- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

BEIJING (AP) - Chinese real estate giant Wanda Group bought a 20 percent stake in Spanish champion Atletico Madrid for 45 million euros ($52 million) on Wednesday.

“Wanda Group’s capital contribution … will allow Atletico Madrid to significantly shore up its balance sheet, as well as accelerate the growth of its brand globally,” Atletico said in a statement on its website.

Atletico’s budget for last season was 120 million euros, compared to Real Madrid’s 580 million euros, and Barcelona’s 470 million euros.

“This is a major step for the club in its efforts to build a leading global brand that will provide the financial resources to remain competitive in Europe,” Atletico chairman Miguel Angel Gil said.

The two groups will combine to open three football schools in China, and each year Atletico will be invited to play in China to “bring advanced training and playing experience from Europe,” according to a statement on Wanda’s microblog.

They will also jointly invest 30 million euros to create a youth center in Madrid to provide better training conditions for Chinese youth players, with Atletico to provide special training programs for Chinese youths.

Wanda already funds a youth training project that has taken young Chinese players to Spain.

“We are delighted with the possibility of contributing to the growth of Atletico Madrid with its solid fan base and a brand that is rapidly expanding internationally,” said Dalian Wanda Group’s founder and chairman, Wang Jianlin, one of China’s richest men.

The company operates dozens of hotels, shopping malls and cinemas in China, and has undertaken hotel development projects in London and New York.

Spanish news agency Europa Press reported on Wednesday that Madrid’s regional president, Ignacio Gonzalez, said Wanda had plans to invest in a shopping and entertainment center in the capital.

After years without silverware, the arrival of coach Diego Simeone in 2011 turned Atletico into a winner. Under its former player, it has won the Spanish league, the Europa League, the Copa del Rey, the European Super Cup, the Spanish Super Cup, and reached the final of the Champions League last season.

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