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There are a lot of football fans in China. And when the Chinese talk football, they are talking about soccer.

According to an article in the Huffington Post, soccer is China’s most watched sport. English Premier League football matches alone regularly reach more than 320 million Chinese households.

Still, this country of 1.3 billion people has yet to produce many home-grown players of its own.

China’s President Xi Jinping – a huge football fan himself – seems committed to changing all that.

Under his leadership, for example, football is now a mandatory part of the national curriculum for Chinese schoolchildren. And in 2015, as part of his state visit to the UK, President Xi visited Manchester City’s City Football Academy to see firsthand their approach to youth development.

Football Ambassadors

The City Football Academy (CFA) is one of the finest sports facilities in the world. CFA is home to all of Manchester City’s football teams of both genders and all age groups. Two-thirds of the 16.5 pitches on site are dedicated to young players and developing their talent with tailored coaching and education facilities.

Manchester City, of the fabled Premier League, is part of the City Football Group (CFG). CFG also owns a number of other football teams around the world, including Melbourne City FC, New York City FC, and a minority stake in Yokohama F. Marinos.

Today, CFG’s involvement in Chinese football includes cleats on the ground as well. In addition to maintaining an office in Shanghai, CFG is now working closely with the Chinese Ministry of Education to support coaching in schools in cities around the country.

“Currently we have about 15 to 30 coaches based in different provinces around China,” says John Dyke, International Project Manager at City Football Services, in a recent SAP video. “We’re there to help develop talent and promote the country’s growing passion for the sport.”

A Nimble Approach to Sports and Business

CFG’s presence in China also reflects the organization’s long-term business goal to continue expanding its already international footprint.

“We have clubs across the globe, and we’re looking to expand all the time,” says Andy Young, CFO of City Football Group. “China offers fantastic opportunities for the club.”

CFG has eight offices in seven countries at present and all share a consistent philosophy.

In terms of their approach to the game, all City teams aspire to play ‘beautiful football’ – a high-pressure, possession-based style of play. When it comes to conducting business abroad, the city way is staying nimble and relying on teamwork.

Young and Dyke explain that this includes the use of cloud-based human resource systems and a mobile collaboration platform.

“Cloud-based systems make expanding our global presence very, very easy,” says Young. “As we go into new countries, we’ll be able to just plug our HR solutions straight into the existing infrastructure.”

CFG managers can evaluate staff in different countries using a standardized approach, while tying employee objectives to both local and global strategies.

Nimble business practices are also helping CFG manage those coaches spread across China.

“It’s very important that they can communicate and connect together,” says Dyke, and the group’s collaboration platform lets them do just that. Using their smartphones and other mobile devices, the CFG personnel in China can upload videos, ask questions, share the latest news, and host coaching forums.

“It makes the coaches feel more connected to the Club,” Dyke adds.

Winning is Wonderful

“Football is growing fast in China, and we want to be part of that development,” says Dyke.

It’s development that China hopes will result in a generation of top-notch players and winning football teams.

And as Young points out, “When you’re winning, everything is absolutely wonderful.”

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To read more about learn more about the City Football Group’s success in this SAP Business Transformation Study