Cahill exit angers Shenhua fans: 'he's one of us!'

Asian football expert @JohnnyDuerden assesses the reaction in Shanghai to Tim Cahill's shock contract termination overnight, and looks back at a successful year for the Socceroo great at Chinese Super League outfit Shanghai Shenhua.

Whatever happens in the rest of his career, Tim Cahill can look back on his time with Shanghai Shenhua without regrets, apart from the fact that it lasted just the one season.

When the Australian returned to Shanghai earlier this month ready for a new season and landed in the early hours of the morning, there were dozens of blue shirts waiting.

Few had an inkling that he would soon be on his way out.

The news earlier this week that his contract with the club had been terminated just weeks ahead of the new season was not greeted well by fans who took to social media, such as popular micro-blogging site Weibo, to register their disapproval.

Even in the frenzied culture of Chinese football with all the recent spending, all the comings and goings, the release of a successful import was a surprise.

Striker Tim Cahill celebrates scoring for former club Shanghai Shenhua in the Chinese Super League.

The player certainly seemed to be shocked and saddened by the news.

Cahill had a special relationship with the fans, some of the most special in Asia that stick with the team through thick and plenty of thin.

Perhaps more than any other Chinese club, fans of Shenhua love a player that gives everything for the cause.

Dong Mei is a member of the Blue Devils, the fan group that gather behind one goal at the Hongkou Stadium, to sing, shout and get behind the team.

“Even though he is Australian, Cahill was one of us,” he said.

“In every game he gave everything. It was like having a fan on the pitch fighting for us. Fans can't believe that the club would release him.

“We have had so many foreign players that have come and gone without making an impact so to lose Cahill is an unpopular decision.”

The feeling of admiration, even love, is mutual.

 “Just thinking about saying goodbye to my team-mates and especially the amazing fans is heartbreaking,” Cahill said in a statement.

“Regardless of whether my contract is being honored and paid out in full, I would much rather have seen it out and finished what we started,” said the player in a statement.

“I will always think about what could have been for us as a club in 2016.”

It wasn't bad in 2015, either.

Shanghai used to be the bridesmaid in Chinese football with eight second-placed finishes in the league in the past two decades with just one title to show in 2003 (and even that was subsequently taken away due to match-fixing issues).

In the past few years, the close misses have become rarer with mid-table finishes the norm.

Last season however, Cahill was the big signing.

He took a little time to settle in the league but as summer came, so did the goals and by the end of the season, he had managed 11 goals in 28 games.

Tim Cahill celebrates a goal for Shanghai Shenhua in the CSL.

This is pretty impressive for a team that ended in sixth.

Sixth sounds lofty but when you are 14 points behind fourth and 25 behind the champions, then it is clear that this was a team that still has some way to go before challenging for the big prize, though it seemed that progress was being made.

The one disappointment was the loss in the Chinese FA Cup final at the hands of Jiangsu Sainty, now Jiangsu Suning at the end of 2015.

One goal was the difference between the two teams over the two legs. Shanghai had the chances not only to win the trophy but a place in the 2016 AFC Champions League.

Whatever happens next for the Socceroo, he will be remembered as one of the imports who came to China and had success.

And in Shanghai, he will be remembered as much more than that.