Wolfsburg - A little over two months since his televised unveiling as a VfL Wolfsburg player drew in 44 million viewers in his native China, Xizhe Zhang is still taking things day by day as he looks to acclimatise to the rigours of Germany’s top flight and his new surroundings.
Playing the patience game
“Compared to Beijing, Wolfsburg is a lot smaller, but it has lots of nice areas and the people here are all very friendly and courteous,” the 24-year-old said in an interview with fifa.com. “Above all, I can focus on football in peace here and work intensively on learning German.”
Zhang “wasn’t surprised” his move to Wolfsburg attracted attention back home, given that he is currently “the only Chinese player at a big club in one of the major European leagues”. However, the mild-mannered midfielder is refusing to let the added exposure go to his head as he looks to fly his country’s flag in Germany’s top flight. “I do see myself as a bit of an ambassador, but only in terms of football,” said the Wolves’ winter signing.
Still yet to make a top-flight appearance for Wolfsburg, Zhang was well aware that patience would be required when he made the move, but remains willing to bide his time to make his mark. “I want to completely integrate myself into the team as quickly as possible and to learn and understand German,” the 10-time China international said. “I haven’t set myself an exact timeframe of when I’d like to be included in Wolfsburg’s squad for a competitive match for the first time, but I’ll give everything to don the Wolfsburg shirt as soon as possible.”
‘I really like the way Mesut Özil plays’
Zhang is also hoping that when he does make his Bundesliga breakthrough, it could inspire China’s next generation of football stars. “I can show that good football is played in China too,” said the former Beijing Guoan playmaker. “On top of that, I hope that if I can establish myself at Wolfsburg then even more children in China will want to play football, and will view me as proof that it is possible to make it in Europe.”
To do just that the 24-year-old has been frank in outlining the areas of his game that he need to adapt in order to withstand the demands of the league of the world champions. “The pace of the game in the Bundesliga is a lot faster than it is in China, and you need greater athleticism here too,” said Zhang.
Asked who his footballing role model is, Wolfsburg’s high-profile recruit admitted that he holds former FC Schalke 04 and SV Werder Bremen star Mesut Özil in high esteem. “I really like the way he plays. He plays in a similar position to me and is very good at finding the decisive final ball to set up goals.” It may take time for Zhang to reach that level of performance, but considering the waves he’s made without even touching a ball, there’s little doubting that he has what it take to leave lasting impression on the Bundesliga in years to come.