United Youth

Manchester United Reserves & Academy News

So long Dong, and Fangzhuo for the memories

Posted by nickogs20 on August 29, 2008

Dong FangzhuoUnited today parted company with Chinese international forward Dong Fangzhuo, after the 23 year-old’s contract was cancelled by mutual consent.

The club’s decision to release the player is no real surprise – Dong has failed to make any impact at first-team level since signing for the Reds in 2004 and last season, with the emergence of Danny Welbeck, the striker struggled to even impress for the reserves. When his number 21 shirt was re-assigned to Rafael da Silva earlier this month the writing appeared to be on the wall for Dong’s United career, and so it has proved.

Dong signed for United in January 2004 from his hometown club Dalian Shide, in a deal believed to be worth as much as £3.5m if the player met certain appearance and/or goal targets. The Home Office understandably refused to grant the new signing a work permit, leading to the Reds loaning Dong to their Belgian affiliate club Royal Antwerp in order for him to gain EU citizenship. 35 goals in 61 games for The Great Old wasn’t a bad return, and when the forward toured Asia and South Africa with the first-team in the summers of 2005 and 2006, he did enough to earn praise from Sir Alex Ferguson and suggest that maybe he was more than a cynical commercial ploy by the United board to tap into the Chinese market.

In December 2006 Dong was granted a work permit, having represented China seven times during his spell in Belgium, and finally arrived at Old Trafford in January 2007, signing a contract through to June 2010. First impressions from his early reserve appearances weren’t favourable, with occasional glimpses of talent being overshadowed by long periods of mediocrity, although the Chinaman did make history in May 2007 by becoming the first player from his country to play for the Manchester United first-team in a competitive fixture when he was chosen for the ‘dead rubber’ at Stamford Bridge in the final week of the Reds’ title-winning campaign.

2007/08 was always likely to be somewhat make or break for Dong. A dazzling solo goal in pre-season against Peterborough and a brief run of goals for the reserves (albeit mostly against lower league second string sides in the MSC) aside, it never really happened for him, and the young forward looked out of his depth in two further first-team outings – ninety minutes in the Carling Cup debacle against Coventry and a substitute appearance against Roma in a Champions League dead rubber. Dong’s season was ended prematurely by a knee injury picked up in reserve action on Valentines Day this year, and despite a decent showing in a poor China side at this month’s Olympic Games, it appears time had already been called on his United career.

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