Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda will invest 2 billion yuan ($300 million) in a huge new football academy aimed at improving standards in one of the world's great sleeping giants.
Wanda, which is owned by one of China's richest men, Wang Jianlin, announced a 23-pitch facility capable of accommodating 500 players and coaches in Dalian, a port city in the northeast. "In addition to meeting the needs of professional football clubs, it will also provide training venues for primary and secondary school students who love football in Dalian," a statement said.
It will not be the only large-scale academy in China, whose collection includes the Evergrande Football School in Guangzhou, the biggest in the world with accommodation for more than 2,000 students. China has unveiled plans to set up an eye-popping 20,000 academies as part of plans to turn the country, whose national team is 74th in the world rankings, into a football superpower.
Wanda owner Wang is a big football fan but the company, whose interests range from commercial property to entertainment and theme parks, has been struggling financially following a period of rapid expansion. Since 2017 it has sold off billions of dollars' worth of hotels, theme parks and other projects as Beijing tried to control a surge in Chinese corporate debt. Wanda last year sold its 17 percent stake in Spain's Atletico Madrid. China's government, under football-fan President Xi Jinping, has grand ambitions of hosting and even winning a World Cup, a tournament it has so far only reached once.