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City boss likes China's chances

China Daily | Updated: 2017-06-21 07:44

But Soriano cautions that building a soccer power takes time, patience

LONDON - Manchester City chief executive Ferran Soriano doesn't doubt China has the potential to become a soccer power, but said it will take time and patience.

Following President Xi Jinping's visit to the UK in 2015, China Media Capital, headed by Shanghai's Li Ruigang, bought 13 percent of City's parent company City Football Group for $400 million, creating a close relationship between China and the club. "We are very lucky to have a Chinese investor," Soriano, who joined City in 2012, told Xinhua in an interview at the club's academy.

"Li Ruigang is one of our board members. He understands Chinese football very well and participates in Chinese football reforms. Very clearly, Chinese football and the Chinese league is learning from all the leagues in the world and growing very fast.

 City boss likes China's chances

Sergio Aguero of Manchester City takes on a Borussia Dortmund defender during last summer's International Champions Cup match in Shenzhen, Guangdong province. City, which counts China Media Group as one of its primary investors, has a 10-year cooperation deal in place to help develop Chinese soccer. Wang Zhao / AFP

"We have a lot of interest in China and we also have a lot of people and resources for helping China develop its football. We see China as a land of opportunity for the global game."

But the reality is not so rosy. China's national team, under the charge of former World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi, was held to a 2-2 draw by Syria in a World Cup qualifier last week and now sits last in its group, with little hope of reaching the finals in Russia two matches left.

"The first thing is that you must be patient," said Soriano, a former Barcelona vice-president. "You cannot do this in two years. You need probably a decade. If we start coaching a Chinese player today, with appropriate coaching, we have to start at the age of six or seven."

"Secondly, you need to invest in the right thing. The right thing is education and coaching. We see a lot of teams spending a lot of money on players. Maybe too much money. They are trying to go too fast. There is no doubt that if China invests the right thing with the right patience, in 10 years, you will be one of the biggest football countries in the world."

Big-spending Chinese clubs are seen as a threat by foreign leagues after they bought Chelsea's Brazilian midfielder Oscar, former City striker Carlos Tevez and signed several world-renowned coaches including ex-City boss Manuel Pellegrini, former Tottenham boss Andre Villas-Boas and former England head coaches Sven-Goran Eriksson and Fabio Capello.

But Soriano said that Chinese clubs need to have homegrown players to play with the superstars.

"It is a combination. You need to keep a balance. You mentioned Barcelona. It is a good example of educating and raising kids. But we also signed big players like Ronaldinho and Neymar. So you can have a few stars because they help raise the level of all the players. But you cannot have the big stars only. You need both."

City boss likes China's chances

Soriano outlined three crucial steps in the 10-year cooperation deal between Chinese soccer and Manchester City. "First, we would like to have a strong relationship with a professional team, we can have our players and compete in a Chinese league. Second, we want to participate in the education of Chinese players. We want to have academies and have strong ties with local government. And third, we also want to have more commercial partners. We now have seven in China."

Soriano said City already has more than 40 coaches working in schools in nine Chinese cities in a program with the Ministry of Education. "We are also discussing with several partners opening academies, because coaching is the most important thing."

City scored a 6-5 shootout win over Borussia Dortmund in Shenzhen last summer in their International Champions Cup tie. But the trip ended in ugly fashion after a much-anticipated derby with Manchester United in Beijing's iconic Bird's Nest stadium was canceled because of the poor condition of the pitch.

"That was a pity," Soriano said. "But overall the trip was successful. We played in Shenzhen. We met our fans and we are happy to meet a lot of fans. We will go to China again next year. This time we want to play in Beijing."

Soriano has guided City to fifth in Deloitte's World Football Money League, but he cautions that, until his club wins the Champions League, it's too early to say it is as established as Manchester United, Barcelona or Real Madrid.

"To be at the top, you need to win," he said. "Manchester City in the past five years has won the English championship twice. But we have not won the Champions League yet. That is the last step for us to be at the top of the top. The journey has been amazing.

"For Manchester City to go from where it was to being one of the top five teams in the world, we have to win the Champions League. That is what we are working for."


(China Daily 06/21/2017 page24)

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