- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 11, 2014

BEIJING (AP) - Asian Champions League title holder Guangzhou Evergrande is opening a youth training academy in Spain in a bid to lift the level of Chinese football.

The team said in a statement Wednesday on its website that it would open the school in September in cooperation with European champion Real Madrid. It said 25 young players selected by Spanish coaches would be sent to the school each year.

“We hope they will play more in the ‘Spanish style’, which is well accepted today. Moreover, we hope some of them play for professional European clubs and for the Chinese national team,” Liu Jiangnan, president of the Evergrande Football School, was quoted as saying by the China Daily newspaper.

Guangzhou Evergrande already operates a training academy in conjunction with Real Madrid near its home base in the southern province of Guangdong with more than 2,000 students.

China’s wealthiest and most successful club, the team has spent heavily on foreign players and a celebrated Italian coach, Marcello Lippi, and last year became the first Chinese club since 1990 to capture the Asian Champions League title.

Evergrande gained another boost last week when Chinese online sales behemoth Alibaba agreed to purchase a 50 percent stake in the club for $192 million.

Football is wildly popular in China, but the national squad has traditionally underperformed due to rampant corruption, a weak youth system and mismanagement by bureaucrats. It has only qualified for only one World Cup, in 2002.