China to send 40 teenagers to Barcelona

BEIJING, May 13 (Reuters) - China will select 40 teenagers in June to train at Spanish club Barcelona, kicking off a major Chinese Football Association (CFA) initiative to develop elite footballers in Europe.

The players, all under 15, will be chosen by Barcelona scouts at a two-month camp in Hebei province and then stay with more than a dozen youth clubs affiliated to the European champions over the next three years.

"The CFA hopes to send some 40 players to Spain to guarantee about three players for each position on pitch," Sun Zhedong, chief of CFA's youth development told the Beijing Youth Daily.

"However, if the Barcelona scouts think there are only 30 good enough, we will fully respect their opinion. The final decision of who are going will be totally made by the Spanish side."

The Barcelona project is a part of CFA's ambition to train up to 500 teenagers overseas in the next five years. Sun said they had received invitations from English Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur and the Italian and American FA's.

"Going to Barcelona is absolutely not the only project we are working on," he said. "In the near future, more young players will have the opportunity to study in the developed countries of football."

This will be China's latest youth production attempt through training overseas, following the first squad sent to Hungary in the 1950s and more recent groups who spent long periods in Brazil and Germany.

This time, though, the players will not be kept together but will stay in local homes and train separately, gathering only in school holidays.

The scheme is the brainchild of new CFA boss Wei Di, who is determined to improve China's current international standing and qualify regularly for the World Cup.

Wei, who enjoyed some Olympic success by employing foreign expertise when head of China's water sports teams, believes a similarity in physical stature between the Chinese and Spanish makes Spain the best option to develop talent.