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UK club signs talented Chinese player

By ANGUS McNEICE | China Daily | Updated: 2019-01-04 10:21
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Wang Jiahao shows his Wolverhampton Wanderers jersey. [Photo/Screenshot via Sina Weibo]

Highly-rated teenage midfielder Wang Jiahao could become the sixth Chinese soccer player to play in the English Premier League, following his transfer this week from Spanish club Jumilla B to Wolverhampton Wanderers.

The English club-commonly known as Wolves-signed the 18-year-old winger on a four-and-a-half year contract and immediately loaned him to Portuguese side Sporting Lisbon for the remainder of the season.

Wang was born in Spain to Chinese parents and has played in the lower leagues of Spanish soccer. In October 2017, he was included in a list of the 60 best players in the world born in 2000, compiled by British newspaper The Guardian.

Wolves was purchased by Chinese investment conglomerate Fosun for 45 million pounds ($56.7 million) in 2016 when the team was in the second tier of English soccer.

Substantial investment in new players and the shrewd appointment of Portuguese manager Nuno Espirito Santo has since seen the club promoted to the Premier League.

Luke Regan, a presenter for digital fanzine Wolves Fancast, says Wang's experience in Europe indicated his signing might be more than just a ploy to grab headlines in China.

"Sometimes you wonder if Chinese players are signed just because they are Chinese, to grow influence in China, but this seems like a signing for the future. He seems a quality player and it might not just be a box-ticking exercise," Regan said.

"From what I can gather, he's an exciting prospect, but football is full of exciting prospects, so we have to take it with a pinch of salt and see what happens."

Wang was born in Cuenca, a city in central Spain. His parents are from Qingtian county, Zhejiang province, and he has a Chinese passport. Wang is eligible to play for China and Spain, and in 2015 spent two weeks training with the Chinese national youth team.

"It's the dream of every player to play for the national team," Wang told Tencent Sport. "My family is from China, I feel Chinese, so I think I would play for China over Spain. I will always be Chinese."

He says his Mandarin comprehension is decent, although he has yet to master speaking the language. Wang developed a passion for soccer watching his older brother play in local leagues. His father was initially against him pursuing a career in the game, until a coach noted his skill level.

Playing under the name David Wang, for three years in a row he was named the best player in his province's futsal league-an indoor, five-aside version of soccer, which is famous for improving players' ball control and technique.

He started his 11-a-side career in the youth team at CD Mostoles, before stints at Real Murcia, AE Josep Maria Gene and Jumilla.

Wang could now become just the sixth Chinese player to feature in the Premier League, after Dong Fangzhuo, Li Tie, Li Weifeng, Zheng Zhi, and stand-out star Sun Jihai, who played more than 130 games with Manchester City.

Just after the midway point in the Premier League season, Wolves is currently ranked ninth out of 20 teams after an erratic season so far. The club has stumbled several times to lesser teams but has taken points from Premier League giants Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal.

Luke Regan said that the Chinese owners have shown an ability to adapt and have built a solid staff at the club that includes influential soccer agent Jorge Mendes.

"They have brought in people that know what they are doing," Regan said. "The first season there were some teething problems, but the second and third seasons have been really successful. We couldn't have asked for more last year, and we can't ask for more than we've got now."

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