China PR

Wu Lei: I am determined to help Espanyol return to La Liga

Beijing: China PR international strike Wu Lei has signalled his desire to remain with Espanyol despite the club’s relegation to the second tier of Spanish football at the end of the just-concluded La Liga season.

Wu, who moved to Spain from Shanghai SIPG in early 2019, admitted in an interview with Chinese state media he had been approached by clubs elsewhere in Europe but that he wanted to remain with the Barcelona-based team.

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"It's true that some clubs from the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga contacted me," the 28-year-old told Xinhua news agency.

"But I know what I truly want. The decision [to stay in Espanyol] was made for multiple reasons - both on and off the pitch. My family feels comfortable living in the city of Barcelona. My teammates, club staff and fans have always been nice to me."

Wu, who was among the nominees for the AFC Player of the Year Award in 2017, has impressed during his time with the Spanish side, scoring eight times in 49 appearances in all competitions.

But his form was not enough to prevent the club from slipping into the second division of Spanish football with a last place finish in the 20-team La Liga, which finished its coronavirus-interrupted season on July 20.

"There is no doubt that our goal is to return to La Liga next season,” said Wu. “We are far ahead of other teams in the second division in terms of the club size and team strength.

“But it's never an easy job and the race will be competitive. We need to unite together to achieve it."

Espanyol’s relegation means there are currently no Chinese players contracted to clubs in the top divisions of the leading leagues in Europe, but Wu believes staying with Espanyol to play in Spain’s second tier will not be detrimental to his development and encouraged more players from his homeland to make a similar switch.

"I know Chinese fans want me to play in the major leagues,” he said. “But I have to say that even the second division in Spain is competitive. I don't agree that I must play in those big names to improve myself. Staying in Espanyol is a rational decision.

"I heard that some Chinese players say if they go to Europe they must play in the five major leagues. It's not realistic. The key is to improve and to learn. You can also learn a lot from playing in other leagues in Europe. If we have a large base of players playing in Europe, no matter in the big leagues or small ones, Chinese football will improve a lot."

Wu will feature for China as they continue their quest for a place in the final round of the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 when play resumes in October and he remains confident the country can pick up the results required to keep their quest for a berth at Qatar 2022 alive despite limited opportunities to prepare in the coming months.

"Our squad is in good form now, with a good atmosphere as well," said Wu. "All the national teams across the world face the same problems. For those footballing powerhouses, they normally have very little time to train together, but their performance won't be affected.

“One day if more players in the national team come from European clubs, I think that nobody will discuss this problem."

Photos: AFP

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