Manchester City players train in Beijing on July 24, 2016. Photo: AFP/Greg Baker
Manchester City players train in Beijing on July 24, 2016. Photo: AFP/Greg Baker

Filming began last month on a new reality TV show that will follow the fortunes of footballers from a Chinese amateur club who will compete with each other for the prize of lining up against Manchester City in England.

The team’s squad, which has been put together especially for the show, will compete on camera at various levels in China before traveling to Britain to meet Manchester City’s under-18 side.

In what is believed to be the first football-focused reality TV series to be broadcast in China, the show – called Football Mania – is a partnership between Guangdong TV (the show’s maker), Tencent Sport, City Football Group (which owns Manchester City) and the English club’s official partner in China, Zhong An Holdings.

Using a well-worn X-Factor-style format, the show will follow the squad as it is gradually reduced in number, with each episode focusing on the ups and downs of the different team characters as they vie for their place in the team.

Manchester City sent a dedicated project unit to China before filming commenced and have provided the team’s head coach and training strategies. This unit will return to China over the next two months as filming spreads across the country.

Former City defender Sun Jihai – the first Chinese footballer to play in the top tier of English football – will appear in the series, which is due to run on up to 30 different domestic TV channels from April until July, when the Chinese team travels to face City’s young professionals in the show’s finale.

After Shanghai-based China Media Capital bought a 13 percent share of Manchester City in December 2015, just days after Xi Jinping visited the club, it has been widely understood that the City Football Group will add a Chinese club to its global portfolio.

City Football Group is controlled by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi Royal Family and Minister of Presidential Affairs for the UAE. Besdies Manchester City, City Football Group owns New York City FC, Melbourne City FC and the Yokohama F. Marinos.