Inside world’s largest football academy costing £130m

They are prepared to splash the cash on some of world football’s most lucrative contracts.

But Guangzhou Evergrande are also spending significant amounts on developing youth – and are possibly China’s best hope of ever being a success on the world stage.

The free-spending Chinese Super League club boasts one of the most staggering football facilities in the world, with their academy boasting 50 football pitches – and over 2,500 students.

Guangzhou’s football school is spread over a remarkable 300 acres of land and cost £130million to complete.

The end goal is to help China win the World Cup. Pretty ambitious, considering their current world ranking of 65th (up nearly 30 spots in two years), but still behind nations like the Cape Verde Islands, Bolivia and Albania.

The sheer scale of the Guangzhou football academy (Image: CTV News/Youtube)
It is the largest football academy in the world (Image: CTV News/Youtube)
A coach shouts orders at the students (Image: Getty Images AsiaPac)

Staff, students and guests receive a daily remainder of what the academy is all about, as they pass a 40-foot tall replica of the World Cup trophy outside the front gates.

Such was the nation’s ambition to improve their chances, the Guangzhou academy was turned from rural land into the world’s biggest football school in just 10 months.

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However, Guangzhou know it is not just facilities that they need to make world-beating footballers – they need the right coaching, too.

A replica World Cup trophy stands outside of the academy (Image: Getty Images AsiaPac)
A view of some of the facilities at the academy (Image: Getty Images AsiaPac)
Parents will pay more than the average yearly wage for their kids to attend (Image: Getty Images AsiaPac)

That’s why they employ 24 Spanish coaches from Real Madrid, as part of an agreement with the La Liga giants, with their instructions being immediately translated into Chinese by translators on site.

“What we notice is the children are at a high technical level but the greatest difference is tactically, particularly in the decision making process,” one coach, Sergio Zarco Diaz, explained in 2016.

Cristiano Ronaldo is among the visitors in recent years, along with Real president Florentino Perez.

Ronaldo visited the academy back in 2011 (Image: AFP)
Real Madrid president Perez greets a child on one of his visits (Image: Visual China Group)
The school’s hierarchy pose alongside Perez (Image: Visual China Group)

Parents are paying up to 60,000 yuan (£6,750) every year to send their children to the academy – an amount slightly above the average yearly salary in China.

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One class out of every five is a football training session, with traditional subjects being taught the rest of the time. But even those lessons have a heavy footballing slant.

Those who attend also enjoy regular school subjects (Image: Getty Images AsiaPac)

As well as football pitches, there is a swimming pool, cinema, gym and library, alongside basketball, tennis and volleyball courts.

Several canteens feature specialist chefs, who have been flown in from the western Xinjiang province to look after the strict diets of the academy’s Muslim players.

Young students watch on as some of their schoolmates enjoy training (Image: Getty Images AsiaPac)
A young student carries a bag of balls out to the pitch (Image: Getty Images AsiaPac)
Some of the students during a training session (Image: Getty Images AsiaPac)

The school’s principal, Liu Jiangnan, told CNN that he believes there is room for the school to get even better.

“This ranking is incongruous with China’s international standing as a world power,” he said in 2016.

“In about four years, Chinese football will definitely see an improvement and maybe return to be one of the top contenders in Asia.

Work is done on the ground of the main pitch at the facility (Image: Getty Images AsiaPac)
A student heads the ball during training (Image: Getty Images AsiaPac)
There is a daily reminder of the ultimate end game for Chinese football (Image: Getty Images AsiaPac)

“And of course, in about 20 or 30 years we will set our sights on the top world rankings.”

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Well, halfway across that four year scale and China are being beaten 6-0 by Wales and 4-1 by the Czech Republic – two nations who failed to qualify for this year’s World Cup.

But China are definitely playing the long game with this one.

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