With 169 goals, Wu Lei owns the record for the Chinese football club Shanghai SIPG all-time top goalscorer. One hundred and two goals make him the second most prolific goal scorer in Chinese Super League history before moving to the Spanish club Espanyol in 2019.
In addition, Wu holds the record for the youngest player to have played in a Chinese professional league match at 14 years and 287 days old.
The Early Days Of Wu Lei
Having grown up in Nanjing, Wu Lei developed a passion for soccer. But unfortunately, the Jiangsu youth academy rejected Wu in 2003 because he was too small.
Wu Lei traveled to Shanghai for another trial despite being disappointed. Wu was recruited by Shanghai SIPG soccer club owner Xu Genbao at 13 after observing just one training session.
Former China PR coach Xu Genbao has never given compliments easily. He may have nurtured more stars than anyone else for the world’s most populous nation across his 44-year managing career. Still, few of his pupils, even former China captain Fan Zhiyi, has earned more praise than criticism from their strict mentor.
Steely as the Chinese player is, though, the 78-year-old morphs into a pleasant man full of tributes at the mere mention of a youngster’s name. “He was going to be China’s Maradona,” Xu has reiterated since he signed him as a 13-year-old teenager.
Wu Lei Loves Scoring Goals
The diminutive attacker has, indeed, never let Xu Genbao down. In the 2004 AFC U-14 Boys’ Festival, Wu broke onto the scene, scoring six times as China edged the Korea Republic and Japan to reign supreme.
Two years later, he became the country’s youngest-ever player to feature in a professional match, coming off the bench to play for Shanghai in a second-division game against Lijiang Dongba-at the age of fourteen years and ten months.
More was still to come. He racked up nine goals as China booked a place in the 2010 AFC U-19 Championship finals, while at club level, he smashed home 17 times last season to earn his side the promotion to the Chinese Super League.
Wu’s goalscoring and off-the-ball performances had earned him praise in the Chinese Super League. His explosive speed is well known, especially during counterattacks. The versatile Chinese forward can play in any position along the front line.
Measuring up at only 173cm, Wu Lei belongs to the ranks of talented shorties, best represented by the iconic Argentinian to whom Xu Lei has likened him. In March, he made his presence strongly felt in this season’s opener against Beijing Guoan. Two goals down after 26 minutes, he wriggled through the defense to fire in from an acute angle to reduce the deficit. Although Shanghai lost 4-1, Wu Lei sent a solid warning for future opponents.
“I think I am a player who uses their head,” the Chinese football baby-face striker was quoted, “I have not only hunger but also a good nose for goal, so I can usually find chances to score. I like looking for opportunities in front of the goal and beating the defenders with agility and pace to score.”
Wu Lei Could Be The Chinese Maradona
He was again on target in a 3-3 thriller at Dalian Aerbin before opening the scoring. They saw off 2007 Chinese football champions Changchun Yatai 2-0 at home for their maiden Super League victory.
The three-goal tally from four matches leaves him third in the league’s scoring chart – a rare sight for a home-grown marksman in a competition dominated mainly by imported stars.
“After our promotion, I set a goal of scoring at least ten goals in my first Super League season,” Wu revealed. “The top-flight competition is fierce, with more high-quality players, but equipped with past experiences from both club and country, I will try to maintain my performance level.”
Wu Lei became the second-youngest player in the Chinese Super League to record a hat-trick in a 6–1 win over Shanghai Shenxin on 2 June 2013.
With 102 goals scored in the Chinese Super League, Wu became the most prolific goalscorer in league history. He was also the first Chinese footballer since Li Jinyu to win the Golden Boot award with 27 goals in one season. In addition to winning the Golden Boot, Wu was also named Footballer of the Year by the Chinese Football Association at the end of the season.
His goal-scoring talents have even caught the eye of former Manchester United star Ole Gunnar Solskjaer during the Sun Cup Trophy 2013 in Spain. Wu Lei scored twice as his side impressed with wins over Copenhagen and Tromso of Norway, only to be edged out 3-2 by Solskjaer’s Molde to miss out on the tournament final.
Having seen Wu dazzle the fans with his mazy runs and good goals, the former attacker even enquired about the Shanghai number 7 potential cost with Chinese journalists. “He is a good striker,” Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said. “If he moves to Molde, I think he can improve well enough to play for an English Premiership side in a year.”
The anticipated deal failed to pass, though, with Xu insisting no club, except a La Liga side like FC Barcelona, is worth his striking prodigy. Despite the missed chance, Wu Lei acknowledged it is a dream he has cherished since childhood to move to a top-level European club. “Of course, I will say yes, if a good European side comes with an offer,” he said.
A chance to move to Europe arose in January 2019. Wu signed a three-year deal with La Liga soccer team RCD Espanyol for a reported fee of €2 million, with the option of an additional year. His entry into La Liga made him the second Chinese soccer league player to compete after Zhang Chengdong.
Scoring In Europe
A few months later, the new Espanyol number 7 scored in a 2–0 win against CSKA Moscow, becoming the first Chinese footballer to score in a European competition. In the 103 games he has played and sometimes playing in the lone striker position, the Chinese top scorer has struggled to adjust to the faster speed of the La Liga and has only scored ten goals.
After four seasons at RCD Espanyol, the Chinese footballer has two years remaining on his current contract (which ends in June 2024). In the 2021-2022 season, he was involved in 27 games.
There are rumors that Wu Lei soccer journey may continue in China. The center forward is considering returning to the Chinese Football League before his current contract expires now that he has turned 30 years of age. (Will turn 31 in November 2022). His wife Xiao Cheng is a Chinese singer, dancer, and actress. With the current Chinese restrictions on travel, he wants to be closer to his family.
When he signed for RCD Espanyol, he took a pay cut of about 50% from his previous wages to play European football. China’s most high-profile footballer and youngest goalscorer currently earns €30,000 per week.
Chinese National Team
Wu appeared for his senior national team debut in 2010 against Hong Kong, he did not become a regular starter on the Chinese national team until 2013. China defeated Australia 4–3 in the East Asian Cup in July 2013, in which he scored his first goal for his country.
As an upcoming striker, he aspired to greatness. “I am hoping not only to join this national team and help my country qualify for the World Cup. Unfortunately, the Chinese national team has missed qualifying for the 2014, 2018, and 2022 World Cups in its three attempts.
He has represented his Chinese national team 79 times and scored 27 goals.
We Lei Facts And Figures
Full Name: Wu Lei
Birthplace: Nanjing, China
- Shanghai SIPG: 2006–2018
- RCD Espanyol: 2019-current team
- 2018 Chinese Super League Champions
- 2012 China League One Champions
- 2007 China League Two Champions
- 2020-21 Segunda Champions
National Team Career:
- China U17: 2007–2008
- China U20: 2009–2010
- China Senior Team: 2010–current
- 2018 and 2019: Chinese Footballer of the Year
- 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018: Chinese Super League Soccer Team of the Year
Rhett is an Australian-born, globe trotter who is a UEFA ‘A’ Licence Soccer Coach. With his family, he has traveled and coached soccer in more than 30 countries, while attending World Cups, European Championships, and some of the biggest local derbies in the world!