Europe's most productive academies
There’s nothing football fans enjoy more than seeing an academy graduate excelling in the first team. But which clubs in Europe’s top-five leagues are the best at producing talent?
Using data from the CIES Football Observatory, this slideshow highlights which sides have developed the most players currently plying their trade in one of Europe’s top five leagues (La Liga, the Premier League, the Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1). A player is considered to have been developed by a club if he spent at least three seasons on their books between the ages of 15 and 21.
15. Nantes (20)
Nantes have won eight Ligue 1 titles in their history, but mid-table mediocrity has been the theme of recent seasons at the Stade de la Beaujoire. The Canaries continue to produce an abundant of gifted youngsters, though, with 20 of their former prospects currently turning out for a club in Europe’s top five leagues.
Current captain Valentin Rongier and 21-year-old defender Enock Kwateng are two such players, while Nantes have also generated funds by selling some of their academy products – including Jordan Veretout and Georges-Kevin N'Koudou – overseas or to bigger French clubs.
11= Atletico Madrid (21)
Diego Simeone has done a magnificent job since taking charge of Atletico Madrid in 2011, winning a La Liga title, the Europa League, the Copa del Rey and taking the club from the Spanish capital to two Champions League finals.
This season’s squad, which features former youth team stars Koke, Jose Gimenez, Saul Niguez and Lucas Hernandez, is considered by some to be the strongest in Atletico’s history. David de Gea and Sergio Aguero are also among those who spent at least three seasons at the club in their formative years.
11= Monaco (21)
Monaco may be owned by a Russian billionaire in Dmitry Rybolovlev, but they have favoured producing their own talent over spending sizeable transfer fees in the last few years. Their remarkable Ligue 1 title success in 2016/17 owed plenty to a gifted crop of young players, the star of whom – Kylian Mbappe, now of PSG – came through the principality club’s academy.
Monaco’s current squad contains five youth team graduates, with Almamy Toure, Kevin N’Doram, Seydou Sy, Julien Serrano and Moussa Sylla having racked up 93 first-team appearances between them.
11= Bordeaux (21)
Bordeaux are another French outfit who have shown themselves to be adept at developing young players in recent times. Valentin Vada, Jerome Prior and Zaydou Youssouf are all part of Ricardo Gomes’ squad having come through the club’s ranks in the last few seasons.
Elsewhere, Fulham’s Floyd Ayite, Napoli’s Adam Ounas and Montpellier’s Gaetan Laborde spent time at Bordeaux during their younger years before sealing moves away from the club.
11= Inter (21)
As the name suggests, Internazionale were founded as a club with a global outlook who, as “brothers of the world”, were only too happy to employ foreign players as well as Italians. That put them in opposition to the more domestic-focused Milan, but it’s Inter who have benefited from a more fruitful academy at present.
Fiorentina’s Marco Benassi, Nice’s Mario Balotelli and Huesca’s Samuele Longo are among the former Nerazzurri youngsters now plying their trade for other teams in Europe’s big five leagues, although the only youth product in Inter’s current squad is reserve goalkeeper Raffaele Di Gennaro.
10. Sporting CP (21)
Crisis is an overused term in football, but it’s an accurate word to describe the last few months at Sporting. Several of the club’s first-teamers ripped up their contracts in the summer, walking out after a group of fans attacked the Lisbon-based outfit’s training ground.
Among those to leave were William Carvalho (Real Betis), Rui Patricio (Wolves) and Gelson Martins (Atletico Madrid), all of whom graduated from Sporting’s youth ranks. Carlos Mané is now the only academy graduate in their first team at the moment.
9. Stuttgart (22)
Stuttgart’s first-team squad for 2018/19 includes no fewer than six academy products, three of whom – Mario Gomez, Andreas Beck and Christian Genter – are now in their 30s and back for their second spells at the club.
RB Leipzig and Germany striker Timo Werner also began his career at the Mercedes-Benz Arena, as did Juventus midfielder Sami Khedira, Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno, Schalke midfielder Sebastian Rudy, Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger and Bayern Munich full-back Joshua Kimmich.
8. Real Sociedad (23)
Real Sociedad’s business model revolves around selling academy products on for a fee, then reinvesting the funds back into their youth system. Antoine Griezmann, Alvaro Odriozola and Inigo Martinez were all developed by the Basque side in the last few years, before being let go when the price was right.
Of the current squad, Mikel Oyarzabal, Asier Illarramendi, Igor Zubeldia, Jon Bautista and Ruben Pardo all spent their late-teenage years at Anoeta, gradually progressing from the youth team to the senior ranks.
5= PSG (24)
PSG haven’t been afraid to splash the cash since they were bought by Qatar Sports Investments in 2011, but the Ligue 1 champions haven’t neglected their academy in that time. Adrien Rabiot, Presnel Kimpembe and Alphonse Areola are now regular first-teamers having progressed through the youth system, while Stanley Nsoki, Timothy Weah, Antoine Bernede and Christopher Nkunku are on the fringes of Thomas Tuchel’s squad.
Crystal Palace defender Mamadou Sakho and Bayern Munich winger Kingsley Coman also spent at least three seasons at Parc des Princes before turning 21.
5= Rennes (24)
Borussia Dortmund sold Ousmane Dembele to Barcelona for an initial fee of €105m in summer 2017 – not bad business for a player who spent just a single season at Signal Iduna Park. BVB had themselves parted with just €15m to acquire the forward from Rennes, the club where it all began for the France international.
Rennes have long enjoyed a fine reputation for their development of young players, with Yann M’Vila and Yoann Gourcuff other high-profile names who have passed through Roazhon Park in recent years.
5= Manchester United (24)
Manchester United have long prided themselves on the productivity of their academy, having fielded a youth product in every single matchday squad since 1937 – a truly remarkable record for a club of their size.
Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Paul Pogba, Andreas Pereira and Scott McTominay have helped to continue that tradition in 2018/19, but United have academy graduates littered throughout the Premier League, with Everton’s Michael Keane, Leicester’s Jonny Evans, Chelsea’s Danny Drinkwater, Arsenal’s Danny Welbeck and Burnley’s Tom Heaton all having started their professional careers at Old Trafford.
4. Athletic Club (26)
Athletic Club’s Basque-only transfer policy means they naturally rely heavily on their academy to produce players for the first team – no fewer than 12 former youth-teamers, including Iker Muniain, Markel Susaeta and Aritz Aduriz, are currently part of Eduardo Berizzo’s squad at San Mames.
Manchester City defender Aymeric Laporte, Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga and Tottenham striker Fernando Llorente trod a similar path in the past, before moving to another club in one of Europe’s top five leagues.
3. Barcelona (34)
Barcelona’s La Masia is perhaps the most famous youth academy in world football, so it’s no surprise to see them so high up this ranking. Alumni Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets have been integral to their success over the last decade, with Sergi Roberto and Rafinha having progressed to the first team more recently.
Chelsea duo Pedro Rodriguez and Cesc Fabregas also won trophies at Camp Nou before departing for pastures new, while fellow Barcelona academy products Martin Montoya (Brighton) and Gerard Deulofeu (Watford) are also plying their trade in one of Europe’s leading competitions in 2018/19.
2. Lyon (35)
Lyon’s nicknames (Les Gones) translates as 'The Kids', which is apt given their excellent record when it comes to developing young players. Nabil Fekir, Anthony Lopez, Maxwel Cornet and Houssem Aouar have all made the step up from youth team to senior squad and will be hoping to take l'OL to a top-two finish in Ligue 1 this season.
Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, Arsenal’s Alexandre Lacazette, Sevilla’s Maxime Gonalons and Bayern Munich’s Corentin Tolisso are all testament to the strength of Lyon’s academy.
1. Real Madrid (36)
Real Madrid may be better associated with galactico signings than developing their own talent, but no club in European football has produced more players currently employed by a side in La Liga, Serie A, the Premier League, Ligue 1 or the Bundesliga.
As well as current first-teamers Dani Carvajal, Raphael Varane, Mariano Diaz, Lucas Vazquez, Nacho Fernandez and Marcos Llorente, Chelsea’s Alvaro Morata, PSG’s Jese Rodriguez and Napoli’s Jose Callejon also came through the youth system at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Greg Lea is a freelance football journalist who's filled in wherever FourFourTwo needs him since 2014. He became a Crystal Palace fan after watching a 1-0 loss to Port Vale in 1998, and once got on the scoresheet in a primary school game against Wilfried Zaha's Whitehorse Manor (an own goal in an 8-0 defeat).