Werder's Zhang Yuning says he's "not new hope" of Chinese football
Zhang Yuning has distanced himself from claims he is the "new hope" of Chinese football as the 20-year-old striker settles into life with Werder Bremen ahead of the upcoming Bundesliga season.
Zhang, who is the only member of Marcello Lippi's China squad to play in Europe, moved to the German club on loan after inking a three-year deal with West Bromwich Albion in July.
"I have to admit that that was quite big news," he told the club's official website about his transfer.
"There aren't many Chinese players playing in Europe, especially not in the five big leagues.
"I've quickly been put under great pressure by the media, friends, but also by people who I don't know at all. Everyone suddenly thinks I'm the new hope of Chinese football, even though I don't think that myself."
Strict immigration regulations in the United Kingdom meant Zhang was unable to join up with West Brom as a result of not having played 75 percent of international matches for China in the last two years.
Despite that, though, Zhang has become a regular presence in the squad since Lippi's arrival in November, with the Italian starting the youngster in March's meeting with Iran in Tehran.
The experiment, however, failed as Zhang was left isolate and Lippi replaced the forward at half-time in a game the Chinese eventually lost 1-0.
Lippi, though, previously defended his decision to include Zhang while the player has made a determined start to life at his new club.
Zhang, who will likely be included in China's squad to face Uzbekistan and Qatar on Aug. 31 and Sep. 5 respectively, has scored twice in preseason for Werder Bremen, and feels he is benefitting from the work being done with his new employers.
"That's definitely the hardest preseason I've taken part in," he said. "Partly because we had three sessions a day; to be honest, I felt like I was physically dead a few times.
"Admittedly I didn't play too many minutes in the friendlies, but the goals felt like redemption for the all the graft."
Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch