China's Super League champions who nearly signed Real Madrid superstar Gareth Bale are in disarray and fighting for their future, just three months after winning the domestic title for the first time.
Jiangsu FC, whose backers also own Italian giants and Serie A leaders Inter Milan, are unravelling amid widespread reports of financial problems and their depleted squad has not been told when pre-season training will resume.
The predicament of Jiangsu -- previously known as Jiangsu Suning -- has underlined the erratic nature of Chinese football and put its precarious finances back in the spotlight.
China's Soccer News outlet says that it is now a "question of how to survive" for Jiangsu, who are owned by the conglomerate Suning and have seen their title-winning coach and 50-million-euro attacker Alex Teixeira leave since making club history.
In November, the Brazilian played a starring role as Cosmin Olaroiu's side surprised Fabio Cannavaro's reigning champions Guangzhou Evergrande over two legs in the final of the coronavirus-revamped CSL.
But trouble has been brewing at Jiangsu, based in the eastern city of Nanjing, for a while.
In the summer of 2019 the club came close to signing Bale on a reported £1 million ($1.4 million) a week before the Spaniards pulled the plug on the move. He now plays for Premier League Tottenham Hotspur on loan.
Yet there were reports last season that the Jiangsu players briefly refused to train because they had not been paid.
"We faced problems against the opponent and we faced the problems in the interior in our club and this made me a little bit disappointed after the final, even though we won," Olaroiu told The Asian Game podcast after Jiangsu's title triumph.
The 51-year-old Romanian quit earlier this month, reports in China and Romania say. The club have made no comment. Croatian striker Ivan Santini then followed through the exit door.
"Within three days the team lost the coach who led the team to last season's championship and an important forward," Chinese newspaper Oriental Sports Daily said this week.
Teixeira has also played his last game for Jiangsu after his contract expired and his fellow Brazilian Miranda, the veteran defensive stalwart, is attempting to secure a return to his homeland.
"The team losing more players cannot be ruled out," Oriental Sports Daily said, with several Chinese players linked with moves away.
"In the upcoming season what will the Jiangsu team look like?" asked the respected publication. "At present, nobody has a definitive answer.
"The team has lost its head coach and several foreign players are not there.
"No one knows the team's plan for the new season and all the players can do now is wait."
- 'Survival first priority' -
Chinese football is tightening its belt and the days of teams splashing out on the likes of Teixeira and Shanghai SIPG's 60-million-euro Oscar are over.
At least two other CSL teams are in serious financial peril and Olaroiu talked of problems behind the scenes at Jiangsu, who were formerly managed by ex-England coach Fabio Capello and signed Brazilian international Ramires from Chelsea for 28 million euros in 2016. Ramires left in 2019.
The club is still owned by retail giant Suning even though it dropped "Suning" from its name at the start of this month in line with Chinese Football Association requirements.
Suning in December hit out at "rumours" over its financial state and threatened legal action.
But Guangzhou-based Soccer News said that for the company its "survival is the first priority" and reports Suning are looking to offload the club.
Zhang Jindong, chairman of Suning, gave a speech last week that hinted at a pivot away from sport and was interpreted by many as bad news for Jiangsu FC and its fans.
"We will focus on retail business resolutely and without hesitation will close and cut down our business irrelevant to retail," he said in comments which also did not go unnoticed in Italy, where Inter are battling rivals AC Milan for the Scudetto.
The new CSL season is expected to begin in the spring, but there is no definite start date because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.