Barcelona-backed soccer academy at Mission Hills Haikou

The owner of the world's biggest golf resort is joining China's rush to football investment by building a Barcelona-backed academy aimed at breeding a new generation of "national heroes".

Mission Hills, which has two giant golf complexes in China's south, hopes to house more than 1,000 children at its under-construction facility on Hainan island, which will also be a training centre for China's national team and top clubs.

It follows a stampede of Chinese investment in foreign clubs, players, coaches and media rights after President Xi Jinping said he wanted the world's most populous nation to become a global football power.

Spanish superclub Barcelona is on board as a "strategic financial partner" and will provide coaching expertise at the new academy, Mission Hills vice-chairman Tenniel Chu told AFP.

The idea is not new: in the same province as Mission Hills' record-breaking, 12-course Guangdong resort, Chinese champions Guangzhou Evergrande have an academy in conjunction with Real Madrid for more than 2,000 students, reportedly the world's largest.

Views are mixed on the hothouse approach to producing players but Chu said the new academy, at its Haikou golf resort on Hainan, will be able to tap an enormous new market following Xi's decree.

"The grassroots level is very important in growing the game," he said in an interview at this week's LeSports Connects sports forum at Mission Hills in Guangdong.

"Our president Xi, as you know his dream is by 2020 to have 50 million full-time footballers... So we're looking at a huge market in promoting the juniors' development."

China's 83rd-ranked national team, often a source of disappointment for Chinese fans and now coached by Italy's Marcello Lippi, will use the academy as a winter training base.

China's well-heeled top three clubs -- Guangzhou Evergrande, Jiangsu Suning and Shanghai SIPG -- will also train at the facility during the Chinese Super League's off-season, Chu said.


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