Thursday, March 01, 2007

Chelsea sign 4-year AFC deal for Vision China

Asian Football Confederation President, Mohamed Bin Hammam and Chelsea Football Club Chief Executive Officer Peter Kenyon have signed an official four-year contract formalising the English Premier League club’s support for AFC’s football development program, Vision Asia, AFCMedia reported. “Many projects within Vision Asia, a great example being Vision China, have proven that Vision Asia works. In order for a long-term sustainable development, we need commercial investment, and I am delighted to welcome Chelsea Football Club as our first development partner where the commercial opportunities of the Vision Asia project have also been addressed,” the AFC President said.

He reiterated his comments made last year in China that Chelsea Football Club is the first European football club to approach AFC with the philosophy of giving, not only taking, from the Asian market. “Any sponsorship support that allows us to reach the grassroots level on a wider scale, increases participation through the school leagues, achieves greater development both on and off the pitch with the city leagues program, and ultimately provides a platform for greater success in Asian football as a whole, is a good thing,” he added.

As well as the groundwork that will take place primarily in China, the agreement will provide opportunities for at least the 10 best young players selected by AFC from the Project cities to train with the relevant age group at Chelsea. The AFC Player of the Year annual recipient will also have the option to train at Chelsea for one month.

“This agreement fits with Chelsea’s strategy of being recognized internationally by 2014 as the world’s number one club. Achieving that is not possible without considering Asia in a serious and holistic way, “ Peter Kenyon said. “We have been impressed with the development of Asian football and want to contribute to this with meaningful programs across the 11 disciplines that underpin Vision Asia. AFC’s motto is ‘The Future is Asia’ and now is the right time for Chelsea to play our part in that future.

Chelsea’s involvement is about developing and building success, not buying success or taking the money and running from tours of the region. This philosophy is directly compatible with AFC’s plans. From what I’ve seen today of AFC’s development program, Vision Asia, football in this region has the ambition and ability to challenge European football from the grassroots upwards. That type of global regional competition can only benefit the football family everywhere. If Chelsea can help achieve this through involvement in areas such as grassroots, youth, coaching, education, marketing, sports medicine, media and fans this will bring long-term benefits to us all,” he said.

At the following media conference, Bin Hammam emphatically described the relationship between the AFC and Chelsea as a partnership “not a business relationship” and said "AFC will benefit more out of it than Chelsea.” He clarified that there was no clause in the contract allowing Chelsea to have a first crack at Chinese talents. “There will be never such a clause in any contract signed by AFC,” he said. He added that Chelsea’s expertise will help in the ongoing revamp and launch of professional leagues in Asia. “AFC’s target is to introduce professional leagues and launch a full professional AFC Champions League by 2010. We will take help from all quarters for this and Chelsea’s role will be vital. Asia will produce a different kind of football three years from now."

Replying to a question about what Chelsea were hoping to achieve with its US$2 million a year investment, Kenyon said “development is a long-term project by engagement with footballers and football fans. We will be targeting to achieve mutual goals which have been recognized by us and AFC [which] is putting a lot of effort into the cities in China and this is what matters for Chelsea.” He pointed out that Chelsea’s engagement in the development of football in China had already been initiated. “The Chinese Olympic team visited us and trained with us at Cobham last month. We have our coaches and doctors working with them. That is the kind of engagement which will produce positive results.”

"Chelsea's mission is to be the World's No. 1 club by 2014. That can't be realized without Asia," Kenyon also explained, as quoted by Associated Press. "Target No. 1 is to ensure Chelsea is recognized as responsible for the development of the sport in China. We believe that working in this manner, we will be working in a manner to have fans aligned to Chelsea."

The Chinese cities of Qingdao, Wuhan, Nanjing, Chengdu and Zibo are on the initial Vision China list where new city leagues are being developed along with schools coaching programs. It is not immediately clear which areas Chelsea are involved in. Other topflight clubs can join the China program, Hammam said, but Chelsea would be given priority, and right of refusal. "We'd like to give exclusivity to Chelsea in China," Hammam said.

Apart from China, the other countries in the program are Oman, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam and Iran. Pakistan, Myanmar and Taiwan will be added this year, the AFC said. "Except for Japan, everyone else is pretty much behind...(They are) lacking in business concepts of professional football today," Hammam said.

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