China's Wanda pumps $300m into giant football academy

Antoine Griezmann (Getty Images)
Antoine Griezmann (Getty Images)

Hong Kong - 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 north-east.

"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.

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