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Soccer school hoping to grow

By Qiu Quanlin in Guangzhou | China Daily | Updated: 2013-04-02 07:51

Evergrande academy expects to attract thousands more students

Macello Lippi is really getting into his time in China.

Lippi announced the beginning of this year's enrollment for young players at Guangzhou Evergrande's soccer school on Monday.

Lippi, head coach of big-spending Evergrande and president of the school, said he hoped the school would nurture prominent Chinese soccer stars.

He even worked in the Chinese word qidong, which means "start", during the ceremony.

"Soccer should start with the youth. I am confident China will have its own soccer stars coming out of this school," Lippi said.

The school, a cooperative project with La Liga giant Real Madrid, will include 2,000 more students this year after it failed to realize its target of 3,150 students aged 7-12 in its first year.

Located in Qingyuan, in northern Guangdong province, the school began operations last year, after Evergrande launched a national testing program and admissions in April covering almost all of the country's provinces and autonomous regions.

Soccer school hoping to grow

However, only 1,086 students enrolled. The image of Chinese soccer has taken a beating in recent years and many parents are unwilling to send their children to pick up the sport.

"After operating for half a year, we are very confident we will realize our enrollment target and bring the nation's best young players to the school," said Liu Jiangnan, the school's executive president.

The enrollment last year raised awareness of the need to improve youth participation, said Liu, the former chief of the Guangzhou Sports Bureau.

"The situation very much represents the state of China's soccer development," Liu said. "We still lag behind in developing young players because the image of Chinese soccer in recent years has reduced many parents' willingness to send their children to soccer school."

A number of officials and players were investigated for scandals such as match-fixing and gambling over the past several years.

Sources with the Chinese Football Association said the country has registered only 7,000 young players, far fewer than in the neighboring country of Japan.

"Children enrolled last year have shown their potential, after studying and training for half a year," Liu said. "And parents have boosted their confidence so that their children will perform better in school - both in academics and soccer."

Liu said students this year will be aged 9-16 and requirements will be higher.

"We are considering introducing stricter testing measures this year, which are aimed at including more prominent young players nationwide," Liu said.

This year's enrollment program will cover 116,217 primary and middle schools nationwide, targeting some 73 million students.

Evergrande's goal is to claim four championships in the domestic and Asian Under-13 leagues for its male and female groups within three years.

Youth development is part of the long-term picture for Evergrande, which is chasing its third consecutive domestic title and a place in the AFC Champions League this year.

Xu Jiayin, boss of Evergrande, once guessed that the club will eventually boast a formidable, purely Chinese lineup in eight to 10 years.

"Chinese children have impressed me a lot. They are very skilled," said Fernando Sanchez Cipitria, the school's technical director.

"The differences between them and their Spanish counterparts are in their understanding of soccer and the matches. We will organize more games for them to improve the understanding," he said.

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