Monaco seeking to train China's next football generation
BYBy Henry Young & Christina Marfarlane, CNN
Updated 1028 GMT (1828 HKT) April 19, 2017

Story highlights

AS Monaco hope to develop next generation of Chinese playersMonaco academy, La Turbie, has produced multiple World Cup winnersClub CEO Vadim Vasilyev hopes to "share expertise"

Monaco (CNN)French club AS Monaco and wannabe football powerhouse China have more in common that you might first think.

Monaco, situated among superyachts in a playground for the rich, no longer spends upwards of $50 million on a single player, concentrating resources on youth. And China is also looking inwards, with the days of Chinese Super League clubs assembling all-star squads at inflated prices curtailed by government rulings that mean all 16 teams can only field three foreign players. Sensing opportunity, Monaco vice-president and CEO Vadim Vasilyev is seeking to train the next generation of Chinese talent."Right now we're speaking to a few clubs in China about possible cooperation in developing their young players," Vasilyev tells CNN Sport. Read More"Obviously what China lacks is the knowledge and the know-how. We can share expertise with the Chinese. I don't think we're worried; we see it as an opportunity." Photos: Qingyuan's $185M soccer schoolThe Evergrande Football School in Qingyuan, Guangdong, is thought to be the biggest of its kind in the world. Built in just 10 months, it cost $185 million. Hide Caption 1 of 10 Photos: Qingyuan's $185M soccer schoolThe 167-acre site has 50 pitches and is home to 2,600 boys and 200 girls who, it is hoped, will star for China in the future. Hide Caption 2 of 10 Photos: Qingyuan's $185M soccer schoolParents are paying up to 60,000 yuan ($9,200) a year to send their children here -- slightly more than the average annual wage in China.Hide Caption 3 of 10 Photos: Qingyuan's $185M soccer schoolA link-up with Real Madrid means that more than 20 Spanish coaches work at the school. Real visited in 2011, when star player Cristiano Ronaldo met pupils in Qingyuan.Hide Caption 4 of 10 Photos: Qingyuan's $185M soccer school"I hope to make it into the national football team and then make it into the Spanish clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid," 14-year-old pupil He Xinjie told CNN. Hide Caption 5 of 10 Photos: Qingyuan's $185M soccer schoolSergio Zarco Diaz, who has been coaching in China for four years, runs his sessions at the school alongside a translator. "What we notice is the children are at a high technical level, but the greatest difference is tactically," the Spaniard explains.Hide Caption 6 of 10 Photos: Qingyuan's $185M soccer schoolA young player eats in the school's canteen. Special chefs have been flown in from the northwestern Xinjiang province to cater for the dietary requirements of the region's Muslim players.Hide Caption 7 of 10 Photos: Qingyuan's $185M soccer schoolThe main football center sits at the heart of the development, like a castle from a Disney film. Hide Caption 8 of 10 Photos: Qingyuan's $185M soccer schoolThe 50 soccer pitches sit alongside basketball, tennis and volleyball courts, a swimming pool and movie theater. The manicured gardens feature more than $30 million worth of trees, in stark contrast to the barren vegetable patches, wooden shacks and potholed roads a few hundred yards away.Hide Caption 9 of 10 Photos: Qingyuan's $185M soccer schoolOutside the football center's gates is a 40-foot replica of the FIFA World Cup trophy -- a daily reminder of the ultimate goal.Hide Caption 10 of 10

La Turbie

It does not take a financial expert to see Monaco's brilliance when it comes to developing young players. Anthony Martial -- bought from Lyon for under $3.5 million and sold to Manchester United as the most expensive teenager in history -- is just one of many lucrative departures in recent seasons.The club's academy, La Turbie, has blossomed under the stewardship of director Betrand Reuzeau, and the conveyor belt keeps running.Vadim Vasilyev (C) is pictured with Djibril Sidibe, Corentin Jean, Benjamin Mendy, Morgan de Sanctis and Kamil Glik in August 2016.Those supporters old enough to remember the rapid development of Monaco youth team alumni Lilian Thuram, Emmanuel Petit and Thierry Henry -- World Cup winners in 1998 -- could be forgiven for feeling a sense of déjà vu. Today, the likes of 18-year-old Kylian Mbappé ably support more experienced teammates, propelling Monaco to the top of Ligue 1 with the division's third-youngest squad."We have a historically renowned academy," says Vasilyev, recalling Monaco's major part in France's 1998 World Cup win."What makes it special here, besides the historical achievement, is that young players see they really can make it." READ: The footballing redemption of Radamel FalcaoREAD: Bernardo Silva values magical season at Monaco


What's behind the success of AS Monaco?

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What's behind the success of AS Monaco? 03:01


But why China? China's leader, President Xi, has said in no uncertain terms he wants to see China qualify for, host and, one day, win the World Cup.Towering over the gates of the Evergrande Football School in Guangdong, a 40-foot replica World Cup trophy provides all the inspiration budding Chinese players might need. READ: Inside China's $185M football factoryREAD: China and Syria keep World Cup dream aliveAnd Vasilyev, a former Russian diplomat, believes a love affair with football in a country with a potential talent pool of over a billion is "already a game changer."He acknowledges wages in the Chinese Super League have been "out of proportion," but contends it's just "a temporary phase."After all, Vasilyev himself oversaw a period of significant spending 2013/14 as he sought to put Monaco "quickly back on the map of French and European football."The club "needed massive investment" in the beginning in order to convince top players to come, he explains, "otherwise it would have taken ages, years."What Vasilyev calls "step No. 2" followed, and the rest is history. READ: How an Abu Dhabi billionaire is transforming not just City, but the city

Step No. 3?


Can China win a World Cup with this 'football factory'?

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Can China win a World Cup with this 'football factory'? 03:07Monaco officials "found the right model for development" and have reaped the rewards. Now they want to help China do the same.Vasilyev tells CNN one of his colleagues has been in China discussing the role of Monaco's academy in the development of young players. Where others see "danger" to the European leagues with football's sleeping dragon looking set to awaken, Vasilyev sees only "opportunity.""We've already seen some important consequences, he says. "Long-term, the impact of China will be even more important."

"In the future, you never know" — Falcao on prospective China move

Monaco captain Radamel Falcao is not the first major name to perceive China's "attractive" footballing future."I think they're making some really strong investments with the objective of growing their game," the Colombian tells CNN. "They will probably have a really strong league in the future that will be very attractive due to the class of players they have. "Me personally? I've had some offers that I've turned down because I think that I have some goals in Europe that I'd like to achieve. In the future, you never know."It's a vision Vasilyev shares."Today, we have to be honest, players go for money," he says. "But as China continues to develop, 10 years from now, they might also go for the sports." Don't bet against a small principality 5,000 miles away playing its part.