"But why Bad Kissingen?" At first sight, the question is more than reasonable: why choose one of Germany's best known spa towns, with a population of little over 22,000, as the base for the German-Chinese Football Academy (DCFA)?
The idyllic, contemplative town, two hours by road to the east of Frankfurt am Main, combines a fully-developed infrastructure with the appeal of an unspoilt, natural environment. Bad Kissingen offers inhabitants and visitors alike the highest standards of living and exceptional opportunities to rest and regenerate. Now, the DCFA has catapulted the town into the footballing spotlight.
DCFA technical director Eckhard Krautzun explains: "We deliberately chose to stay away from a big city. We wanted to find a quiet spa town with excellent air quality and a breathtaking location." The famed clear air was not the only reason why the project ended up in the Bavarian countryside. Near-perfect facilities were ultimately the decisive factor in the football associations of Germany (DFB) and China (CFA) deciding for the town.
A dozen playing fields and a youth activity hotel are just the start. "The training facilities are simply outstanding. We have two artificial turf pitches and a fine sports hall, meaning we've not lost a single training session despite the harsh winter," Krautzun comments. "And Mayor Karl Heinz Laudenbach, who is also DCFA President, is completely obsessed with sport and unbelievably committed. The medical unit is outstanding and we also have the wonderful bathhouse. These are fantastic conditions for the players. It's an ideal base."
Bad Kissingen and top-flight football appear worlds apart, but the game has long been a part of life in the town. The Rimini Cup featuring U-15 sides from around the world provides an annual focus for youth development. Bayer Leverkusen won the trophy last year with a 1-0 victory over Buenos Aires outfit River Plate.
Largely as a result of the DCFA's high profile, a clutch of Chinese investors have begun looking for premises in the town. Naturally, the authorities hope to boost tourism on the back of the prestigious project. Laudenbach's mid-term goal is a regular stream of Chinese visitors.
The unfolding story extends beyond sports and tourism. Laudenbach recently led a delegation to China to discuss cultural matters. A leading Chinese state orchestra is to play in the Bavarian town with the Bad Kissingen orchestra set to visit the Far East in return. The cultural exchange programme aims to cement and deepen this burgeoning Sino-German friendship and partnership.