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You’ll Never Win Anything With Kids? The World’s Best Footballing Academies

September 08, 2015

- Grant Whittington

Alan Hansen famously once said you can’t win anything with kids after Manchester United lost 3-1 in the first game of the 1995-96 season against Aston Villa. They went on to win the league by four points, going on to create legends of the class of 92.

Today when you think of youngsters coming through the ranks and becoming superstars you’re more likely to think of Messi, Iniesta, Xavi and the Barcelona team who have been imperious in recent years.

However, recent analysis has suggested that this may not be the case. In fact, according to a recent study, Barcelona’s famed La Masia came just fourth in an official list of the top 20 academies in Europe. Conducted by the International Centre for Sports Studies (CIES), the research was based on the players who performed in Europe’s 31 competitive leagues during the 2014-15 season.

So, which club has the best academy?

Interestingly, Dutch club Ajax have the most prolific academy in Europe, having produced and coached 69 players who were active in these 31 competitive leagues last season. Less heralded clubs such as Partizan Belgrade and Hajduk Split followed in second and third, with Barcelona tying for fourth place with Sporting Lisbon and MTK Budapest. The CIES categorised a club trained players as one who spent at least three seasons with a specific team between the ages of 15 and 21, which meant in the case of Ajax that players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Luis Suarez were not included.

While Barcelona may be surprised to find their La Masia academy trailing in fourth place, it suggests that the club do not produce the same depth of players as some of their rivals. There is also worrying news for the English game, with only Manchester United (who managed to secure a relatively disappointing 17th place) ranking anywhere the top 20. This is something that the FA may want to consider addressing, especially with the Premier League boasting only a few up-and-coming British players and the national team seemingly stuck in a permanent state of transition.

What should we draw from these findings?

Above all else, there was a clearly correlation between wealth and the rate of home-grown players fielded. While lucrative leagues such as La Liga and the EPL fielded a relatively low proportion of academy talent, for example, clubs in less well-resourced competitions tend to rely heavily on home-grown youngsters. Including leagues based in Serbia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary and the Czech Republic, approximately 27% of all players were academy trained.

These findings are certainly something that clubs in the EPL could learn from, especially if they want to focus on youth development in the future.

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