There is little space in Bremen’s narrowest alleys, in its Schnoor neighbourhood, the old quarter between the cathedral and Weser River. Here, between the listed houses of the Hanse city’s oldest quarter, Yuning Zhang got to know his new hometown. WERDER.DE arranged an interview with the 20-year-old.
In the extensive talk, Zhang tells of the hardest challenge of his life, reactions from China to his Werder transfer, integrating and of course the charms of Schnoor.
WERDER.DE: Yuning, you’ve been here for about a month now. What are your first impressions of the club and the players?
Yuning Zhang: “First and foremost, everyone here is so friendly: my teammates, coaches and all the staff. The club is run so professionally, all the focus is on football. There were no distractions in the two training camps. Only sport matters here”
WERDER.DE: Have you noticed any differences to Arnheim here?
Yuning Zhang: “My tired body is telling me that the intensity is higher (laughs). The training camps are longer and definitely push you harder. The games are more demanding, the pre-season friendly opponents are certainly stronger, you’re always under pressure. And of course it takes longer for young players like me to adapt to that. Also, I have to break down language barriers. There are a few more differences as well.”
WERDER.DE: Having said that, you’ve already scored two goals in pre-season. Not a bad start, right?
Yuning Zhang: “Yeah, that definitely wasn’t a bad start.”
WERDER.DE: How do you think the pre-season preparation has gone?
Yuning Zhang: “That’s definitely the hardest pre-season I’ve taken part in. Partly because we had three sessions a day; to be honest, I felt like I was physically dead a few times (laughs). Admittedly I didn’t play too many minutes in the friendlies, but the goals felt like redemption for the all the graft.”
WERDER.DE: We arranged to hold this interview in Schnoor. Have you had the time to explore Bremen on your own yet?
Yuning Zhang: “I’ve just seen the town musicians who are in the Grimm Brothers fairy tale and touched the donkey statue’s front legs to get luck for the season."
WERDER.DE: What do you tell friends and family in China when you talk to them about your new home?
Yuning Zhang: “To be honest, I only really talk about football at the moment. Everything’s revolving around training, tactics and techniques and how I’m trying to adapt to it all. Perhaps I can tell stories about Bremen in a year when I’ve started to enjoy the city a bit.”
Everyone suddenly thinks I’m the new hope of Chinese footballYuning Zhang
WERDER.DE: What were the reactions from your home country about your transfer to Werder?
Yuning Zhang: “Actually, I have to admit that that was quite big news. 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.”
WERDER.DE: Was that just pure pressure or are the people also hyped about you?
Yuning Zhang: “No, of course most of them were happy for me and I’m personally over the moon for this chance. The joy outweighs the pressure.”
WERDER.DE: When you compare your hometown Wenzhou, which with six million inhabitants isn’t even one of China’s biggest cities, to Bremen and Arnheim, which do you prefer?
Yuning Zhang: “I left my hometown at the age of five and don’t have many memories of it anymore. I grew in Shanghai, one of the world’s biggest metropolises, where life is always so hectic – lots of people, lots of traffic, lots of noise. When I came to Europe, I felt a great inner peace; there was space for me to stretch and to concentrate on football. And I must say I love it. It’s helpful for my career, especially for a young player like me. I enjoy this calm and peaceful atmosphere.”
WERDER.DE: The houses here in Bremen’s old quarter are very old. Do you like the style or do you prefer modern life?
Yuning Zhang: “Like I said, I grew up in a very modern city, which is something I cherish. I’m really curious about Bremen and the pride and passion of the people here. I like that.”
WERDER.DE: You seem very eager to learn, Frank Baumann described you as very open and approachable...
Yuning Zhang: “In my eyes, it’s not just about how receptively or tolerantly you respond to another culture, but about how ready you are to adapt yourself – that’s going one step further. And that’s equally true for a Chinese person coming to Germany as it is for a German going to China. You immerse yourself in another world and have to learn a lot of new stuff. You have to learn how people think in this new culture, how people communicate and to adapt to this.”
WERDER.DE: Is there anything in European culture that you’ve already learned to treasure?
Yuning Zhang: “To be honest, I think I’ve completely adjusted and feel like part of the culture here. I’m no foreigner.”
WERDER.DE: There’s this stereotype about Germans being punctual...
Yuning Zhang: “I’ve met enough tardy people. And they had to reach deep into their pockets for the team jar (laughs).”
WERDER.DE: Even in your first press conference you talked about your first time trying pork. Was it odd for you, and have you tried it again since?
Yuning Zhang (laughing): “It wasn’t weird; the dish was just really heavy. Also, I never said I don’t like it. I only said that I don’t hate it. If I had to eat it to survive, that wouldn’t be too bad.”
WERDER.DE: Are there any foods that you miss?
Yuning Zhang: “In my hometown there were three cooked meals per day, often with rice, here there are only two cooked meals a day at most. Most of all, I have to admit that breakfast is quite often too dry for me here. And I miss noodle soup. Sometimes.