A Dutch soccer coach demonstrates skills to students in Shenyang, Liaoning province, in March 2016. China is looking to enhance cooperation and exchanges with soccer powerhouses like the Netherlands, Germany, France and England in order to develop future talent from the grassroots level. (Zhang Wenkui / Xinhua)
Rotterdam club Feyenoord bringing renowned youth training program to new Chinese academies.
Sino-Dutch teamwork in soccer development has scored another goal with the renowned Feyenoord youth training program now positioned to help nurture China's future stars.
Hong Kong-listed company Viva China, chaired by retired gymnast Li Ning, on Wednesday announced a five-year partnership with Dutch powerhouse Feyenoord to set up academies in several Chinese cities based on the Rotterdam club's youth development program.
The after-school initiative, called Feyenoord Viva Football Academy, will establish training centers across China to cultivate juniors, coaches and physical education teachers through a customized curriculum adopted from the Feyenoord system that has produced international stars such as former Arsenal and Manchester United striker Robin van Persie (who recently returned to the club where he learned his trade), ex-Barcelona defender Giovanni van Bronckhorst and current Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum.
The collaboration is also tasked with developing infrastructures and services around soccer training in Viva China's Li Ning sports parks, the proposed venues for the Feyenoord academies, to diversify the company's business.
Li Ning, a successful entrepreneur and three-time gold medalist at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, expects the program to help strengthen the weak foundation of China's soccer ambition.
"The struggle of Chinese football at the elite level is due to a lack of advanced youth development at the grassroots level," said Li, who in 1990 founded the sportswear brand that bears his name.
"The level of youth coaching and competition in China remains low at the moment, which makes me believe this project featuring one of the world's best youth programs - proven by over a century of experience - will yield good results."
Founded in 1908, Feyenoord's conveyor belt of talent from its academy at the Varkenoord complex in Rotterdam has helped secure the club 15 Eredivisie league titles in the Netherlands, one European Cup (now the Champions League) in 1970 and two UEFA Cups (now the Europa League) in 1974 and 2002.
According to the International Centre for Sports Studies, Feyenoord topped FIFA's Player Development Ranking ahead of the 2014 World Cup after contributing the most players at the marquee tournament.
The club has expanded its youth training program to 23 countries around the world, with China the latest beneficiary.
"This project will provide a very valuable contribution to the further development of football across China," said Mark Koevermans, chief commercial officer of Feyenoord.
"To be a part of China's rapid football development and to leave a legacy for generations to come by sharing the expertise we have built over the past 100 years is quite important."
The Viva-Feyenoord project is the latest joint effort in soccer development between China and the Netherlands after Amsterdam club Ajax introduced training methods to Beijing schools in 2015.
That initiative was the result of talks between President Xi Jinping and retired Dutch national goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar during Xi's visit to the Netherlands in March 2014.
With China aiming to become a global soccer heavyweight by 2050, major European powerhouses have made inroads into the lucrative market by building youth facilities here.