British Prime Minister David Cameron, former Manchester City star Patrick Vieira, President Xi Jinping and Manchester City Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak visit the City Football Academy in Manchester on Friday. [Wu Zhiyi/China Daily]
President Xi Jinping called on Friday for China and Britain to strengthen cooperation on soccer as he ended his four-day state visit to the United Kingdom.
As the birthplace of modern soccer and boasting strong teams, Britain is the country China should learn from, Xi said.
He said both countries should bolster cooperation and exchanges in the sport to promote friendship between their two peoples.
Soccer is the sport that most people play in the world and it has an extensive influence and is welcomed deeply by people globally, the president said.
Xi, who is a soccer fan, made his appeal as he toured the City Football Academy in Manchester where he was presented with a soccer shirt by Manchester City players.
Accompanied by British Prime Minister David Cameron, he visited the state-of-the-art training facility that includes a 7,000-capacity stadium and 16 soccer fields. The academy is home to Manchester City Football Club and is the headquarters of its global soccer organization.
The president and Cameron posed for a selfie with Sergio Aguero, City's star Argentine striker. The photo went viral on the Internet. Thank you for the selfie, says Aguero
Xi and Cameron were hosted by Manchester City Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak. They watched a training session and met players who helped build the city's soccer tradition, including former Manchester United captain Gary Neville and ex-City stars Patrick Vieira and Mike Summerbee.
Xi and Cameron also toured the National Football Museum, which houses artifacts including a ball used in the final of the inaugural 1930 World Cup.
The museum presented a copy of the first competition rules for modern world soccer to Xi as a gift. Inreturn, he presented a cooper statue featuring cuju, an ancient Chinese football game, to the museum and a cooper statue of a cuju doll to Manchester City.
Another highlight of the visit was the induction into the National Football Museum's Hall of Fame of Chinese player Sun Jihai, who played 130 times for Manchester City between 2002 and 2008.
Sun, the first Chinese player to score in the English Premier League, was named City's Ambassador to China last month.
"Xi's visit to the City Football Academy is a great encouragement for the development of Chinese soccer," Sun said, adding that training for young players is the most important task now in China.
With the ongoing soccer reforms in the country, Sun said he hopes the Chinese national team can make good progress.
Al Mubarak, the City chairman, said," It was a wonderful moment for all concerned to see Sun Jihai's contribution to both Manchester and English football recognized by the National Football Museum.
"Today is testament to the club's strong existing links with China and to our ambitions for them to deepen and grow."
Xi is scheduled to arrive in Beijing on Saturday.