Bundesliga: Zhang makes a leap

Bundesliga: Zhang makes a leap
Chinese football player Zhang Xizhe.

From the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League to the German Bundesliga, in just four years.

That's the unlikely journey of China midfielder Zhang Xizhe, who yesterday signed a two-and-a-half year deal with German club Wolfsburg.

The 23-year-old will be able to play for the club once the European transfer window reopens next month.

Zhang, who hails from Chinese Super League (CSL) club Beijing Guoan, will become only the fourth Chinese to play in the Bundesliga after Hao Junmin with Schalke in 2010, Shao Jiayi with 1860 Munich in 2003, and Yang Chen with Eintracht Frankfurt in 1998.

Zhang was in the crowd to watch his new club's 1-1 draw with Paderborn last Sunday, a result that left them second in the Bundesliga, nine points adrift of Bayern Munich.

"He is a young player with a lot of potential," said Wolfsburg sporting director Klaus Allofs, a former German international striker and Bundesliga top-scorer.

"Even if the leap from China to the Bundesliga is a big one, we have every faith in him being able to manage it. Of course, we are going to give him all the time he needs."

With Wolfsburg chasing Champions League football, Zhang could eventually parade his skills on the grandest stage in club football.

It is a far cry from the brief sojourn he had in the S.League in 2010.

Then, the youngster was flown over by Beijing as part of a crack quintet of five China youth internationals to aid their feeder S.League club, Beijing Guoan Talent, who had started the S.League season poorly.

Zhang made five appearances for the S.League side before he was recalled by the first team in China.

He may have had a short spell here, but it was for Zhang to show his quality.

He scored two goals - against Geylang International and Home United - and showcased his versatility, playing both on the right wing and left wing, as well as behind the main striker.

His hard running also brought a new dimension to his side.

Zhang was named in The New Paper's S.League Team of the Week on March 22, 2010, after his team's 4-1 upset of two-time S.League champions Home United.

HOME RUN

He had a wonderful game against the Protectors, setting up the second goal, scoring the third, and even made a clearance off his own goal-line in the second half.

His short-lived stint also meant he left before their infamous "footbrawl" with the Courts Young Lions in September that season, which saw 16 players from both teams handed fines ranging from $1,000 to $3,000 and/or bans of up to a year.

Zhang has 10 caps and, in September last year, he scored the first of his two senior goals in a 6-1 rout of the Lions.

Since returning to China, he has chalked up 24 goals in 121 appearances in the CSL, and his impressive performances earned him the country's Young Player of the Year award in 2012.

msazali@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Dec 16, 2014.
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