Everton were back in Beijing, China, on Friday as they linked up with Eredivisie side Ajax to help launch a brand new sports entertainment TV show that focuses on football development in the territory.
‘Football Dream’ is a brand new programme supported directly by the Chinese government and Global Media Productions (GMP) to recruit and develop young players aged 14 to 17.
Friday’s announcement follows on from Marouane Fellaini’s trip last summer, when he kicked off a Club tour of China in which six different cities were visited and 60 youngsters were identified after a series of tests, drills and trials.
Those players will now battle it out to earn a trip to Europe and the chance to experience the workings of either Everton’s prestigious Finch Farm training headquarters or the renowned Ajax Academy.
Blues legend Graeme Sharp and International Academy Ambassador Ray Hall were joined in the Chinese capital by former Ajax players Edwin van der Sar, Ronald de Boer and Aron Winter as they all began a gruelling filming schedule with the up-and-coming footballers.
Sharp said: “It’s great to be back in China and working with the players again. I have been impressed with what I have seen so far and I am looking forward to seeing more of the commitment and drive of the young footballers.
“I have always maintained that to make it as a player you not only need the talent but a little bit of luck, as well as the right type of coaching, and this is really an opportunity for the boys involved to learn from the expertise of world famous clubs like Everton and Ajax, who both understand what is required to get to the top.”
Van der Sar added: ““The professionalism of GMP in combination with the format of the programme is a perfect match with the core asset of Ajax; the development of youth football talent. China is one of the largest and most important countries in the world and we feel privileged to be associated with Football Dream.”
Friday’s proceedings took place in the General Administration of Sports of China at the Beijing Stadium and was attended by high-ranking official Lu Yu from the National Youth Campus Football Leadership Group Office and Grant Gazdig, managing director of GMP.
The vision was set out for the future of Chinese football and how this initiative was part of a long-term strategy to develop football in China, as well as being an important vehicle to bridge the gap between the cultures of Asia and Europe.
Hall continued: “Football is a global game and it is our aim to work closely with the Chinese players to leave a lasting legacy and a sustainable football development platform so that the game can continue to grow at all levels here in China.
“I have been asked many, many times will we ever find a Wayne Rooney in China and the answer is he could be out here, we just need to harness the raw talent, apply the principles that are tried and tested across Europe’s elite clubs and continue to encourage all the participants to work as hard as they can and remain focused.”
Everton Chief Executive Robert Elstone added: “This exciting project will complement some of the work already being undertaken to enhance and raise the Club’s profile on the global stage, while further boosting our reputation as one of the leading identifiers of football talent.
“We look forward to working in China in the coming months and to welcoming some of the lucky participants to Finch Farm later this year. We are delighted to be able to contribute to the development of the players for their own personal benefit and in a small way for football in China.”
Filming will continue on Chinese Football Dream over the next month before the programme airs later in 2013 across China’s top TV networks.