China's 'Unparalleled' 167-Acre Evergrande Football Academy A 'Magical Castle'
Evergrande Int'l Football School in China "lives up to its name," according to Demetri Sevastopulo of the FINANCIAL TIMES. With clock towers, medieval turrets and spires, it looks like J.K. Rowling and Walt Disney "have built a magical castle" in rural Guangdong. Even in China, "where construction reaches unfathomable levels, the scale is incredible." On a tour of the 167-acre grounds, Principal Liu Jiangnan said, "It is number one in the world." Former Real Madrid goalkeeper Miguel Angel, whose son is an Evergrande coach, said, "The dimensions of the complex are unparalleled. No one else has developed a project of this magnitude." The school is the brainchild of property tycoon Xu Jiayin, China’s 10th-richest man, estimated to be worth more than $6B. It grew out of an investment Xu made in '10 when he bought a struggling professional team in Guangzhou. Xu "turned round the team’s fortunes by hiring foreign players." The investment "has paid off." The club has won the Chinese Super League three years running and just became the first Chinese team in 23 years to win the Asian Champions League. But while Guangzhou Evergrande "has benefited hugely from its foreign players, Xu has a different vision for its future, which is where the school comes into the equation." Xu: "Our long-term strategy is to use teenagers to turn Evergrande into a team of only domestic players in eight to 10 years, making them stars in China, Asia and the world." Liu said that another distinction is that Evergrande "puts a lot of emphasis on academic education." Students have four 90-minute football training sessions a week, but they "spend the rest of their time in classrooms." While many children come from affluent families, for others, Evergrande "is an unlikely dream come true." Two-thirds pay school fees of Rmb35,000 ($5,800) a year -- roughly equal to China’s per capita GDP of $6,000 -- "while the rest receive scholarships to cover what by Chinese standards is an astronomical sum" (FT, 1/23).