Sergio Aguero steals limelight with Xi Jinping-David Cameron selfie


Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero grabbed the limelight as he persuaded Xi Jinping and David Cameron to pose for a selfie photograph with him.

It came as the Chinese president joined the Prime Minister in Manchester for a day of events aimed at promoting Britain's "Northern Powerhouse", on the final day of his state visit to Britain.

As well as touring the club's football academy, Mr Xi also visited the National Graphene Institute, where the world's first two-dimensional material is developed, and Manchester Airport, where new direct flights to Beijing from next summer were unveiled.

Hundreds of his UK-based countrymen cheered his arrival at Manchester Town Hall, where he enjoyed lunch with around 200 business chiefs, civic leaders and community representatives from across the north of England and China.

There did appear to be some stage management and co-ordination of the large turnout of supporters, with some Chinese people walking around with lists of what appeared to be people's names on and one man in a suit who seemed to be organising and directing the "spontaneous" gathering.

In one corner of Albert Square, facing the town hall, was a smaller number of protesters who held a banner demanding "Justice For Human Rights".

Mr Xi, reportedly a Manchester United supporter, met Aguero as well as Manchester football greats Mike Summerbee, Denis Law and Gary Neville at the recently opened City Academy - 200 metres from the club's Etihad Stadium.

The academy features a 7,000-capacity stadium which is home to the elite development squad and Manchester City Women's Football Club.

Club chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak hosted the tour and talked Mr Xi through television footage of Aguero's last-gasp winner in the 3-2 victory against Queens Park Rangers which secured the club's first Premier League title in 2012.

Mr Xi smiled and clapped when he saw Aguero net the crucial goal, and Mr Al Mubarak told him: "Not good for the heart."

Aguero, who is currently injured ahead of this weekend's Manchester derby, later grabbed the opportunity to line up the two leaders for the prized photograph.

They then went on to view training sessions by the first team, led by boss Manuel Pellegrini, and the under-15s boys and girls teams.

Former City defender Sun Jihai was inducted into the National Football Museum's hall of fame by Mr Xi during the tour.

The Chinese international, who made 130 appearances for the club between 2002 and 2008, joined luminaries such as George Best , Sir Bobby Charlton and Bobby Moore in the select group.

Museum bosses later confirmed the decision was not taken by the usual panel of former players and football historians but was an honorary "special" award.

A spokesman said: "This is in recognition of his ambassadorial role in enhancing the profile and popularity of English football to a Chinese audience and to coincide with the state visit to the UK by President Xi Jinping."

On his first stop of the day, Mr Xi visited the world-leading graphene research facility at the University of Manchester.

Graphene is 200 times stronger than steel, more conductive than copper and is said to have changed the way scientists and industry approach materials science.

Mr Xi was shown demonstrations of a raft of graphene-based prototypes, including a mobile phone with dramatically increased charging capabilities thanks to a graphene supercapacitor.

Electronics giant Huawei, China's largest mobile phone manufacturer, also announced a partnership with the institute to research graphene and related 2D materials.

Speaking at the institute, Chancellor George Osborne addressed the controversies over human rights and steel dumping.

He said: "We see ourselves as China's strongest partner in the West. A partnership is a relationship where we do things together, like build nuclear power stations, invest in modern science, regenerate cities like Manchester.

"A partnership is also where you can have frank discussions about issues like the future of steelmaking or cyber security or, indeed, human rights."

The president and his wife, Madam Peng Liyuan, rounded off the four-day UK visit at Manchester Airport where they later flew home.

Mr Xi and Mr Cameron unveiled new direct flights from Manchester to Beijing, operated by Hainan Airlines, and also viewed the ongoing Airport City Manchester development.

Hainan Airlines will begin operating the new route between Manchester and Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) from June 10, 2016. Manchester Airport will become the only UK airport outside of London to offer direct scheduled services to mainland China.

The Manchester-Beijing route is worth at least £250 million in economic benefits to the UK over the next decade, with two-thirds being felt directly in the northern economy in terms of increased jobs, economic activity and tourism, said airport bosses.

The two leaders were shown plans for the £800 million Airport City Manchester development, one of the UK's most significant examples of collaboration between Britain and China in terms of infrastructure development.

Mr Xi and Mr Cameron also witnessed the launch of Airport City Manchester's China Cluster - a project that will provide a commercial base for Chinese businesses arriving in the UK and offering a wide range of high-quality office premises.

Charlie Cornish, chief executive of Manchester Airports Group (MAG), said: "Manchester Airport is the global gateway for the Northern Powerhouse and both the China Cluster, and the new direct route will provide an opportunity for Chinese investors to access the many opportunities available to them in the North.

"Businesses in the North will also be significant beneficiaries as it will soon become much easier for them to build strong commercial relationships with Chinese partners."