Xi Jinping meets football greats at Manchester City's football academy


China's president Xi Jinping met Manchester football greats of past and present during a visit to Manchester City's football academy.

He watched the moment the club seized its first Premier League title alongside the man who made it happen, Sergio Aguero.

Mr Xi was joined by David Cameron on the visit to Manchester as the Prime Minister seeks to promote the Government's Northern Powerhouse agenda.

The president, reportedly a Manchester United fan, was given a tour of the club's 80-acre youth development and first team training site by chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak.

Together with former City star Patrick Vieira, Mr Xi and Mr Cameron were shown part of the club's recruitment and training technology on a big screen.

Joining them to watch two key historic moments for the club were Aguero, who scored the goal that landed the 2012 title on goal difference from Manchester United, and City women's team striker Toni Duggan.

The chairman talked through the "historic goal" with the president as he explained that the team scored two goals in injury time to beat Queen's Park Rangers and win the title.

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

He also broke into applause at Duggan's volley against Chelsea last year, which was later voted the club's goal of the season.

Later president Xi was greeted on the steps on Manchester Town Hall by Mr Cameron as hundreds of his UK-based countrymen cheered his arrival in a cavalcade of police outriders and limousines.

President Xi turned and waved briefly before going inside, where he will enjoy lunch with around 200 business and civic leaders.

The menu has a distinctly northern flavour with Lancashire farmed duo of beef, braised ox cheek and smoked confit of brisket of beef served with Cheshire horseradish creamed potatoes and blackened stock pot carrot, braised Lancashire celery and red wine.

The second course is sticky toffee pudding served with fresh berry compote, sweet butterscotch sauce and traditional Cheshire vanilla ice cream.

The wines being served are Picpoul de Pinet, Domaine de la Viste, Coteaux du Languedoc and Chateau de Seguin, Bordeaux Superieur.

Outside the hall hundreds of British-based Chinese people had gathered in the city centre ahead of the president's arrival.

Red flags of China were held aloft alongside Union flags as crowds stood three and four deep outside the hall at barriers ringing the square.

Enthusiastic youngsters chanted: "We love you president Xi." More red and gold banners in Mandarin proclaimed "Hello president Xi. A warm welcome."

Police surrounded the town hall amid a huge security operation but the hundreds of people gathered appeared to be supporters of the visit.

However in one corner of the square a smaller number of protesters were grouped with a banner demanding Justice For Human Rights.

Jasmine Su, 21, a sociology and fashion student at Manchester University, from Xinjiang in China, said: "We are here to welcome our president and his wife.

"We live abroad and we love our country, this is the only thing we can connect with our home country while living here."

Away from the smiles and cheering of supporters, protesters stood in silence holding up banners with the words Falun Dafa and Falun Gong, a spiritual group which has faced persecution in 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 with what appeared to be people's names on and one man in a suit who appeared to be organising the gathering and directing the "spontaneous" gathering.

There were also cardboard boxes with flags of China inside being handed out and more discarded boxes used to bring the large banners set up and proclaiming support for president Xi.

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 made 130 appearances for the club between 2002 and 2008 and was the first Chinese player to score a goal in the Premier League. Last month he was named as City's ambassador to China.

He received the honorary award for boosting the popularity of the English game in China and joins hall of fame legends such as George Best, Sir Bobby Charlton and Bobby Moore.

Fellow hall of fame inductee Gary Neville was present to watch the ceremony as Mr Cameron explained to the president that Neville's career had been "quite rare" in that he had played for one club throughout this career at Manchester United and had been "pretty successful".

The touring party viewed an exhibition from the museum which displayed three key artefacts - the Jules Rimet World Cup trophy which was made in 1966 in England after the original was stolen, one of two balls used in the first World Cup final in 1930 between Uruguay and Argentina and a facsimile of the original laws of association football written in 1863.

Museum chiefs presented Mr Xi with gifts of a copy the original laws and a Tsu Chu ball, representing the ancient Chinese game said to be the earliest football game dating back to the third century.

The president and prime minister were then given a glimpse into the future of the club's hopeful continued success by Vieira, head coach of the elite development squad, and ex-player Brian Marwood, managing director of City Football Services.

They were introduced to 20-year-old local Academy player George Glendon who was on the substitutes' bench in this week's Champions League tie against Sevilla

Vieira explained the importance of the youth development facility and Marwood spoke of how the club looks to identify and recruit the star players of tomorrow.

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

The touring party later went pitchside to watch the club's Under 15s boys' and girls' teams put through their paces in training drills, and then privately viewed a first team training session led by manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Earlier, they were greeted on arrival by Manchester City great Mike Summerbee and Denis Law, who played for both City and United, as well as City chief executive Ferran Soriano and John Whittingdale MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

Speaking of the visit, Mr Al Mubarak said: "It is an immense honour for the City Football Academy here in Manchester to be included in the itinerary of President Xi's state visit. We were delighted to be able to host both President Xi and Prime Minister David Cameron.

"It was a wonderful moment for all concerned to see Sun Jihai's contribution to both Manchester and English football recognised by the National Football Museum.

"Today is testament to the club's strong existing links with China and to our ambitions for them to deepen and grow."

On his first stop of the day in the city, Mr Xi visited the National Graphene Institute (NGI) at the University of Manchester.

He stopped off at the world-leading graphene research facility to learn about the future graphene applications being developed in Manchester, in collaboration with the university's global industrial partners.

It took place on the same day that Chinese electronics giant Huawei, China's largest mobile phone manufacturer, announced a partnership with the NGI to research graphene and related 2D materials.

Graphene is the world's first two-dimensional material, first isolated in Manchester. It 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, super-efficient street lighting and pioneering cancer treatments utilising graphene for improved drug delivery.

Chancellor George Osborne, Professor Nancy Rothwell, president and vice chancellor of the university, and Nobel Laureates Professor Andre Geim and Professor Kostya Novoselov - whose work on graphene earned the honour - were among dignitaries who welcomed him.

Prof Novoselov presented the president with a gift of traditional Chinese-style artwork, which the professor himself had painted using graphene paint.

Prof Rothwell said: "The university has a rich heritage and is proud of the breadth and depth of its links with China. We have almost 4,000 students from mainland China and 170 Chinese staff.

"Our research and innovation spans many areas. We have identified five that are distinctive and world leading: advanced materials, including graphene, addressing global inequalities, energy, industrial biotechnology and cancer. In each of these and in other areas we have strong collaborations with leading universities and companies in China.

"We are very proud of our Confucius Institute, our centre for Chinese studies and the many treasured pieces of Chinese artwork and scripts in our library and art gallery."