(CNN) – The view from above the Evergrande football school is expansive. 50 pitches spread out across some 160 acres in southern China’s Guangdong province, the biggest in the world. It’s ambitious to say the least, a trait matched by a young student far down below.
“I want to play for the national team, and then play for Spanish clubs like Barcelona or real Madrid,” said He Xinjie.
He Xinjie is a skinny 14-year-old midfielder from Fujian province. His family doesn’t have a lot of money, so when he got a full scholarship to Evergrande 8 months ago, he didn’t think twice. For him, football is life.
“I feel really lucky to be here. Otherwise I’d be in some normal school playing football on the side,” said Xinjie.
He is one of over two-thousand students who live on the Evergrande campus. 80 percent of their time is spent inside these ornate buildings, attending class. The rest of the time, they eat together, they live together, and they train together. Collectively, they represent the future of Chinese football.
“Our school’s purpose is to improve football in china and cultivate football stars, while helping them grow as people,” said Principal Liu Jiangnan.
Principal Liu Jiangnan says his school reflects a growing trend in China, football is becoming more popular.
Every Saturday the entire school gets together and play each other in different matches. It’s the kind of scene, parents coming out to watch, young kids involved, that the government hopes gets replicated time and again across the country, as everyone gets invested in the sport.
President Xi Jingping, a big fan of the beautiful game, has led a surge of investment in youth soccer. Football is now a mandatory part of school curriculums and there are plans to have 20,000 football-themed schools up and running by 2017. The ultimate goal is to win a world cup.
To do that, though, you need to develop star players. That’s the task facing people like Sergio Zargo, a Spanish youth coach who moved to china 4 years ago as part of a partnership between Guangzhou Evergrande and European heavyweights real Madrid. We asked if he has any future Messi’s or Ronaldo’s on his roster.
“I hope so! But, we are not in a rush because we know that this is a process that takes time,” said Diaz.
As for 14-year-old He Xinjie, he might not be the next Messi just yet, but the next time china makes the world cup, he says he’ll be part of the reason why.
You’re reminded of china’s ultimate goal as soon as you arrive at the school. This replica FIFA world cup trophy sits right out front its entrance. Principal Liu hopes that the national team might qualify for that tournament in the next 10-15 years and maybe even one day, well down the road, even win.
Copyright CNN 2016