Zhang Xizhe has returned to Beijing Guoan Football Club the club that sold him to the Bundesliga club Wolfsburg 166 days ago. He didn’t play a minute for the hugely improved German club, under the price tag of €2 million. Dispritied and tired, he told me that he would never play abroad again.
Zhang Xizhe was the midfield maestro of Beijing, a key figure of the national team as well, at the golden age of footballers, 25. The reason Wolfsburg’ bought him, was Volkswagen, the German car manufacturer, which has extensive business interest in China. If Zhang could solidify himself in the Bundesliga, he could be the perfect salesman for Volswagen, which is the major shareholder of Wolfsburg. During his stay there, Zhang even came back to Shanghai, and participated in the Shanghai Autofest as a representative of Volkswagen, but the trip didn’t help Zhang’s European football adventure.
It was a wrong transfer – it happened at the wrong time for the wrong player. Nevertheless, Zhang’s decision that he would never play abroad again, is also wrong. Zhang is a very talented midfielder, with a silky left foot, but Wolfsburg, which was on a mazy run last season, could not give this Chinese newcomer, in the middle of the season, too many opportunities. And Zhang, as seems to be the case for quite a lot of failed Chinese footballers in Europe, was never committed, patient or stubborn enough, to stick through the adaptation process on his adventure.
A major hindrance, is that Europe has ceased to be appealing to Chinese international players. For a month’s time in the summer, the CSL season would have a similar summer window as the European one for transfers, and the arrivals of Robinho, Paulinho, Gyan, Demba Ba and Gudjohnsen, proved the level of crazy investment of club owners in this league. Chinese international players, no matter their playing ability, are also enjoying this invasion of foreign legions, because their income is also rising simultaneously.
Gyon’s salary at Shanghai SIPG has become international news, reported to be on £227,000 weekly, ranking him as the eighth or nineth highest paid footballer globally. Gyan’s salary, translated into Chinese currency, would be around 100 million RMB. For Chinese internationals, take Zheng Zhi, the capitain of the national team, who played for Charlton and Celtic, was reported to be around 8 million RMB at Guangzhou Evergrande. He would get another 3 or 4 million as his win bonus, even though, his income is dwarfed by Gyan and other foreign players.
Zhang Xizhe signed a new contract with Beijing Guoan, in a extreme low key way: on a canteen table at the club’s training base. His income will be as high as Zheng Zhi’s. But surely at around 5 or 6 million RMB per season, or even higher (which is about $1 million) his salary at Wolfsburg could not have been in this range.
Chinese footballers, as Japan, need to hone their skills at the highest competitive stage in Europe, however, the frenzy of investment, has been dragging on the legs of Chinese footballers. A balance needs to be found.
John Yan is Deputy Editor of Netease.com.