Wu Lei to return to China as Oscar looks to move home

Society & Culture

Meanwhile: Former England international Ollie Phillips takes over China’s rugby program.

China’s star forward Wú Lěi 吴磊 is set to make the move back to Shanghai Port from Spanish La Liga club Espanyol.

Rumors began swirling last week that the second all-time goalscorer in the Chinese Super League (CSL) was set to make the switch back to the club where he made 296 appearances and scored 151 times between 2006 and 2018.

Despite being the star of the national team, the 30-year-old struggled for consistent minutes and form while he was at Espanyol. Although Wu has appeared more than 100 times for the Barcelona-based club, Wu was never able to hold down a regular starting spot.

He played somewhat regularly during his first two seasons in Barcelona, even appearing in all but one of Espanyol’s Europa League games. However, with the club’s relegation to the Segunda Division, Wu fell out of favor with incoming boss Vicente Moreno and was limited to sporadic appearances from the bench.

Last season, with the club’s return the La Liga, Wu once again struggled for regular minutes, only starting four games and appearing 19 times from the bench.

Wu’s return to China will be a little surprising for many.

Although Shanghai Port, formerly SIPG, remains one of the most stable teams in the CSL, the league is still in complete turmoil. While the league has resumed home and away fixtures, the majority of the CSL clubs are in a financial mess, with a lot of the teams still in wage arrears.

In addition, the Chinese FA has been keen to see domestic players move abroad, in the same way top players from Japan and Korea move to Europe for better coaching and a higher standard of competition.

But there extenuating circumstances at Port. Wu is likely to be the replacement for outgoing Brazilian star Oscar.

Oscar missed the restart of the CSL to stay in Brazil. “Since early 2022, I have had some personal and family issues which challenged my daily life. I have recently returned to Brazil to accompany my family during this time,” he wrote last week. According to a report from Goal, Oscar has signed for Flamengo, and clubs are currently negotiating the transfer.

Oscar shocked the soccer world when he moved from Chelsea to Shanghai SIPG for more than $78 million (530 million yuan) in 2012. Oscar, who was paid a reported salary of $480,000 (3.3 million yuan) a week, has remained as one of the last eye-catching signings from the big-spending CSL era. Oscar’s move to Flamengo will see him take an 85% pay cut.


Former England international Phillips takes over China’s rugby program

Former World Sevens player of the year Ollie Phillips has been appointed head of China’s national rugby sevens program.

Phillips has been set the explicit goal of taking China to the Olympics.

The former Harlequins and Stade Français full-back will be joined by the world’s all-time top try scorer Dan Norton as well as Premiership mainstay Tom Biggs.

Writing in London business newspaper City AM, the 38-year-old Phillips described the size of the challenge facing him.

I’ve spent a lot of my life involved in rugby sevens but I haven’t taken on many challenges as big as the one I have just embarked on with China.

I am under no illusions as to how hard this China job will be. I do not speak Mandarin, I’ve never spent a prolonged time in the country, and it is hard to know at this stage just what the talent pool potential could be – both known and unearthed.

But I am optimistic. You only have to look at the progress of other Asian nations: Hong Kong in the XVs World Cup repechage, South Korea improving too, and Japan going from strength to strength at the top level.

The continent clearly has the potential. We just need to awaken a sleeping giant of 1.4bn people.

Rugby in China remains niche. Despite increased funding from the Chinese Olympic Committee after its introduction into the Olympics, most ordinary Chinese people know very little about the sport. However, sevens, which is a less technical, more athletic version of the full 15-a-side game, offers opportunities to non-traditional rugby-playing nations, with countries such as the U.S., Kenya, and Germany able to make progress and potentially providing a model for Phillips to follow.


Other Stories:

Han Xu Is Unlike Any Player The WNBA Has Seen (FiveThirtyEight)

Corollary: You Must Watch the Liberty (Han Xu’s WNBA team) (Defector)

Premier League returns to CCTV (Sports Pro Media)

Evergrande gives up on Guangzhou FC stadium project (Yahoo)

Feng Shanshan retires from professional golf (SCMP)

The China Sports Column runs every week.