Brazilian footballing legend Ronaldo is set to open football schools in three Chinese cities, before the end of this year.
“Our first schools will be located in Beijing, Shanghai and Mianyang, and they are expected to start operation in December,” said Paulo Swerts, who will manage all of Ronaldo’s football schools in China.
Ronaldo himself arrived in Mianyang on Saturday, together with business partner and Brazilian billionaire Carlos Wizard Martins for a football promotion event held in a local middle school,reports Xinhua.
39-year-old Ronaldo, who retired professionally in 2011, announced his eventual plans to open 30 schools across China back in September with the aim of raising the profile and standards of the game in the country.
“Besides business factor, the major reason for me to open football schools in China is because there are lots of football fans and players in the country, and Chinese government and civil organization also focus on football development. I hope my method of football training could help develop Chinese football,” the footballer said.
“I think Chinese football has the mass base and determination, but it may still lack the proper concept and training method,” added Ronaldo.
The Ronaldo Academy, jointly founded by Ronaldo and Carlos, intends to open 100 football schools worldwide by 2020, with eight to be set up in Brazil, the U.S. and China this year.
Chinese football is fast becoming big business and attracting investment. The Chinese Super League (CSL) spent a record 108 million euros to buy players and coaches last season.
The CSL has been professional for only 20 years but has rapidly expanded since its inauguration. The league recently sold its broadcasting rights for 8 billion yuan for the next five years.
Despite heavy investment, ambitious reform plans and Xi Jinping’s much publicized love for the sport, China still struggles on the international stage. The men’s team last qualified for the World Cup finals in 2002 and the women’s side have been poor since they finished runners up in 1999.
The men’s draw with rivals Hong Kong this week all but eliminated them from the 2018 competition.
Dubbed “the phenomenon” in his prime and considered by many as one of the best strikers of all time, Ronaldo won the FIFA World Player of the Year award three times, as well as the Ballon d’Or twice, in 1997 and again in 2002.
Can he turn around China’s footballing fortunes?
By Daniel Paul