Brazil Tycoon, World Cup Legend Take On China's Soccer Ambitions

  • China ranks 84th in soccer with aims to win the World Cup
  • Country seeks 20,000 soccer training academies by 2020

Brazilian education tycoon Carlos Martins says he’s teaming up with retired soccer legend Ronaldo Luiz Nazario de Lima to help China President Xi Jinping bring his country its first World Cup victory.

The language-school magnate and Ronaldo, who founded the Ronaldo Academy, signed a deal with a Chinese partner to create 30 franchises of the soccer school in the world’s most populous nation, Martins said Thursday in an interview.

“The American teams keep getting better and the World Cup had more viewers there than NBA,” Martins said in a Sao Paulo coffee shop, ahead of the opening of a school in Campinas. He was accompanied by his Mandarin coach, who practices Chinese with him daily between business meetings. “Ronaldo and I want to do the same thing in China. We think they can get to their first World Cup in 8 to 12 years.”

The pair plan to open 30 schools in China and confirmed plans to open five more in Brazil and three in the U.S. They’re seeking to have 100 schools operating by 2020.

Xi is ramping up the sport’s presence as he aims to elevate his country’s soccer stature in the world. As vice president, during a 2011 meeting with a South Korean official, Xi said he hoped his country would one day not only host the World Cup but win it.

In March, the Chinese government said it would quadruple the number of soccer training academies to 20,000 by 2020. Xi is ramping up the sport’s presence as he aims to elevate his country’s soccer stature in the world. China’s national team ranks 84th in the world, below the likes of Iraq and Uganda.

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