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'China's Maradona': 40mn people watch Wu Lei make debut for Spanish team Espanyol

'China's Maradona': 40mn people watch Wu Lei make debut for Spanish team Espanyol
A TV audience of 40 million people in China tuned in to watch football star Wu Lei make his debut for Spanish club Espanyol in the La Liga game against Villarreal, the club has reported.

Wu came on for the final 12 minutes of Sunday’s game and saw his team snatch an equalizer just three minutes later through Roberto Rosales, who leveled the scores at 2-2.

Espanyol reported on Thursday that Chinese viewing figures for the game were 40 million, which dwarfed the TV audience in Spain of just 177,000, according to Marca.

Striker Wu, 27, joined the La Liga team at the end of January, moving from Shanghai SIPG, where he had become the club’s top-scorer with 169 goals in 344 appearances.

He also topped the Chinese Super League scoring charts with 27 goals last season, helping his former club to the title.

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Espanyol’s majority shareholder and president is Chinese businessman Chen Yansheng, and the club bought Wu for what was considered a nominal €2 million (US$2.27 million) fee as he seeks to continue his development in the higher standard of La Liga.

Wu has made 63 appearances for the national team, scoring 15 times, and had previously been linked to a move to England's Premier League before heading to Spain.  

The forward made his professional bow for Shanghai at the age of just 14 in 2006, and has been dubbed "China's Diego Maradona" by some in his homeland.    

His presentation as an Espanyol player reached a reported 350 million people in China, while the Spanish club now enjoy a social media following of more than half a million in the Asian country, according to the BBC.

Espanyol next host Rayo Vallecano in a clash at the bottom end of the table, with Wu’s team in 15th, two points ahead of Saturday’s visitors, who lie 18th.

Interest in the game is expected to be just as avid in China as Wu could feature for a more extended period.

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