Manchester United are the English club with the best record of producing top-drawer academy players – with 24 youth products currently plying their trade in Europe’s top five divisions.
And they also lead the way with nine stars who have come through their junior ranks – including Ryan Giggs, Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley – involved with the current first-team squad.
However, according to research by FourFourTwo magazine, the top side in Europe offering places in the current first-team squad to academy players is Spanish side Athletic Bilbao, with sixteen players having spent at least three years at the club between the ages of 15 and 21.
It comes as little surprise that Bilbao boast such an impressive record, with the outfit famous for its ‘cantera’ policy of only bringing players from the Basque region into the club.
Barcelona and their famous La Masia academy come in a close second, having produced 14 players that play for the senior team, including Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi while Real Sociedad (also a Basque side) have brought through the same number, with seven of their players having been born in the Guipuscoa province in which the club is located.
|Who has produced the most top-flight players in recent seasons?
|1. Barcelona – 38
|2. Lyon – 32
|3. Real Madrid – 29
|4. Rennes – 24
|5. Man Utd – 24
|6. Bayern Munich – 23
|7. Sochaux-Montbeliard – 22
|8. Real Sociedad – 21
|9. Atlanta – 21
|10. Atletico Madrid – 21
|Top eight clubs to have produced home-grown players that are currently
|starring in their first team squad
|1. Athletic Bilbao – 16
|2. Barcelona – 14
|3. Real Sociedad – 14
|4. Montpellier – 12
|5. Sochaux-Montpeliard – 12
|6. Lyon – 10
|7. Bordeaux – 9
|8. Manchester United – 9
It represents a powerful demonstration of regional pride, as we see how these regions, Catalonia (home to Barcelona) and the Basque Country (home to Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao), that were so harshly suppressed under the reign of General Franco in Spain, have looked to retain and assert their identity through football – a desire that remains to this day.
United are the only English club to make the top 10 in this field, with a string of French clubs – Montepellier, Sochaux-Montpeliard, Lyon and Bordeaux – also showcasing their strength in developing young talent.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side boast the fourth most impressive record of the clubs in Europe’s top five leagues – the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 – in bringing players through to be either playing at the club that produced them or having found alternative employment in the continent’s leading divisions.
Lighting the way on the continent are Spanish side Barcelona, with an incredible 38 players produced by the La Masia academy that are now dining at the top table of European football, while Lyon (32 top-flight players) and Real Madrid (29 top-flight players) trail in the Catalan side’s wake.
Some clubs, however, do not have their home-grown talents still playing for them. This may be because the clubs are under financial pressure to cash in on the starlets or, as is often the case with the bigger clubs, such as Real, the players may be talented but not quite good enough for a place in the team ahead of the galaxy of imported stars.
The clubs with the most youth products playing elsewhere in Europe’s top five leagues
1. Barcelona – 24
2. Real Madrid – 21
3. Lyon – 21
4. Monaco – 19
5. Rennes – 17
Barcelona are the club to have the most academy products playing elsewhere in the top five European leagues, with twenty-four having been moved on, while Lyon and Real have both seen 21 leave their club only to have been snapped up by clubs in the continent’s elite divisions.
The insistence on ‘Galactico’ signings at the Bernabeu in recent years has limited opportunities for home-grown talents, and it is easy to forget that Chelsea midfielder Juan Mata, Manchester City’s Javi Garcia and Sevilla striker Alvaro Negredo were all brought through Madrid’s Castilla youth system.
In England, United once again lead the way in this field, with fifteen youth products finding alternative careers in Europe’s top five divisions after leaving Old Trafford.
Arsenal, despite all the talk about Arsene Wenger’s faith in nurturing players through the system, have just six players currently in their first team squad to have emerged out of their academy, while 14 have been allowed to move on to rival clubs in Europe’s leading divisions.
Some supporters, however, will be disappointed by the lack of opportunities their clubs have handed to academy products in recent seasons with certain big-spending European clubs, including Inter Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea.
They are unable to find space for any more than three home-grown players in their current squads, yet all three clubs have at least 10 players developed by their own academies playing for rival teams on the continent.
Big-spending clubs to have favoured buying ahead of developing
Paris Saint-Germain: Two Home-grown players in the squad, 12 playing elsewhere in Europe’s top five divisions.
Chelsea: Two Home-grown players, 10 playing elsewhere in Europe’s top five divisions.