LISBON, Nov. 6 (Xinhua) -- Former Manchester United football star Patrice Evra said China could likely become "the world's biggest football nation" in the future.
In an exclusive interview on the sidelines of Web Summit, one of the world's largest technology conferences which took place here on November 1-4, the 41-year-old told Xinhua: "I think China can be one of the greatest nations of football if they really focus on it and invest in it.
"It's a lot of sacrifice, you're not going to do it in one day," said the former professional left back who was born in Senegal, grew up in France and played for AS Monaco, Manchester United, Juventus and the French national team.
Although China did not qualify for the upcoming FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, which will be played from November 20 to December 18, Evra said he was optimistic about the long-term performance and skills of the Chinese players.
"I think they need more support. It's about the culture, about bringing the right manager to help them. But I also want the Chinese people to have their own personality," he emphasized.
"I played many games against China and it was tough. Even before the World Cup 2010 when we had a friendly game against China, we lost. They got great players and trust me, they know how to run."
China plans to build between 16 and 18 football cities between 2021 and 2025, according to a document published by the State General Administration of Sport last year.
China also unveiled last month a comprehensive reform and development plan to revive its women's football, outlining project timelines until 2035.
"I want more like Chinese people playing in European football... We need more of them to come to Europe and we are going to know more about them and discovering them," Evra said.
"(China) has a huge football potential," Spanish La Liga president Javier Tebas echoed.
"It depends on the way they do it. I think that China should adopt a more modest growth in football and do more groundwork and they will achieve it, without a doubt," said Tebas, who has led the Spanish football league since 2013.
Asked about the upcoming FIFA World Cup finals in Qatar, which was moved to Qatar's winter season due to the extreme heat during the summer, Evra said: "I'm always excited about the World Cup."
"This time, the players don't have any excuse not to be fit because they have just played for their clubs during the season and didn't have any break," he added.