Dong Fangzhuo returns to Old Trafford for first time since leaving in 2008, his life has been a rollercoaster
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Former Manchester United striker Dong Fangzhuo made an unexpected return to Old Trafford on Saturday afternoon ahead of their Premier League clash against Luton Town.
The 38-year-old, who only made a handful of appearances for United after joining from hometown club Dalian Shide in 2004, was spotted chatting to club legends Wes Brown and Denis Irwin before kick-off.
In fact, United's official Instagram account posted a wholesome clip of Fangzhuo embracing former teammate Brown, who looked delighted to see the former Royal Antwerp, Legia Warsaw and Portimonense striker.
"Good to see you," Brown can be heard saying. "You look well."
Dong, who memorably received a guard of honour from Chelsea players, when Sir Alex Ferguson decided to field a weakened side at Stamford Bridge in 2007, also posed for a picture in front of the club's megastore.
One fan commented on the picture, saying: "There’s only one Dong Fangzhuo. The legend himself," while another commented: "Good to see him again."
So what happened to Dong? After penning a deal worth an initial £500,000, he was soon shipped to Belgian side Royal Antwerp on a two-year loan deal, where he would score 34 goals in 57 games.
Some were quick to criticise his move to Old Trafford, saying it was more of a commercial decision to sign the Chinese forward.
Peter Draper, who was United's group commercial director at the time of the signing, strongly played down those suggestions in an interview with The Athletic.
“It wasn’t a commercial decision. Not at all. I’ve been asked that question many times over the years," he said.
"Clearly there would have been an intention to take full advantage from a commercial standpoint but it was also clear that we could only do that if the player was successful on the pitch. And he was a talent.”
In late 2004, Fangzhuo admitted to being "lonely" when he first arrived in Manchester.
“I was living in a hotel and I didn’t have a car," he told The Guardian. "I didn’t know anyone and I couldn’t speak Flemish, French or English. All I had was my own company and a hotel room. There were times when I felt homesick. Who wouldn’t find it difficult in those circumstances?”
Despite only making three first-team appearances for Sir Alex Ferguson's side in a fairly forgettable four-year spell, former United midfielder Darren Fletcher defended the former China international.
“Listen, it was difficult for Dong. You’re talking about a stage and a time at Manchester United where the competition for places was crazy," he told The Athletic.
“But there was something there with Dong. He was aggressive, he was quick, he had a great shot. He had attributes. But he was still learning the game and things like that.
“Confidence is a massive part of it for any young player, especially when you struggle with the language and the cultural changes.
“It’s difficult to say someone wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t like he was miles off it at Manchester United.
“I didn’t see any reason why he wouldn’t have been a success elsewhere. But I think he went back to Asia and we never really saw or heard of him again.”
Dong would rejoin Dalian Shide in 2010 before returning to Europe, where he would enjoy brief spells in Poland, Portugal and Armenia.
After retiring at 29, he moved into coaching and worked with children with special needs.
A minimal amount of media coverage followed for several years but in 2016, it was widely reported that Dong had appeared on a Chinese television show in which he underwent facial surgery to 'rejuvenating his face'.
The 38-year-old played down those rumours during an interview with AFP, saying: "I just did some simple make-up. If you say that I had plastic surgery, the way I am now is probably a plastic surgery failure."