This is part of our China's 2015 Year in Review series. For more on 2015 Sports in review, read our list of the winners and losers of sports in China here and the 5 top feel-good stories of sports here.
The highest scoring Chinese player in the CSL for the past three seasons, Wu Lei’s pace and finishing led Shanghai SIPG into the AFC Champions League for the first time in the club’s history. At just 23 years old, the national team player is arguably China’s hottest footballing property.
Can you sum up SIPG’s year for us?
I think our team did a really good job this season. We aimed to get into the top three before the season started, and we ended runner up. In fact, we took the championship race down to the very last game of the season.
What was the highlight of the season?
When I scored in the very last minute to record a 1-0 win away against Shandong Lunan four games from the end of the season. The three points all but secured our qualification for the AFC Champions League, and kept us in the title race with Guangzhou Evergrande.
And what about your personal highlight?
Being awarded Top Chinese Goalscorer in the CSL for the third year in a row.
What will you remember the 2015 CSL season for?
The fans’ incredible support of our team. The cheering we got during and after some games has been exceptional, and helped us gain momentum. It’s quite an emotional experience, really.
What was the big surprise of 2015?
The fact that we pushed Guangzhou all the way for the title. Going into our third to last game of the season at home against Shijiazhuang, we were still a point ahead of Evergrande, which is pretty impressive. We failed to maintain it, and that was a pity.
Who was your CSL hero of 2015?
Our midfielder Darío Leonardo Conca. I didn’t know all that much about him when he played for Guangzhou Evergrande. But since he’s transferred to our club, I’ve learned that he is a superb football player. Our team feels quite safe having him on the field, because it normally takes two to three people to guard him, which frees things up for us in attack.
And the CSL villain?
Guangzhou Evergrande taking not only the Chinese league, but also their second AFC Champions League title in three years is certainly something to envy. But we have to show them admiration and aspire to match their achievements, rather than label them villains.
Can you make some predictions about how SIPG will do in 2016?
There is no doubt that we’ll do better than this year. After all, we are a new team – with new coaches on board and fresh members coming in. I believe that we are going to grow stronger in 2016.
And can you make any wider predictions about what will happen in the CSL in 2016?
Both teams that were promoted into the CSL this year are very professional and competitive, especially China Fortune Football Club. There’s no doubt more wealthy clubs will come in, as well as more foreign players. Competition is going to get even tougher.