F.A. Premier League club Manchester United's China striker Dong Fangzhuo has been given a work permit and is eligible to make his debut for the Red Devils, the club said on Wednesday.
The new deal will expire in 2010 with Dong bearing the number 21 jersey at Old Trafford, becoming the first Chinese player to make a senior appearance for the Barclays Premiership leaders.
The 22-year-old Dong began his professional career in 2002 with the Dalian Second Division team before being promoted to Dalian Shide's first squad in the next year. He made his first goal for Dalian during the match against their Thai counterparts in the 2003 Asian Champions League in March.
On January 13, 2004, Dong was signed by Manchester United on an initial 500,000 pounds (US$988459.9) from Dalian. His 3.5-million-pound contract depending on first-team appearances also broke the record of China's international player Sun Jihai, who boasted a 2-million-pound contract with Manchester City.
After that, Dong was sent on loan to United's feeder R. Antwerp FC, where he scored 35 goals in 61 games for the last two and a half years. He was named the best scorer in the 05-06 season of the Belgian second division league and scored the winner against Kaizer Chiefs in South Africa last July for the Reds in their pre-season friendly.
Thanks to his arduousness and talent, Dong was granted a UK work permit last month, ending his extended loan at Antwerp.
"We're all excited he has eventually arrived and can start playing. He sacrificed two and a half years at Royal Antwerp, which showed great patience and determination," United manager Sir Alex Ferguson told the club's website. "He is quick and athletic and he can only improve by training with the first team squad here."
However, United have such a wealth of strikers at their disposal such as Louis Saha, Wayne Rooney, the newly recruited Henrik Larsson, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Alan Smith and Giuseppe Rossi, meaning Dong's debut in the Premiership league might be postponed.
"I feel pretty happy about the contract. But there's still a long way to go and much more to be done," Dong said. His countryman Sun Jihai, injured at Manchester City, also believes that to find a foothold among the Reds, Dong will need good luck.
Chinese soccer captain Zheng Zhi joined F.A. Premier League strugglers Charlton Athletic on loan from Chinese Super League (CSL) champions Shandong Luneng early this month until the end of the season in a move costing 100,000 pounds. Shanghai Shenhua, another CSL club, also agreed on a five-month loan move of defender Sun Xiang to Dutch powerhouse PSV Eindhoven last week.
With a growing number of domestic players joining European soccer leagues, CSL authority has given its full support to the moves.
"Going abroad can improve the players' skills and both clubs and the national team may benefit from that," said Ma Chengquan, director of CSL matches department.
According to Ma, clubs who send their players out might receive preferential bonuses while the governing body tries to make the player transferring system smoother since some clubs worry that their players' leaving would affect the team's strength.
A look back to China's international soccer players:
On February 6, 1987, Xie Yuxin joined the Dutch PEC 82 FC, becoming the first Chinese playing professional soccer abroad.
Xie Yuxin Dutch PEC 82 FC（1987）
Jia Xiuquan FK Partizan (Former Yugoslavia) (1988-89), Gamba-Osaka (Japan)（1992-93）
Liu Haiguang FK Partizan (Former Yugoslavia)（1988-89）
Gu Guangming Darmstadt (Germany)（1987-93）
Fan Zhiyi Crystal Palace (England) (1998-2001), Dundee United FC (Scotland) (2001-02), Cardiff（Wales）（2002-03）
Sun Jihai Crystal Palace (England) (1998-2002), Manchester City（2002-）
Yang Chen Frankfurt (Germany) (1998-2000), Frankfurt Second Division（2000-02）
Li Jinyu AS Nancy Lorraine (France)（1998-99）
Zhou Ning Mannheim (German Second Division)（1999-2000）
Xie Hui Alemannia Aachen (German Second Division)（2000-02）
Li Bing Offenbach (German Second Division)（2000）
Ma Mingyu AC Perugia (Italy)（2000-01）
Zhang Xiaorui Alemannia Aachen (German Second Division)（2001-02）
Li Tiantian Mannheim (German Second Division)（2001-02）
Shao Jiayi Munich 1860 in First Division (2002-03), Munich 1860 in Second Division (2003-06), Energie Cottbus (2006-09)
Zhang Xiaobin (2002-03), New Zealand Knights (Australia)（2005-）
Li Tie Everton (England)（2002-）
Li Weifeng Everton (England)（2002-03）
Dong Fangzhuo Man. Utd. (2004), R. Antwerp FC (Belgium) (2004-06), Man. Utd. (2007-10)
Shang Yi Jerez (Spanish Second Division)（2004）
Wang Yang Plaza Colonia (Uruguay)（2004-05）
Ni Xiaowei Plaza Colonia (Uruguay)（2004-05）
Gai Yang Marseille (France)（2004-）
Hao Haidong Sheffield United（English Division A）（2004-）
Qu Shengqing Adelaide (Australia)（2005-）
Shi Jun Young Boys (Switzerland)（2005-）
(China.org.cn by Li Xiao, January 18, 2007)