Espanyol have lived in the shadows of city rivals Barcelona for decades but the arrival of China forward Wu Lei raised the club’s profile ahead of Saturday’s derby at the Camp Nou.
Wu was the Chinese Super League’s top goal scorer when he moved to the ‘Periquitos’ (The Budgerigars) in January and has scored once and claimed two assists in seven La Liga appearances.
“He’s one of the most important transfers for Espanyol in recent years but on the media level he is probably the most important,” Espanyol’s director of marketing Agusti Filomeno told AFP.
Wu’s impact off the field has seen the number of followers on the club’s social media channels cross the 2 million mark, 800,000 of them on Chinese platforms, an overall increase of 65 per cent in two months.
The club has also sold just under 10,000 shirts with Lei’s name and his number, 24, on the back, compared to the 700 personalised jerseys sold on average for other players each season.
“We haven’t been able to sell more due to a lack of stock,” Filomeno added.
According to reports in the Spanish press more than 25 million watched Wu open his account for the club and become La Liga’s first Chinese goal scorer in the victory over Real Valladolid in February.
Espanyol’s glory days were in the mid-2000s when they lifted the Spanish Cup and were runners up in the UEFA Cup. They have languished in mid-table since a fifth place finish in 2005.
The club have been majority-owned by Chinese management group Rastar since 2016.
“His arrival is an important forward step especially for a club the size of Espanyol,” said Esteve Calzada former director of marketing for rival Barcelona’s former.
“At the moment there are two countries where clubs are trying to break, China and the US,” added Calzada who now runs a sports marketing and player management company. “Their importance is strategic.”
Since Wu’ arrival in Catalonia Chinese flags have started to adorn the stands of the Estadio Cornella-EL Prat, but Espanyol’s director of football Francisco Perez Rufete warned the striker still has improvements to make.
“For us, if there was a player that would make the jump, it was Wu Lei. He’s on the right track but there’s still a lot of work to do,” Rufete told AFP.
Helping Espanyol claim a first victory at the Camp Nou since 2009 would be one way to win over his coach having already made an early impact among supporters both in Spain and in China.