QINGDAO, China, April 25 (Reuters) - English champions Chelsea agreed on Tuesday to give their backing to an Asian Football Confederation (AFC) project to develop grass-roots football in China.
Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon and AFC President Mohamed bin Hammam signed a memorandum of understanding that the London club would provide technical and financial assistance to the Vision China development programme.
Kenyon, who has identified China and North America as Chelsea's key markets outside England, said the partnership was very different from previous attempts by European clubs to break into the Asian markets.
'It fits absolutely with Chelsea's vision of being one of the big clubs by 2014,' said Kenyon, whose previous club Manchester United also made a big push into Asia.
'We've been successful on the field and what we're about is building a successful sustainable team and this is an extension of that.
'(But) we're not in this to get players cheaply or to come on tour or do those things. What we're talking about is investment in a long-term market and looking to support the local product, which is critical.
'It's really important for global football that Asian football is developing and then there's a benefit for everyone.'
Bin Hammam, who has been critical of big European clubs coming on lucrative tours to Asia and leaving nothing behind, agreed it was a unique partnership.
'It's an historic moment because this is the first time a club came to us and said 'take' and did not take from us,' Bin Hammam told reporters at the Vision China conference in Qingdao.
'This is the first time a European club has come to us and offered help in development.'
Kenyon said although there would be a financial element to the deal, Chelsea would primarily be looking to help out in marketing, media, training and sports medicine.
'They're all core components of what we do every day and it's really evaluating those and bringing those to the table,' he said. 'What we're talking about is being a long-term partner.'
Vision China is part of a broader Vision Asia programme, under which AFC teams go into cities and provide training and advice to build up local leagues.
Leagues in the cities of Qingdao and Wuhan have just completed one season and the project will now be extended to 15 cities including Beijing and Shanghai.
'What I've experienced in the last two days has been quite remarkable,' said Kenyon. 'I think it's as exciting a football project as any that's going on in the world.
'They've proved in these two cities that it's not theoretical, it's really working.'
Kenyon also confirmed that Chelsea hoped the China under-23 team, who will compete at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, would come to the club's training facility in England as part of a deal with the Chinese Football Association.
The former Manchester United chief executive, who was at the club when they launched an attempt to break into the vast Chinese market, said Chelsea might tour in the future.
'I'm sure that will happen but it will be decided by our partnerships and it'll be for the right reasons,' he said.