China's next ambition: World Cup victory

Chinese children take part in a training session in Beijing

China's president dreams of winning World Cup, says head of new football academy

LAST UPDATED AT 10:20 ON Mon 14 Jul 2014

China ranks just 103rd in Fifa's world football rankings, but one club owner has a plan to change that: a state-of-the art football academy.

The BBC's John Sudworth has visited – but he's not entirely convinced.

Evergrande Football School, near the southern city of Guangzhou, looks like a Transylvanian castle, says Sudworth. Built by the billionaire who owns the local top-flight football club, Guangzhou Evergrande, it cost £117m.

The boarding school's facilities include 42 full-sized pitches, an Olympic swimming pool and tennis courts. Coaches who trained at Real Madrid teach football skills to 2,300 pupils who also receive academic lessons.

The schools overweening ambition is reflected in its giant-size sculpture of the World Cup trophy. Headmaster Liu Jiangnan said the institution also enjoyed high-level political support.

"President Xi Jinping has three wishes: to qualify for, to host and to win the World Cup," he said. 

One of the imported Spanish coaches, Bruno Mesquita, said the challenge was not impossible: "We have the material and the human resources here. We are good coaches, we believe in the point, the target… to grow national football players and to grow Chinese football.

"Maybe we [in Europe] are not crazy enough to build something like this but the Chinese recognise that they have some space to grow professional football and they decided to invest."

But Sudworth remains unconvinced. A few pupils are given scholarships to the academy, but most have parents who are paying an astronomical sum by local standards: £3,500 per year. Will the best talent in the country really rise to the top when to do so is so expensive, he wonders.

China's problem with football, says Sudworth, is simply that not enough young people are encouraged to take up the sport – with an emphasis on academic achievement and a lack of open spaces in crowded cities in which to play. · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.