Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, an ambassador of FC Barcelona, instructs a young player at a training center in Haikou, Hainan province.
FC Barcelona, arguably the world's foremost soccer club, is set to invest up to “tens of millions of dollars” into a soccer training and experience center on the island province of Hainan, making it the first ever foreign club to have a major direct investment in the China's booming soccer market.
The project, a joint venture with Mission Hills Group, shows the Spanish La Liga side's long-term “commitment” to China, a club official said. It is also the first of its kind in Barcelona's 118-year history.
Calling the project a “partnership between the strong”, Ken Chu, chairman and chief executive officer of MHG, confirmed each side would contribute half of the total investment.
“It is a joint investment between our two companies,” Chu, who is also a member of China's top political advisory body, told China Daily last week in Beijing.
China's soccer market has boomed in recent years and is now the biggest in Asia, said Xu Jiayin, controller of Chinese Super League champions Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao FC. The soccer sector is reported to employ 500,000 to 600,000 people.
The central government plans to have 50,000 soccer-focused schools by 2025 and has also set a goal of 50 million people playing soccer on a daily basis by 2020.
Foreign soccer clubs are actively involved in China's youth soccer education, with prestigious foreign clubs flocking to the country to open academies and youth training camps in recent years.
Chu said other foreign clubs have tapped into “the world's biggest market” mainly through franchises by permitting Chinese partners to use their brands, but have little investment.
Evergrande, of which Xu is the chairman, has invested 1.2 billion yuan (5 million) to set up a soccer academy in 2012 in Guangdong in cooperation with Real Madrid CF. Real Madrid will provide soccer trainers for the school.
Chu said MHG's partnership with Barcelona is not about “inviting foreign trainers” to China, but will “clone” Barcelona's world-class youth training system. MHG will take care of its promotion in China.
The Hainan facility, in the provincial capital Haikou, will be Barcelona's 26th overseas academy, and for the first time the club will dispatch its own technical staff to directly manage it.
“This is our commitment to China and the Chinese people that we are 'here to stay',” said Jenny Yang, project manager of Barcelona's Asia-Pacific headquarters, in Hong Kong.
“Barcelona wishes to establish a lasting presence in China”, Yang said.
In addition to a training center, the project will include an experience center to showcase Barcelona's rich history, while providing opportunities for visitors to experience the magic of football using cutting-edge technologies such as virtual reality.
“We are very pleased to see the development of soccer that China enjoys at the moment, and in a humble way, we wish to add our experience and value. Our primary aim is to help discover and nurture future local football talent, and encourages grassroots interest in this sport,” Yang said.