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China plans for 50,000 soccer academies by 2025

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BEIJING (AP) China plans to have 50,000 football academies by 2025 as part of an ambitious blueprint to grow into a soccer superpower.

The announcement, made by China’s football association Vice President Wang Dengfeng, more than doubles the earlier target of 20,000 academies by 2020.

Wang was quoted by state media on Wednesday as saying that each school would be able to train 1,000 young players on average, fulfilling the goal laid out in a plan announced last April of having 50 million competent players.

“This is a solid way to select football talent for our future reserves. Improving Chinese football is no longer just a dream,” Wang was quoted as saying on the website of the ruling Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily.

China’s men have only qualified for one World Cup and President Xi Jinping has made boosting China’s football fortunes a national priority. Plans call for again qualifying for the sport’s marquee event, hosting it and winning the title by 2050.

To that end, China last year signed Brazil’s World Cup-winning manager Marcello Lippi to take over the national men’s team. The government has also ordered the creation of 70,000 football fields to fill gaps in its youth program.

Teams in China’s professional leagues, meanwhile, have recruited international stars such as Alex Teixeira and Jackson Martinez on highly paid contracts, raising concerns that they are neglecting home-grown talent.

In response, China’s football association last month said it plans a series of measures in response to “irrational” spending by clubs. It also reduced the number of foreigners who can play per club at any given time from four to three and required that each team’s starting list must include at least two Chinese players under age 23.

Dyche, Mourinho meet on the streets of London

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Two Premier League managers walk into each other while shopping: It’s not the start of a joke, even if it sounds like one.

Spurs boss Jose Mourinho was out shopping earlier this week when he heard a familiar voice call his name.

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It was Burnley manager Sean Dyche, who was out shopping with his family one day after losing 5-0 to Spurs at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Dyche relayed the story Thursday while his club gets ready for a home match versus Newcastle United on Saturday, saying the pair spoke for a few minutes.

“I’ll tell you a little life story,” Dyche began at his prematch press conference.

From the Lancashire Telegraph:

“His face was actually more shocked than mine, because he was plodding along and I saw him with his hat on, and he shot his head up and said a bad word, and then said sorry, your wife and children are there!

“But he was very pleasant – as he would be after smashing us the day before. We had six or seven minutes chatting about how he’s settling, life in general, that sort of stuff. He was very pleasant.”

As Dyche points out, it’s odd that two of just 20 Premier League managers would run into each other on the streets of one of the biggest cities on Earth, especially since Burnley is quite a drive from London. Many PL personalities do live far from their adopted homes, though, and Dyche played for Millwall and played for and managed Watford.

Anyway, just a neat story for your Thursday evening.

Martinez’s impressive form could cost Inter Milan

Lautaro Martinez Inter
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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan might just lose out to Barcelona again.

The Italian club was eliminated from the Champions League following a 2-1 loss to Barcelona on Tuesday, and the Spanish club was reportedly so impressed by Lautaro Martinez’s performance that it is ready to activate the Inter forward’s 111 million euro ($123 million) release clause.

Martinez ran the Barcelona defense ragged, set up Romelu Lukaku‘s equalizer and also had two goals ruled out for offside. He also scored when the two clubs faced each other in October.

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“We are Inter Milan, with an important history – like Barcelona – and we don’t have to necessarily sell anybody,” Inter CEO Guiseppe Marotta said. “We want to grow, so we want to concentrate on our youngsters like Lautaro Martinez or Lukaku, they are interesting and young and we want to grow with them.

“But as you know, the future of a player is in their heads. If Lautaro wants to stay with us, we are happy with that, if he will be attracted by the ideas of other clubs we will evaluate the situation. At the moment he is very tied to Inter and we are proud.”

Martinez signed a contract until 2023 when he joined Inter from Racing Club last year and there is already talk of improving that deal to keep him at the club.

The Argentina forward scored nine goals for Inter last season but has exploded this campaign and has already found the back of the net 13 times in a formidable partnership with Lukaku under coach Antonio Conte.

[ MORE: Premier League storylines for the weekend ahead ]

“There is the right chemistry between them,” Marotta said. “Antonio Conte, a proven winner, knows how to get the best out of them.”

That partnership could prove crucial to keeping Martinez at the club.

“Inter is my home. I spend most of my life here and that for me matters a lot,” Martinez said. “Everyone has shown me affection from the very first day and that is fundamental for a player and a man.”

Martinez and Lukaku’s partnership has been key to Inter reaching the top of the Serie A standings. The club is two points above eight-time defending champion Juventus.

Inter visits Fiorentina on Sunday and hosts Genoa in its final match of the year.

“We can’t make the mistake of dwelling on this defeat too much,” Inter defender Cristiano Biraghi said. “It’s part of the game. We’re professionals. Sunday will be a good test of our maturity as a side.

“Florence is a difficult place to go, the atmosphere is always intense when big teams play there and the home team feed off that. They’re not on the best form and because of that they’ll want to give even more.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Premier League storylines: Matchweek 17

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The Premier League Fan Fest hits Miami this weekend for what will certainly be a terrific weekend of fixtures in England’s top tier.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

We’ve got two Top Seven fixtures and a pair of resurgent sides meeting in a match-up as old as most, plus a derby down south and more.

Defense-optional at the Emirates? [STREAM]

  • Arsenal v. Manchester City, Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN)

It’s been 13 matches since Arsenal blanked Bournemouth at the Emirates Stadium to record its second clean sheet of the Premier League season, and the Gunners still seek their third. Their visitors have conceded in 10-straight matches to dip 14 points back of league leading Arsenal. If that sounds like a recipe for an ironic 0-0, well, we wouldn’t bet on it.

Soured Cherries hope to test weary Chelsea [STREAM]

  • Chelsea v. Bournemouth, Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN)

Bournemouth upset Manchester United to pull into sixth place on Nov. 2 and have not claimed a point in the ensuing five matches. Eddie Howe‘s Cherries have found every way to lose, including losses with and against 10 men. The United defeat is their only win since a New South Coast Derby defeat of Bournemouth on Sept. 20.

The good news is that Chelsea’s red-hot form has cooled to the touch, and the Blues had to pour plenty into a 2-1 defeat of Lille in Champions League play on Tuesday. Can Bournemouth surprise the Blues at Stamford Bridge?

Mourinho’s Spurs meet rabid Wolves in top end clash [STREAM]

  • Wolves v. Tottenham Hotspur, Wednesday (Watch live, 9 a.m. ET on NBCSN)

Two sides fancying a Top Four run stand in each other’s way at the Molineux. Spurs rested more of their top players on Wednesday at Bayern Munich, and have one more day’s rest than Wolves. But Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men were home Thursday in a Europa League pounding of Besiktas, and are now unbeaten in nine matches across all competitions. They haven’t lost a league match since Sept. 14 versus Chelsea, an 11 match run with five wins and six draws.

Flying Red Devils tangle with wounded, ready Everton [STREAM]

  • Manchester United v. Everton, Sunday (Watch live, 9 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold)

Marco Silva is gone, and Duncan Ferguson’s Toffees will be feeling like their 3-1 defeat of Chelsea is the real Everton come clean in the wash. This weekend’s test is just as tough given United’s stylish form in defeats of AZ Alkmaar, Man City, and Spurs. You’re gonna need two screens at 9 a.m. ET Sunday.

M23 Derby promises plenty [STREAM]

  • Crystal Palace v. Brighton and Hove Albion, Monday (Watch live, 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

The Premier League weekend ends with a beauty, two rivals three points apart and sensing blood in the water on this congested table. Roy Hodgson‘s Palace is three points clear of Graham Potter‘s Seagulls, the league’s oldest managerial blood against the promise of a new era. A win keeps Palace in the thick of the Top Seven mix, while a loss puts Brighton right back in it.

Chelsea signs Tomori to new 5-year deal

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Chelsea center back Fikayo Tomori has a new five-year contract with the club.

The 21-year-old has a goal and an assist in 16 matches across all competitions, though he’s spent the past two Premier League outings on the bench.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Tomori joined Chelsea at age 7. He made his Premier League debut 11 years later in the 2016 season finale versus Leicester City.

The Canadian-born back averages 2.3 tackles per game, with 1.7 interceptions, and 2.6 clearances in Premier League action this season.

From ChelseaFC.com:

“The club has been so good to me, looking after and developing me during that time into the player and the person I am today. It’s a dream come true to sign a new five-year contract. I’m really happy the club have shown this faith in me and I’m just excited to carry on.”

Tomori is a full England international after loan stints with Brighton and Hove Albion, Hull City, and Derby County. The latter stop found him under Frank Lampard, and certainly didn’t hurt his opportunity to shine when both arrived at Chelsea this season.

Chelsea has four strong, young center backs in Tomori, Kurt Zouma (25), Andreas Christensen (23), and Antonio Rudiger (26). Christensen and Rudiger are signed through the 2021/22 season, while Zouma’s deal goes one season longer than the duo.