Espanyol's ascent gives Wu fresh hope

By SHI FUTIAN | China Daily | Updated: 2021-05-12 09:33
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Espanyol's Chinese striker Wu Lei waves to fans in a celebration ceremony after the Barcelona-based club was promoted back to La Liga on Saturday after just one season in the Spanish second division. XINHUA

Back in La Liga and back among the goals-that's the plan for Wu Lei next season after Espanyol secured a return to Spain's top flight at the first attempt last weekend.

The Chinese striker has been a bit-part player for the Barcelona-based club this term, with his 66th-minute introduction off the bench in Saturday's 0-0 draw at Real Zaragoza typical of his frustrating campaign-when minutes and goals have been scarce for the 29-year-old.

Wu's tribulations have sparked speculation he could choose to call it quits at Espanyol and seek a fresh start at another European club or back in China.

However, speaking before Saturday's promotion-clinching victory, Wu was again keen to stress his commitment to the club where he began his European adventure in such promising fashion just over three years ago.

"Just like I wrote in my personal blog many times before-once you chose a path, no matter how difficult it can be for you, you need to try your best to keep moving forward," Wu told

"I never said I can no longer keep playing with Espanyol. But some media or fans might think this way. This is all outside noise. I will keep on fighting for my foreign career."

Saturday's result meant Espanyol clinched promotion with four games to spare. It currently leads the Spanish second division on 78 points, six ahead of second-place Real Mallorca.

Having fallen down the pecking order at the club, Wu has contributed only three goals and two assists in 32 appearances-10 of those starts-in all competitions this term.

Wu's struggles have been magnified by the burden of becoming the only Chinese international to play in a major European league when he arrived at Espanyol from Shanghai Port (then known as Shanghai SIPG) in 2018.

He hit the ground running in Spain, becoming the first Chinese player to score in La Liga and helping the team rise from relegation trouble to Europa League qualification in 2019.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic marked a turning point in Wu's fortunes, with the forward and his wife testing positive for the coronavirus last March.

When he finally returned to the pitch after beating the virus, Wu failed to avert Espanyol's relegation to the second tier.

The team's slide has not been helped by a revolving door of head coaches in recent seasons. Current boss Vicente Moreno is the sixth head coach Wu has worked under at Espanyol, and Wu clearly has his work cut out to persuade Moreno he should be in his starting XI every week.

Wu, though, has been keen to play down the idea that Moreno is the source of his problems on the pitch.

"I saw some fans online blame the head coach. I understand the frustration of my fans, but this is truly unnecessary," Wu wrote on his blog earlier this year.

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