BEIJING: Chinese football sensation Dong Fangzhou has joined Manchester United in a deal worth £3.5 million, his club's general manager Lin Lefeng said yesterday.
The contract was signed last Saturday here in Dalian, the Dalian Shide manager said.
The price was £3.5 million. Dong will leave for Manchester according to Manchester United's arrangements. That's all I can tell you.
According to the BBC website, because the youngster does not qualify for a British work permit, he will begin his United career next season at Belgian feeder club Royal Antwerp.
He could either apply for a Belgian passport which would allow him to play in England or play in 75% of China's international matches during the next two years to qualify for a work permit.
China's Sports Weekly newspaper previously said that in addition to any transfer fee United would also send British coaches to help the Dalian side, although Lin could not confirm this.
The deal makes Dong the most expensive Chinese player based abroad. The previous record holder was Dong's former teammate, Dalian star Sun Jihai, who signed for Manchester City on a £2 million agreement two seasons ago.
Dong impressed United boss Sir Alex Ferguson during a trial at Old Trafford earlier this season and while Shide reportedly wanted their star player only to go out on loan, the cash carrot proved too strong.
I have to admit there must be some kind of relevance between United wanting me and the club's aspiration in breaking into the Chinese market, said the 18-year-old striker.
I believe, however, my ability has also played a big part in the move and I have that confidence.
Dong joins a growing line of Chinese players at English clubs.
Midfielder Li Tie at Everton and defender Sun at Manchester City are already established in the Premiership while Beijing playmaker Yang Pu could be on his way to Southampton. Striker Qu Bo is currently on trial at Blackburn.
Lin said that other European clubs were also eyeing more potential recruits from the developing football nation.
One of them could be Chinese international youth skipper Feng Xiaoting, who in December had a week-long tryout with French first division club Nantes.
There has never been a better time to move to Europe, he said.
English, French, Italian and Spanish clubs have all made inquiries asking for players and I think Chinese players should use these opportunities to carve out a career away from China.
The potential value of the Chinese market to English football was underlined when Li Tie and Sun Jihai faced each other in matches on Jan 1 and on Dec 8 last year.
The game was broadcast live in China and drew an estimated audience of more than 100 million people the largest ever for a Premiership game. AFP