Wolfsburg - You might well expect 40-odd million people to tune in live for the unveiling of the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi at a new club, but it was Xizhe Zhang's arrival at VfL Wolfsburg that attracted such a remarkable TV audience back in his native China in mid-December.
Indeed, the presentation itself was delayed ten minutes due to a problem with the live link to the Far East and so great has been the interest in the Wolves' acquisition of the 23-year-old attacking midfielder that the club already have a fledgling Chinese version of their website up and running alongside the German and English ones.
Putting pen to paper on a two-and-a-half-year contract, Zhang gave the assembled media a taste of his own linguistic talents and adaptability, introducing himself in very solid German. "Playing in a European league's a dream come true for me,” he said, adding that he had "followed all Wolfsburg's games over the past year and I'm proud to have the opportunity to play alongside the likes of Kevin De Bruyne.”
Without a doubt, the signing of a player from the world's most populous nation has opened up a potentially huge market for Wolfsburg in terms of new fans and, of course, the concomitant spike in merchandising sales. As sporting director Klaus Allofs stressed right at the off, however, "His transfer has attracted a lot of media attention, but this is no PR stunt. He's one of the best players in China and he'll be a real help to us.”
Bullish about Bayern
Zhang wasted no time proving that point, teeing up Bas Dost for the final goal in a 4-1 friendly victory over Ajax Cape Town on his debut appearance for the Wolves at their recent winter training camp in South Africa. Head coach Dieter Hecking has nonetheless made clear that, "he still has to get used to our system, and my style. He'll need to be patient.”
In the last of the five seasons spent at his previous club, Beijing Guoan FC, Zhang bagged six goals in 29 outings, but laying them on is his real speciality. The Wuhan native is equally dangerous operating out wide, usually down the left, or in the hole behind the central striker. In short, a versatile attacking talent, who is naturally aware he faces incredibly stiff competition for a place in Wolfsburg's star-studded midfield department.
The ten-time China international is accordingly making best use of the pre-restart preparations to convince Hecking that he is ready for his first taste of the Bundesliga at the earliest opportunity. That just happens to be the 2015 campaign curtain-raiser this Friday evening, against the only team currently above Wolfsburg in the standings. "I'll be doing everything in my power to get a run-out against Bayern,” he said. And whether it turns out to be then or later, Zhang is now one more hungry Wolf with the champions in his sights.