HAIKOU, China, Feb. 24 (Xinhua) -- Futbol Club Barcelona (FCB) and Mission Hills Group announced a landmark collaboration on Friday to make Hainan province a hub of football for China and the wider region.
The two giants will jointly open a major football academy in Haikou, the island's provincial capital city, in the coming months. At the same time, the interactive FC Barcelona experience area will commence operation on Friday in preparation for its opening in 2017.
"FC Barcelona is delighted to be able to support the growth of the beautiful game in China and help you reach your goal of making this a great footballing nation," said Josep Maria Bartomeu, president of FCB.
"Opening our first 100% FCB-managed football school here in China is a huge commitment. It demonstrates our confidence in our partner Mission Hills and in the future of Hainan, as well as our optimism about the footballing talent we expect to find here," he added.
Ken Chu, Chairman and CEO of Mission Hills Group, noted that the group has been paying more attention to football in China.
"Since 1992 Mission Hills has been helping to popularize sport and leisure in China - including our flagship sports golf and tennis - and now we are devoting our efforts to football as well," he said.
"Mission Hills has a grand vision to create a legacy for football in China through a partnership with one of the most-loved football clubs in the world. We believe our footballing dream can act as a platform for a future generation of footballers in China," he continued.
The partnership between FCB and Mission Hills will help to raise the profile of the sport in China and by supporting its growth at the grassroots level.
Tenniel Chu, Vice Chairman of Mission Hills Group, hailed the collaboration.
"We are delighted to join hands with FC Barcelona. We believe that our passion for football among the 1.3 billion population in China is the key for future football development and we hope to share our values and experience with local talents in a humble way."
In recognition of its size and importance, the academy in Haikou, known as FCBEscola, will be the first overseas FCB football academy directly managed by FCB.
The FCBEscola in Haikou will be staffed by FCB coaches and will follow the same training methods used by the FCB youth teams. It will have seven football pitches and will eventually be able to enroll 1,000 boys and girls aged between six and 18 years. The school will open its doors to its first students this summer, with its first full season training beginning in September.
FCB has transformed world football with a unique style of play that is much loved by fans. Bringing this style to the world, FCB is very active in developing football globally, with 25 overseas football schools offering training based on its methodology and values. FCB's youth academy and professional training programs are recognized as world-leading.
Some of the game's biggest current stars, including Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique, have come up through the club's training programs from a very young age. The club also holds the record for the most players with Ballon d'Or awards, with eleven, and the most FIFA World Player of the Year awards, with seven.
FCB Club Ambassador Ronaldinho, who is in Haikou to support the opening of the new FCB facilities, says he hopes the school can also help its pupils in terms of sportsmanship and personal growth.
"I come from a footballing family, and my father and uncles were players. I still remember the lessons they taught me - about how to play football and how to be a good sportsman and a good person. I'm sure the FCBEscola here in Hainan will be as important to its students as my early coaches were to me. I look forward to interacting with the young players here and seeing some of them on the global stage in years to come."
Brazilian superstar Ronaldinho played for FCB between 2003 and 2008, winning the FIFA World Player of the Year in both 2004 and 2005 and the Ballon d' Or in 2005.
To help raise the profile of football, and of FCB in particular, FCB and Mission Hills are opening an interactive FC Barcelona experience area in Mission Hills Centreville in Haikou, a major new tourism and leisure complex spanning 500,000 square meters that also includes five-star hotel accommodation and international restaurants, shops and entertainment brands.
With the opening scheduled for this year, the 7,000-square-meter FCB facility will offer visitors immersive and interactive experiences to bring people closer to the Barca brand, highlighting its stars and their stories, as well as the legendary club's history, philosophy and values. It also offers official FCB merchandise and includes a food and beverage outlet.