Midway through the 2nd halfof with his team holding a 2-1 lead to a crucial relegation battle against visiting Real Valladolid earlier that month, Espanyol midfielder Sergi Darder received possession 30 yards from goal.

Darder held off a struggle and released a perceptive through basketball, splitting open the visiting defence and sending his team-mate through on goal.

The striker, who had timed his run to perfection, received Darder’s pass in his stride, took a second touch to prepare a shot and calmly stroked a positive low finish past onrushing keeper Jordi Masip and in the left post.

On the opposite hand of earth, millions of people jumped from the couches to acclaim a minute of history.

The goal scorer was Wu Lei, a national hero for football fans in China.

With this enormous level of support following his every movement, the effects of this forwards’s coming in Spain extends far beyond Espanyol’s attempts to remain in the top flight. Because Wu can also be at the core of La Liga’s bold tries to unseat the Premier League as the very common football league in the world.

As Espanyol prepare for some local derby trip to Barcelona on Saturday day, BBC Sport discovers more.

Over a promotion gimmick

Supporters with Wu Lei of Espanyol shirts during the La Liga match against Sevilla in March

Wu may be the all-time top scorer in the Chinese Super League, netting 151 goals in 296 games for Shanghai SIPG and additionally becoming the focus of the Chinese national team’s attack, scoring 15 goals in 63 international looks.

Despite this pedigree, there is still a fantastic deal of scepticism in Spain when he had been signed by Espanyol in January, together using cynics suspecting the movement was nothing more than a cheap publicity stunt orchestrated by the Barcelona-based club Chinese president, Chen Yansheng.

It did not take long for the 27-year-old to acquire on the doubters. He instantly supplied a philosophical spark to a Espanyol side which was in serious danger of this drop after having a dreadful run of form, having lost nine games out of 10 both sides of this xmas break.

His introduction, a way to Villarreal at the start of February, watched Espanyol stop the rust by earning a 2-2 draw. Then came a home victory on Rayo Vallecano, followed closely by successive draws against Valencia and Huesca, and with the new arrival now deservedly established as a starter on the left wing – that historical moment of his first goal in La Liga in the 3-1 win over Valladolid.

Five league games, nine things, no beats… Wu had joined a team which was in free fall and promptly played a significant part in their own upturn in form. Not bad for a player who had been rudely dismissed as a marketing gimmick.

His newest teammates have been impressed,” as long-serving midfielder Victor Sanchez told BBC Sport:”We did not know much about him once he arrived and the truth is that he has surprised us. He is very quick, he could find distance in the carton and he’s got an eye for goal.

“He has to improve tactically along together with his associative drama, but he’s got lots of qualities. He’s intelligent and has the capability to grow as he adjusts to our team. I think he is likely to soon be a very important player for us.”

Besides boosting Espanyol’s attempts to remain in the top flight, by a wider perspective Wu is a lot more significant for its part he is playing in La Liga’s determined efforts to catch up – and eventually overtake – the premierleague in relation to worldwide popularity.

Traditionalists may not enjoy it, but a basic truth of contemporary elite game is that foreign markets are key sources of revenuefrom broadcasting, sponsorship and advertising deals.

For the last couple of decades, now the Premier League was totally dominant in that global landscape, raking in riches far surpassing any such thing controlled by other championships: England’s top flight currently earns around £5bn a year, in contrast to roughly £3.5bn to get Germany’s Bundesliga and pound;3bn to get La Liga.

The team’s administrators have launched a competitive and proactive marketing campaign to narrow the economic gap, and international crowds are at the core of their own plan.

Joris Evers, La Liga’s chief communications officer, is both available and forthright concerning the contest’s exalted aspirations. “Our purpose is to establish La Liga while the 2nd most widely used football league in every country across the planet, consistently after the area team,” he told BBC Sport.

“We’re an innovative league that wants to be in front of this curve. We have been more than a football product – that we have been an entertainment and lifestyle brand. We’re trendsetters in regards to opening international offices, and all can be done having an institutional, fan and commercial focus in mind “

Since Evers notes, a key facet of La Liga’s worldwide marketing plan has been the introduction of offices in nine countries, forever staffed with a group of 44 delegates, with the aim of working closely together with local clubs and authorities to come up with a reputation as favorable allies, as opposed to greedy foreign invaders.

“What really sets us apart will be the worldwide delegates dotted around the world. It’s a competitive strategy that’s helped La Liga grow its social media amounts to overtake rival leagues, and allowed us to grow our tv revenue and earn relevance in addition to awareness about international markets”

Although plans to stage January’s league game between Barcelona and Girona in Miami were shelved after Fifa denied approval, other endeavors have included former Real Madrid and Liverpool winger Steve McManaman hosting a live screening of October’s Clasico in front of 25,000 fans at the East Bengal Ground in Kolkata, whereas Indian cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle (roughly eight million followers on Twitter) is on the list of influential celebrities who have been chaperoned to Spain to delight in a’La Liga experience’.

China, clearly, is really a hugely significant property inside this advertising battle ground: having its huge population of 1.4 billion (double the entire of Europe), for example a fast expanding middle class with adequate disposable income to enjoy luxuries like television subscriptions, it’s got the potential to eventually become the single most rewarding area for European championships.

To provide some context to the significance of China as a foreign exchange market, it’s eye-opening to note that many premierleague games draw a live British television audience of approximately 500,000, merely a one-fiftieth of those 25 million who watched Espanyol v Valladolid in China.

On a local level, Espanyol have benefitted by receiving a significant influx of new fans from Barcelona’s 70,000-strong Chinese community, and their games are suddenly gaining tons of policy in the Oriental sport media. The club can be likely to put up a lucrative pre-season excursion of China through the summer, together with Wu naturally taking centre stage.

However, the huge challenge for the club and for La Liga generally – is turning those brand new fans to permanent supporters as opposed to watching them vanish if Wu appears to leave.

Overcoming the Premier League’s deeply entrenched worldwide dominance isn’t an easy undertaking and it won’t happen immediately, but La Liga won’t fail through a lack of work. And in one single essential nation, at least, the Spanish top flight is making serious inroads by virtue of the coming of Wu.

“China is an important market also, clearly, a wonderful opportunity for us,” said Evers.

“The passion for football China is growing, so you would like to grab this momentum. Wu Lei’s impact will be, undoubtedly, crucial. A growing number of Chinese fans have been following La Liga, also you would like to make use of this care to promote the competition.”

Occasions like Saturday day’s derby – which might find China’s federal icon face Lionel Messi and co workers in a badly competitive game in front of 90,000 fans as opposed to fabricated pre-season friendly – are naturally viewed by the league as a gold chance to entice new followers.

Of course, when Wu can make China rejoice by hammering Barcelona’s defence and scoring at the Camp Nou, it could end up being one of the very significant goals in the modern history of game enterprise.


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