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Young Chinese soccer players stretch during training at the Evergrande International Football School on June 13, 2014 near Qingyuan in Guangdong Province, China.
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Young Chinese soccer players stretch during training at the Evergrande International Football School on June 13, 2014 near Qingyuan in Guangdong Province, China.Kevin Frayer—Getty Images
Young Chinese soccer players stretch during training at the Evergrande International Football School on June 13, 2014 near Qingyuan in Guangdong Province, China.
A young player leaps up to head the ball during training.
A view of some of the 50 pitches at the at the Evergrande International Football School on June 14 near Qingyuan in Guangdong Province.
A coach interacts with students during training at the Evergrande International Football School on June 14 near Qingyuan in Guangdong Province.
A student heads the ball during training on the main pitch at the Evergrande International Football School on June 14.
Young soccer players sit together in the campus as they wait to head to training at the Evergrande International Football School on June 14.
Players drink water from a communal tap after training at the Evergrande International Football School on June 12.
A player eats his lunch on the canteen at the Evergrande International Football School on June 13.
Players eat lunch under caricatures of famous soccer players in the canteen at the Evergrande International Football School on June 12.
Players listen to instructions from the coach prior to a training match at the Evergrande International Football School on June 14.
A match on a practice pitch at the Evergrande International Football School on June 14.
A coach from Real Madrid stands with a young Chinese student before subbing him to a training match at the Evergrande International Football School on June 14.
An injured player being helped off the field during training at the Evergrande International Football School on June 12.
Players watch others train at the Evergrande International Football School.
Young Chinese soccer players stretch during training at the Evergrande International Football School on June 13, 2014 ne
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Kevin Frayer—Getty Images
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Welcome to China's Evergrande, the World's Biggest Soccer Academy

Jun 20, 2014

China, the world’s most populous country, tends toward the superlative. So, too, with the Evergrande International Football School in southern China’s Guangdong province, which bills itself as the world’s largest such sporting academy. Photographer Kevin Frayer documented life at the sprawling soccer school, which boasts 2,400 boarding students, dozens of fields, Harry Potter towers and coaches “assigned by Real Madrid,” according to Evergrande’s website.

Conceived of by property tycoon Xu Jiayin — who also has ownership stakes in the nation’s most successful football club — the Evergrande academy opened in the fall of 2012 with the decidedly ambitious aim of transforming China into a football dynamo. (Most of the school’s students are boys, but there are some girls.)

China has cultivated athletic dominance in a mind-blowing array of sports by funneling thousands of kids into state-run athletic schools. At the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics, China topped the gold-medal rankings for the first time. But China remains a men’s soccer laggard, having qualified for the World Cup only once.

Whether the Evergrande school will fulfill its motto of "Boosting China’s football and cultivating football stars" isn’t at all assured. (There is another competing private football academy gathering talent in southern China.) Still, in a country where kids rarely gather for a pickup match, just seeing so many children playing soccer together is a definite game changer.

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