaries unless other shareholders grant him majority control, an unnamed senior executive told China's Titan Sports.
"If Zhu Jun cannot get the majority stake, he can only pay for foreign players based on his own stake," the club executive told Titan.
"Drogba, Anelka and (Colombian midfielder Giovanni) Moreno's salary cannot be guaranteed in future, and they may not be able to attend future matches."
Shenhua are bankrolled by Zhu, a colourful online gaming tycoon, and the signings of the ex-Chelsea players -- for reported salaries in excess of $300,000 a week -- made headlines around the world.
Their arrival highlighted a dramatic revamp of the corruption-plagued Chinese Super League (CSL), which has spent big on overseas talent including World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi, who joined Guangzhou Evergrande.
A showdown could come as early as Shenhua's next game, at home to Liaoning Whowin in just over two weeks.
"Whether Drogba can play on September 15 remains a question, and we don't have the answer now," the executive was quoted as saying.
According to Titan, Zhu wrote to Shenhua's big stakeholders, who are all state-owned companies, asking them to make good on an agreement to hand over majority control due to his heavy investment in the club.
The newspaper said he has not received any replies.
The executive added: "The key is whether Drogba can play on September 15, not other matters. Speculation that Shenhua may apply for bankruptcy if Zhu Jun cannot get the stake is nonsense."
Reports say that under a 2007 deal, Zhu's 28.5 percent stake would rise to 70 percent if he invested more than 150 million yuan ($23.6 million) in the club. Zhu has reportedly spent about 600 million yuan.
Club officials were not available for comment. This week, the Oriental Sports Daily ran a similar report, also quoting an anonymous source, saying the futures of Drogba and Anelka were under threat.
The two ex-Chelsea players both scored in Shenhua's last match, a 3-3 draw with Shandong Luneng.
But Chinese media said Moreno missed the game because Shenhua had failed to stump up the $7 million transfer fee for his former team, Racing Club of Argentina.
Drogba dropped in on his former Chelsea team-mates in London this week as the Super League takes a break. Despite their new signings, Shenhua lie just 10th in the Chinese championship, which wraps up in November.