China's most successful football club has been plunged into financial limbo after sporting authorities blocked a merger with their city rivals, state media reported Wednesday.
Eight-times Chinese champions Dalian Shide -- struggling for cash despite their history on the pitch -- had been due to join forces with wealthy neighbours Dalian Aerbin, who have just captured France international Guillaume Hoarau.
But the Chinese Football Association (CFA) "negated" the deal, Xinhua news agency said, forcing Shide to reapply on Tuesday for their spot in the Chinese Super League (CSL).
"Shide may meet the requirements but it's most likely that the club cannot hold it to the end of next season due to insufficient money," said Xinhua, citing unspecified sources.
Shide won the Jia A League, China's first professional league, in its inaugural season in 1994, and went on to take another six Jia A titles before winning the rebranded CSL in 2005.
They are also one of only two Chinese sides to reach the final of Asia's top club championship, now known as the AFC Champions League.
Clubs in China are commonly controlled by mega-rich business titans and Shide were bankrolled by Xu Ming, one of China's richest men and the owner of Shide Group.
The tycoon was a close associate of disgraced former politician Bo Xilai, who served as mayor and Communist Party Chief in Dalian before rising up the political ranks.
Xu was linked to the scandal that brought down Bo, and was reportedly detained last March, on the same day Bo was sacked as party chief of the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing. He is believed to still be in detention.
Dalian Aerbin were only founded in 2009 but are backed by one of China's largest construction companies, enabling them to sign former Paris Saint-Germain player Hoarau on a three-year deal earlier this month, reportedly doubling his salary.
The CFA did not respond to AFP's requests for comment.