By Xihao Jiang and Martin Quin Pollard
NANJING, China (Reuters) - Stunned Jiangsu FC fans are holding out hope that new backers will come to the rescue of the Chinese Super League (CSL) champions after the club was sensationally shut down by owners Suning this week.
The Suning Group, who bought Jiangsu in late 2015 and who also own Italian Serie A club Inter Milan, announced on Sunday the club would cease operations with immediate effect.
"I can't believe it because we just won the league championship. It just came so suddenly," Jiangsu FC fan Lan Zihan told Reuters outside the club's home ground in Nanjing on Monday.
"I saw some reports before saying our club had some financial problem. I never thought it would come to this.
"Jiangsu Football Club has accompanied me for such a long time. I have a very deep feeling with the team. Now the future becomes so unclear ... I feel so sad about it."
Backed by Suning's cash, Jiangsu were able to bring world-class talent to Nanjing - at one stage making a bid to lure Gareth Bale from Real Madrid.
Brazilian winger Alex Teixeira did make a 50 million euro ($60.4 million) move to the club in 2016 despite interest from Premier League side Liverpool.
They won their maiden CSL title under Romanian coach Cosmin Olaroiu only last November and Sunday's announcement marked a precipitous downfall for the 63-year-old club.
The Chinese Football Association (CFA) made it clear in a statement on Monday they had no intention of intervening to save the club and the chances of a U-turn from Suning look slim.
"Currently Suning Group's development is focused on the mainline retail business and this will not change," a representative of the Nanjing-based company told Reuters on Tuesday.
"In the context of the still unsolvable problem in the football sector that huge investments deliver almost no returns, the decision to cease operations at the club is logical."
The company, one of the largest in China's retail sector, said in their announcement on Sunday they hoped new backers could be found to take on the club.
Any new investors would have to work fast to secure the future of the club with the new CSL season set to start in mid-April.
"Hopefully some enterprises will take over the Jiangsu Football Club," Lan's fellow fan Guo Ruiwen said.
"I don't want to see the possibility of a disbanded Jiangsu football club become reality."
(Writing by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Stephen Coates)