Ajax have long been synonymous with all that is worthy in developing talent. But now the Dutch institution could be at the forefront of another trend, with Chinese investors thought to be targeting a stake in the club in the hope of unlocking the potential to grow football from the bottom up in the world's most populous country.
With hosting and qualifying for the World Cup finals listed as long-term goals, the authorities plan to substantially increase the number of young people playing football, with the number of special "soccer schools" raised to 20,000 after five years and to 50,000 in a decade.
According to Gorden Song, who runs a private equity Chinese sports investment fund, the goal is to achieve that aim partly by encouraging investors to sink money into football academies and local clubs across the country.
"The Chinese government has decided to turn the FA into more of a social organisation," he says, "To develop faster it will focus on participation to try to grow the pyramid and grow football at different levels. In China there are no community clubs traditionally – there have been very few in the past, normally built by retired professional football players. In the last two or three years, we have seen more start."
Under the new scheme, the country's football association has been separated from the State General Administration of Sports for the first time, in an attempt to give it more autonomy and the ability to determine its own staffing and resources.
"You have to develop interest and provide places to play," says Song. "Some of the growth will come from companies investing in youth development and participation. Football is different to other sports, where you can identify talent at an early age – we call it soldier training. In football, you need a pyramid and a wide base." This is one of the reasons why China has been able to succeed in individual Olympic sports such as table tennis and gymnastics but has struggled when it comes to football.
There is hope changes in society will also help, with parents being encouraged to consider the health of their children as well as academic achievement and the carrot of learning English from European coaches while exercising.
One fascinating spin-off from this ambitious scheme to build a football infrastructure virtually from scratch across this vast land is the potential effect in Europe. Chinese investors were among those interested in buying Aston Villa last season. Although that approach foundered, Chinese investors have this year acquired the French second division club Sochaux and the Eredivisie side Den Haag.
Professor Simon Chadwick, the chair in sport business strategy and marketing at Coventry University, believes that other similar investments are inevitable and that the rationale is as much to learn from them commercially and technically as for business reasons. Ajax are believed to be among the clubs on the radar of Chinese investors.
"The Chinese government has recently taken the decision to build the world's biggest sport economy, which it wants to have reached $850bn in size by 2025," says Chadwick. "At the heart of the country's sporting investment is football, which the state is very keen to promote.
"Specifically, China would like to host and win football's World Cup, which the country sees as being a way to assert its global status and power. As a result, both the government and corporations in China are investing in football – from the grassroots through to the elite professional level, which includes buying stakes in European football clubs."
As the game's biggest clubs continue to engage in an arm's race to reach China's burgeoning middle classes, the trend of the country's investors to scour Europe for clubs in which they can invest and from which they can learn is equally fascinating.
For Chadwick, the lesson from other business sectors is that China will get it right eventually. If and when it does, it could tilt the sport on its axis. "Given China's recent record in other industrial sectors, one suspects that ongoing Chinese interest in football could well have a profound effect on the world's favourite sport," he concludes.