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In this article, we will look at the top soccer youth academies in the world and distinguish what makes them better than the rest but also look at why that benefits them so well. We will also look at a few of the factors that allowed them to be so successful in creating the world’s top prospects.
Four of the Best Soccer Academies for Soccer
Although it’s a pretty subjective question to ask who is the best at anything that can’t be easily quantified, do have an idea of whose best. The following five clubs not only have a reputation as the best academies but also have proof in the pudding.
History of the Ajax Academy
With a rich tradition of easily embedding youth players into a winning culture, Ajax is always at or near the top of the list when describing the top soccer youth academies. The great Johan Cruyff is widely considered one of the most gifted players the world has ever seen. Not only did Ajax benefit from his development in terms of on-field success, Cruyff won 8 Eredivisie and 3 European cups. It is also worth mentioning the club made approximately $2 million from his sale to Barcelona.
Ajax Best Academy Graduates
As mentioned above, one player doesn’t mean success. Ajax has since gone on to give the game such talents as Marco Van Basten, Frank Rijkaard, Dennis Bergkamp, and Clarence Seedorf. More recently Mathijs De Ligt and Frenkie De Jong both of whom fetched hefty transfer fees for the club. During Cruyff’s time, the team was packed with homegrown talent, leading the club to its most successful stint in history. Since then, the 1994/95 side who lifted the European Cup and the 2018/19 side who reached the semi-finals have strengthened the club’s claim of having the world’s best academy.
History of la Masia
Barcelona has long been associated with winning, primarily due to the success of the much-lauded La Masia academy. Like Ajax, they too have produced one of the game’s greatest, Lionel Messi, who joined La Masia at age 13 and became the best player of the 21st century. Messi’s development aided Barcelona to the tune of 10 Spanish titles and 4 European cups in addition to the countless other titles and records.
La Masia Best Academy Graduates
As well as Messi, Barcelona can lay claim to Pep Guardiola, Carlos Puyol, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, and Sergio Busquests when discussing world-class academy graduates. The latter four, of course, combined with Lionel Messi and a few others to put a case forward for the best team assembled, winning six trophies in one calendar year in 2009. When you add that to the host of players they have sold the youth setup can be deemed extremely valuable for the club.
History of Bayern Munchen’s Academy
Year after year, Bayern seems to win the Bundesliga. Strangely enough, they never seem to break the bank to sign any stars. When you have one of the most consistent academies in the world of soccer, you don’t need to. Bayern has been prolific in building the most dominant soccer players. Franz Beckenbauer is one of the best to do it, and of course, he hails from Bayern’s esteemed academy. Franz won 4 Titles and 3 European Cups for Bayern, repaying the club for the top-class training he received.
Best Bayern Munchen Academy Graduates
In recent years, players like Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, Philip Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and David Alaba have maintained the winning tradition at Bayern. All of the aforementioned players have been involved in treble-winning teams for the club, two of whom have managed it twice, an extraordinary feat. Germany can also thank Bayern’s academy, as the German’s success on the world stage would not have been possible if not for many of the academy’s top graduates.
Manchester United’s Academy History
Bobby Charlton was England’s top scorer until Wayne Rooney broke the record. He was also Manchester United’s top scorer until Rooney broke that. However, Charlton was a midfielder and Rooney was a striker. Undoubtedly one of the best players to come through Manchester United’s training school, Charlton was a stalwart for the club, leading the club to its first European Cup win in 1968.
Manchester United’s Best Academy Graduates
Manchester United followed Bobby Charlton with players such as George Best, Duncan Edwards, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, and a host more. The most famous class to graduate was the class of ‘92. Coming through the same youth teams and eventually winning everything possible as a group, the club sustained success throughout the 90s and 00s. This success pinned Manchester United near the top regarding discussions on player development.
The Most Prolific Soccer Academies
The four powerhouses listed in the previous section are adept at producing top players, and these clubs have one thing that sets them apart. The world’s best academies have a reputation for producing brilliant players, but a select few are considered at the highest level. Each of the above teams has not only benefited from great individual players, but when they have been considered one of the elite, they can utilize the academy to induce a period of winning for the club. In each case, they built a team through the academy to achieve domestic and European success.
When an academy can elevate its status to a level where it can consistently feed the first team with players up to the required standard to achieve on the domestic and European front, it’s considered at the top of the pile.
Why Do Top Clubs Need Top Soccer Youth Academies to Be Successful?
A manager must take many factors in soccer into account—these span from results and squad harmony to the finances involved. Academies are advantageous to a club, as they can immensely ease the pressure on a manager and squad.
Competitive Benefits of a Top Youth Academy
Academies can ease results by covering shortfalls in a squad during an injury crisis. If a conveyor belt of top talent is available to the manager, he or she is likely to feel less of a strain during busy periods in a season. A manager can apply squad rotation where needed, due to the entrusted youth at his/her disposal.
Academy players are far less likely to want to move away if they get ample minutes. This is great for the squad’s harmony. As well as the team, all fans can get on board with giving minutes to the stars of tomorrow, and often, including a few homegrown stars can lift the mood in a stadium as everyone waits in anticipation to get a glimpse of the next best thing.
Financial Benefits of a Top Youth Academy
Lately, an academy can provide excellent revenue to a club. The sale of young players who are not quite good enough to lower sides can boost any summer kitty the first team manager may expect. If the club thinks the player may become exceptional, they can explore the possibility of a buy-back clause to protect themselves because no one wants to sell the next Lionel Messi.
Becoming the Best Soccer Academy in the World
Producing the Best Young Soccer Players
To become the best soccer academy in the world you would have to produce the best players. These players would have to show maturity at a young age, and to those watching, their talent would have to be evident that it was beyond their years.
Producing the Most Soccer Talents
You would have to produce players of this talent at a consistent rate as well. It’s no use producing one generational talent in 100 years and not much else. Therefore, volume certainly matters in addition to quality.
Feeding the First Team
The academy’s primary goal is to feed the club new players, meaning the first team must benefit from this in some tangible way. That benefit may be in the form of talent capable of breaking into the first team squad, or talent good enough for the club to sell to fund investment into the first team.
Definition of a Top Soccer Youth Academy
Many factors go into becoming one of the best producers of top football talent, but below are just a few fundamental reasons.
Facilities at Elite Youth Academies
Firstly players must have access to the top coaches and facilities. At each of the clubs mentioned above, there is access to state-of-the-art equipment and facilities that would be the envy of any lower league side’s first team training complex. Putting prospects in the best position to succeed by giving them every conceivable piece of equipment and training they may need is the best way to get the most out of any youth setup.
Progression Into the First Team
Secondly, players must have access to actual minutes on the pitch. It’s pointless to invest thousands into a youth player if there is no realistic pathway to the first team. A path exists in each of the clubs above, and its use is encouraged. Each club is successful yearly while still allowing for rotation with youngsters. Younger players are casually eased into the systems and tactics of the first team with less pressure to immediately impact the team’s chances of winning.
Philosophy of a Top Soccer Youth Academy
Lastly, each of the above clubs has a defined philosophy embedded within the club. Ajax and Barcelona have a possession-based style of football that is trained at all levels, just like that of the main side. This is essential to create a player template that will always be able to slot into the club’s style of play. This lowers the chance of surprises for the youth player when promoted and reduces the risk of failure.
In short, many factors and efforts go into forming the top soccer youth academies. Still, the most important is the commitment to using the academy, continued investment in it, and the idea of growth through the youth setup.