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Rest assured - China has ambitions in football

By Chris Peterson in London | China Daily Europe | Updated: 2016-11-06 13:57

As if being paid tens of thousands of pounds a week isn't enough, players at Manchester United, one of England's premier football teams, with a reputed 100 million following in China, are now getting a good night's sleep - thanks to the club's latest sponsor.

Shanghai-listed Mlily, a leading mattress and pillow maker, has signed a five-year deal with the club to become United's first-ever official mattress and pillow partner.

That triggered an immediate outflow of puerile jokes on Twitter. Weibo (the Twitter-like social media platform) followers were even more caustic. Manchester United players can continue to daydream on the pitch," said one.

Club captain Wayne Rooney, currently struggling to maintain his place in the club's regular lineup, triggered this sarcastic comment from another Weibo user: "Rooney can only lead the starting lineup under this circumstance by getting more sleep."

Manchester United has form when it comes to sleeping patterns for its players.

Back in the club's most successful period, from 1986 to 2013, Sir Alex Ferguson introduced sleeping pods at the club's training ground.

Ferguson also hired the services of Nick Littlehales, a former executive with the UK's Slumberland mattress manufacturer, who is now a recognized sleep coach, training sportsmen of all disciplines.

It is the sleeping pods at the club's training facility that Mlily will equip with pillows and mattresses.

James Ni, founder of Mlily, said on the club's website: "Our experience has resulted in stress-free sleep and healthier lives for customers. These results are now available to Manchester United players, and will find a wider audience due to our global partnership."

Manchester United made no comment.

Mlily's deal, for which no value was announced, is the latest in a stream of Chinese investment in European soccer.

In March this year Dalian Wanda Group became the first Chinese entity to become a full partner of FIFA, soccer's world governing body, signing a deal that will give it sponsorship rights to the next four World Cup competitions.

Alibaba E-Auto, the electric car subsidiary of Alibaba Group Holding, signed a deal with FIFA last year to become the exclusive presenting partner of the FIFA Club World Cup for the next eight years.

In January, Chinese electronics giant Hisense Group signed as a global sponsor of UEFA Euro 2016, the first-ever sponsorship deal with a Chinese company in the championship's 56-year history.

Hisense will also sponsor other UEFA national team competitions until the end of 2017, including the European Qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, UEFA Futsal Euro 2016, the 2017 UEFA European Under-21 Championship and UEFA Women's Euro 2017.

In England, China Media Capital took a stake in Manchester City in October last year.

Other Chinese companies and individuals have this year acquired outright West Bromwich Albion, Birmingham City, Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

There have been reports that a Chinese group is looking to buy Premiership title contenders Liverpool FC and, in Italy, AC Milan is in the process of being sold by former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to a group of Chinese investors. Rivals Inter Milan have been acquired by China's Suning Group.


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