Who is he?
Wu Lei is a top striker, who was last season’s Chinese Super League player of the year thanks to the goals he scored for champions Shanghai SIPG. The footballer netted 27 goals to help his club win its debut CSL title; and he was on goalscoring form for the Chinese national team too last month during the Asian Cup. On January 11 he scored twice as China beat the Philippines 3-0 to reach the knockout stages. Sven-Goran Eriksson, the former England manager who currently coaches the Philippines, said after the game: “Wu has been one of the best forwards in the Chinese Super League for years. I saw how good he was when I coached Shanghai SIPG. He could play in European leagues.”
Why is he in the news?
Eriksson’s forecast turned out to be uncannily prescient. In late January the La Liga club Espanyol signed Wu in what China Daily termed a “groundbreaking transfer”. The deal sees the 27 year-old footballer become the first Chinese player to sign for a Spanish top-flight side on a permanent basis. “Wu’s historic move is a timely shot in the arm for Chinese soccer, with the forward long touted as capable of cutting it in one of Europe’s major leagues,” commented China Daily.
Spanish newspaper Mundo Deportivo reports he arrives on a three-year deal at the Barcelona club. Espanyol is owned by Rastar Group – which is chaired by Chen Yansheng, who has said he wants the La Liga club to become a platform where top Chinese players can develop their careers. The Spanish team released a statement in Chinese after it announced the signing: “Espanyol has had an in-depth look at Wu Lei for a long time, and his great performance has also attracted the attention of many English Premier League clubs.”
The significance of the move?
A battle is on between soccer leagues in Europe for Chinese TV viewers and fan spend. In particular La Liga clubs are vying with English Premiership teams like Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United to win over China’s hundreds of millions of football lovers. By bringing in a prominent Chinese player Espanyol should see its following in China spike as local fans follow Wu’s progress. One telling social media post suggested he might prove a smart investment for his new club. “I have been a Barcelona fan for 30 years, but now I am announcing I’m switching my allegiance to Espanyol,” the netizen wrote.
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