Zhang Yuning – Chinese football’s great hope – shows why he is a marketing dream at first press conference in Germany

Hordes of Chinese reporters descend on German club’s training ground to speak to young player, while thousands more watch online

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 July, 2017, 10:56am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 July, 2017, 12:10pm

Zhang Yuning’s potential impact – off the pitch if not on – at Werder Bremen was in full effect as a livestream of the Chinese player’s first press conference with the German Bundesliga club crashed because of the demand.

Zhang, 20, was bought by Chinese-owned English Premier League side West Bromwich Albion this week then immediately loaned to Werder because he does not qualify for a work permit in England.

Having not made a major impact during two seasons at Vitesse Arnhem in the Netherlands, some doubt whether Zhang can make the grade in the tougher German league.

But there was no doubt as to his marketing potential as hordes of Chinese reporters descended on the press conference and thousands of fans tuned in to see him talk to the media in perfect English, fielding hard-hitting questions about food, his love life and his relationship with China’s president.

“On my first day I was in the Ratskeller and I had typical Bremen food. It was a bit tough,” joked Zhang.

“I can’t say I like the food, but I don’t hate it!”

Is Chinese player Zhang Yuning’s move to English Premier League side West Brom more about property development than football?

Zhang was accompanied by his father, wrapped in a Werder scarf, who had apparently been instrumental to the move. According to Chinese reports, he convinced West Brom’s owner Lai Guochuan of his son’s potential to be a hit on and off the football field. Lai duly signed him for a fee reported to be 9 million.

Handsome and articulate in several languages, Zhang has the potential to be a marketing phenomenon for China’s army of football fans – if he can make the grade.

He assured German reporters he would soon be learning the language.

Zhang, who has been capped nine times for China, said he hadn’t been back to the country much since moving to Arnhem as an 18-year-old so “I don’t know if I’ll be recognised”.

Asked if president Xi Jinping was a fan of his, Zhang said he didn’t know – but hoped he would be one day.

And in response to the most important question of the day, he revealed “No I don’t have a girlfriend, I’m single now – thank you for the good question.”

“It is one of the greatest moments of my life to sign here, and I am very proud,” Zhang added. “Werder is very well known in China, but I want to make the club even more famous.

“I admire [former Bremen legend] Miroslav Klose, who is one of the best strikers ever.

“I want to get used to [the league] as quickly as possible; I don’t know how long it will take but I will work hard for it.”

Bremen’s sporting director Frank Baumann told Werder’s website: “He wants to prove himself and will be trained by the professionals. We are watching the preparations being made and expect him to compete.

“He is an open guy who always wants to learn something and is very intelligent. It was a deliberate step from him to go to Europe. He knows the culture and speaks perfect English.”