Football fever continues to spread in China well after the World Cup with the arrival of former Real Madrid striker Cristiano Ronaldo in Beijing.
Hundreds of screaming fans gathered at the Forbidden City on Thursday to catch a glimpse of the Portuguese star, who is set to end his two day annual CR7 Asia tour after representing his main sponsor Nike on a PR tour for the second year running.
Just days after putting pen to paper on his transfer to the Italian club Juventus on a four-year contract worth 117 million US dollars, the international icon addressed his adoring fans in the Chinese capital.
But the Juventus player’s visit goes far deeper than just the standard meet and greet, his time in China over the past two years has also included several opportunities to support the country's grassroots football effort.
After President Xi Jinping’s football reform drove huge investment into the sport there has been revived emphasis on grassroots level, spurred on by his desire for China to not only host a World Cup, but also win one by 2050.
The Chinese Football Association set new regulations that help their home-grown talent, requiring clubs in the Chinese Super League to field the same number of under-23 Chinese as foreign players in each game and cutting overseas players starting quota from four to three.
As a result, the focus has switched to youth development with the aim to have at least 20,000 training academies and 70,000 pitches by 2020. And Ronaldo seems to have jumped on the band wagon.
Fans take photos of Ronaldo in Beijing during annual visit. /Reuters