Aaron Mooy hit the ground running on his move to China in August, winning praise and plaudits for his performances. Shanghai SIPG were hoping to win another Chinese Super League title and signing an English Premier League midfielder was a missing piece of the jigsaw.
A goal for the Australian on his debut against Wuhan Zali was surely a sign of things to come and two more wins followed in quick succession with a victory over Beijing Guoan on September 25 a high point.
But Shanghai have not won in the six games since. Now out of the title race, they face an uphill struggle just to finish in the top three and book a place in the qualification rounds for the 2021 AFC Champions League.
Cracks are appearing in the team, with fans blaming the coach for recent results and the coach increasingly blaming the players.
With Shanghai stuck in the same hotel since July, unable to do much but train and play, it is understandable that tempers are fraying and team spirit seems to be dropping.
Mooy has been caught in the middle. At times the Socceroo has been playing a more forward role.
Fans have praised his hard-work and professionalism, but the midfield has looked out of sorts in a team that looks out of sorts.
The most recent result was Saturday's 2-1 loss against Beijing Guoan in the first leg of the play-off for the third and fourth places in this unusual-looking league format which has been revamped due to the delayed start.
The performance of Mooy, tasked with standing in for injured Brazilian midfielder Oscar, was called a ‘disaster’ by one media outlet.
The barb was aimed more at under-fire coach Vitor Pereria and pointed out that the Australian, who had performed a more defensive role with Brighton and Hove Albion, was hardly likely to be able to provide the same levels of creativity as the Brazilian star while complimenting his commitment to the cause.
Such qualities don't seem to be universally shared in the team, at least according to the Portuguese boss who has been struggling to get the best out of a talented squad that includes big money signings such as Oscar, Hulk and Marko Arnautovic.
The coach has not tried too hard to hide his frustrations with the latter two. Hulk has made it clear that he will be leaving at the end of the season with some quarters wondering if he has not already left in spirit.
After the defeat against Jiangsu Suning on November 2, a loss that ended Shanghai’s chances of the title, Pereira, who was blamed by the press for not reacting well to the injury to Oscar that forced his playmaker off, shifted some of that blame on his players.
“I think the main responsibility for the loss is that some players lost their team spirit,” Pereira said.
“They have ability but need to show that they can use it during a game and help the team to produce something different. I feel a little sad that some players did not live up to this expectation."
He was equally full of praise for the hard-work and team spirit of Jiangsu.
There was more criticism from the former FC Porto boss after Saturday’s loss to Beijing.
“For a coach, the most important thing is to feel that I can choose 11 players to work together, to run, fight and do their best to win the game.
"Rather than the so-called performance of a certain player, we need the team to be integrated together and fight like a team, instead of considering our own interests, we should think more about the team, the club, the fans, and the overall situation.”
The growing unease at Shanghai is good news for Sydney FC.
Shanghai’s domestic season ends on Wednesday and they are scheduled to head to Qatar almost straight away for the resumption of the AFC Champions League.
The first game takes place against Sydney FC eight days later and it remains to be seen what frame of mind the Chinese powerhouse is in.