Shanghai SIPG striker Wu Lei poses with his Chinese Super League player of the year award, flanked by Czech Republic and Juventus great Pavel Nedved and former Team China coach Zhu Guanghu at a ceremony in Haikou, Hainan province, on Nov 21. (PHOTO / XINHUA)
As the Chinese Super League's top marksman last season, Wu Lei is wondering if his lethal right foot could pierce some tougher defenses abroad.
The Shanghai SIPG striker has put himself in the international shop window thanks to a league-leading 27 goals that helped the Red Eagles to their first CSL title, ending Guangzhou Evergrande's seven-year stranglehold on the championship.
Wu's prolific form earned him the CSL's player of the year award at a ceremony in Haiku, Hainan province on Wednesday, but questions have now inevitably turned to whether the China international can bag an even greater reward in the form of a contract in one of the world's top leagues.
If the right opportunity comes up, I will choose to play overseas
Wu Lei, Chinese footballer
"If the right opportunity comes up, I will choose to play overseas," Wu told Tencent Sports on Wednesday.
"Of course, I have to consider many factors. Given my age (27), I'd have to be guaranteed playing time to join a foreign club. That's the most important thing.
"English Premier League games are always on TV in Shanghai and I've been watching Bundesliga since I was a kid. I really like the style of the two leagues and I'm confident that I can handle that pressure and fit into their pace."
And it seems SIPG would not stand in his way should a European team come calling.
"If there's a suitable foreign club, we will fully support Wu's decision as he has proved himself," said SIPG chairman Chen Xuyuan.
"However, to become a true megastar, he still needs to improve. Playing in a foreign league is a great way to do that.
"There are two preconditions to a move, however. First, is whether it will benefit Chinese soccer's development, and secondly, whether it will benefit the player's own development.
"If he can find a balance between those two provisos, the club will for sure support him."
If Wu is able to secure a switch, he would become just the second Chinese to ply his trade in a top-flight European league, joining Zhang Yuning, who is with Dutch side ADO Den Haag, on loan from West Bromwich Albion in England's second tier.
An ankle ligament injury sustained at the Asian Games in August, however, has curtailed Zhang's involvement, leaving fans craving for the days when Sun Jihai, Yang Chen and Zheng Zhi all made their mark in the top tiers of England, Germany and Scotland respectively.
Sun's adventures at Manchester City during the 2000s are particularly dear to supporters back home, with the tenacious defender becoming a firm fan favorite at City and the first Chinese to score in the English Premier League and the UEFA Cup (now the Europa League).
Since Sun's retirement, Japanese and South Korean players have been Asia's most successful soccer exports, most notably Tottenham Hotspur's Son Heung-min, who helped South Korea claim gold at the 2018 Asiad.
Wu is acutely aware that emulating the likes of Sun and Son is a daunting task, especially given that he would no longer have his creator-in-chief, Brazilian Oscar, to tee up scoring chances for him.
But playing for the national team is very different as we face much bigger pressure. There are more responsibilities and the expectation of the whole country is on us
Wu Lei, Chinese footballer
"Without Oscar, I definitely could not have scored that much," said Wu, whose tally this term eclipsed Li Jinyu's 26-goal total in 2006 for Shandong Luneng as the most scored by a Chinese player in a CSL season.
"Oscar always produces great passes to create chances for me. He sees opportunities that others can't.
"As long as he passes to me, I just have to make sure to finish well. If a forward isn't scoring, it's often because he doesn't have a good supply line."
Wu's inability to replicate his prolific form for the national team has come in for some criticism, but he remains hopeful the goals will eventually flow for Team China.
"In the national team, I can feel that I have more support now. My teammates know me better and create good opportunities for me," said Wu.
"But playing for the national team is very different as we face much bigger pressure. There are more responsibilities and the expectation of the whole country is on us.
"I will try to adapt and achieve better results for the national team in future."
HONG KONG NEWS