Chinese Football Academy Has World Cup Goals

Chinese Football Academy Has World Cup Goals

*Special Report taken From Sky News by Katie Stallard, China Correspondent, in Qingyuan

Dawn on a misty morning in southern China. Thousands of children stand in immaculate ranks on the football pitch in front of us, dressed in their bright red sports kit, singing the national anthem as the flag is raised.

Then, they raise one clenched fist to the side of their head and repeat solemn vows.

“Becoming a football star is our never-ending pursuit,” they chant. “Developing Chinese football is our eternal goal.”

These are the students of the Guangzhou Evergrande Academy – the biggest football school in the world.

Part Hogwarts, part footballing theme park, the children walk to classes through the “Square of the Stars”, past huge bronze statues of Pele and Bobby Moore.

By the front gates there’s a 15ft replica of the World Cup – no pressure.

China’s president says his personal dream is for the country to win the tournament, even though the nation is currently ranked 96th in the world – between footballing titans Guatemala and Oman.

But Chinese Super League clubs are laying out vast sums to buy top talent from around the world. They outspent the Premier League by £70m in the last transfer window.

And efforts are under way to try to revitalise the sport at the grassroots.

President Xi Jinping has ordered the sport to be added to the national curriculum in schools, and as an option in the national university entrance exam this year.

At the elite academy, we’re taken to meet some of the most promising students.

Wang Shijie, 12, has been singled out as a special talent.

The son of a factory worker, he’s being tipped as a future star of the national side, likely good enough to play for a top European club.

“Hello everyone, he says, “My dream is to enter the national team, and take my brothers out to the world. And become a champion!”

He’s not short of would-be team mates.

“My dream is to join the national team,” Luo Junxi tells us. “And play for Bayern Munich in the future.”

Shouts of Mandarin and Spanish come from the pitches. The children train with coaches sent out by the Real Madrid Foundation.

But what’s missing in China is the culture of jumpers for goalposts – and that’s a difficult thing to teach.

Their Spanish coach, Javier Moreiras, explained: “They need, what we call in Spain ‘football of the streets’. In China no kids play on the streets, like they do in Spain, France, Italy and England.”

Asked about China’s prospects for World Cup glory, he was realistic.

“They must start with these kids. Maybe in 15, 20 years, maybe they have a chance to go to a World Cup, only to go to it.

“To win a World Cup, that’s another world.”

Read more-