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China's grand plan to become a soccer power under Xi Jinping

Phoot: STR/AFP/Getty Images
Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images

China has invested heavily in soccer since President Xi Jinping, a huge fan, made it a national priority in 2015. First came the youth academies, then came the foreign coaches and now comes phase three: naturalizing foreign players.

Driving the news: 26-year-old Nico Yennaris, who grew up in London and played on the same Arsenal youth team as Harry Kane, just became the first foreign-born player to be called up to the Chinese national team.

  • Yennaris, known as Le Ki in China, is eligible to play for China through his mother's heritage, and multiple other players have gone through the naturalization process.
  • Once they arrive, teams are required to "teach incoming players to be patriotic and educate them about the values of the ruling Communist Party." They must also have "specially assigned staff to track the thinking of such footballers."

Go deeper: President Xi's great Chinese soccer dream