What are the best football academies in England? Is a question we get asked on a weekly basis. But, finding a complete answer is not simple. It all depends on what you define as ‘best’. Is it:
- The amount of academy graduates in the current first team
- How many academy graduates play in Europe’s top 5 leagues
- Or the most successful youth academies for winning silverware
These are just some of the factors that may affect your judgement of how effective a football academy is.
The Best Football Academies for Producing Premier League Players
This comparison will assess how clear the pathway is from youth development to the first team. By looking at how many academy graduates are in Premier League first team squads. The player must still be under contract with at least one Premier League appearance for the club. This will allow us to rate each team on how efficient they are on bringing through youth talent.
Have a general question about football academies, check out out football academies FAQ’s page.
Influence of the Elite Player Performance Plan
2012’s overhaul of English youth development has improved academy coaching, facilities and games programs. But, has the injection of funds increased homegrown players appearing in the Premier League? Or is a ‘player rental strategy’ such as Chelsea’s model, hindering some our young stars. Find out more about the EPPP football academy categories here.
We will assess how this compares with the likes of Southampton, West Ham and Arsenal, famed for giving young players a chance. So let’s begin our comparison of Premier League youth academy productivity and assess who has the best football academy in England?
Best Football Academies: Premier League Clubs with no Academy Graduates
There are three Premier League teams with no academy graduates in their first team squad. The first on our list is AFC Bournemouth.
AFC Bournemouth Academy Productivity
AFC Bournemouth’s rapid rise through the football leagues has seen them defy all odds. Their attractive football and beach location has attracted international stars such as Jack Wilshere to the club. However, this hasty progression has not helped the club build the infrastructure needed to produce Premier League standard players.
It is also their second season in the Premier League and the clubs size compared to the elite may provide a reason choosing proven players is key to survival.
Danny Ings and Sam Vokes are the most notable players Cherries academy. However, their Category three academy status may show the current investment and resources geared toward youth development. Find out more about AFC Bournemouth academy here.
Hull Tigers Academy Productivity
The second team that has deployed no graduates this season are Hull Tigers. Recent promotion and a change of manager may highlight why a short-term strategy is in place. Hull are not known for producing Premier League stars. However, players such as Dean Windass and Clayton Donaldson both learned their trade with the Tigers making a name for themselves in the lower leagues. Find out more about Hull Tigers Academy here.
Swansea City Academy Productivity
The final team with no academy graduates in their squad is the highest ranked Welsh team in football, Swansea City. With a Category One Academy and 5 consecutive seasons the Premier League you would expect Swansea to be attracting and producing great young talent. The club that brought through the likes of Joe Allen and Ben Davies have had a few managerial changes in recent season. Perhaps slowing the chances for youth debutants in the first team. However, introducing youth players can spark a no fear attitude into a lifeless first team set up. Find out more about Swansea City Academy here.
Best Football Academies: Premier League Clubs with 1 Academy Graduates
Moving on from the ‘no kids allowed zone’, we compare the Premier League teams with only one player flying the flag for the clubs academy. One ‘minnow’, another a team entering their fourth consecutive top-flight season and the other one of the richest clubs in the world. First up the new boys…
Burnley FC Academy Productivity
Burnley has only one player in the current first team Squad who has spent time in their category two academy. Originally from Australia Aiden O’Neil came to England aged 16 from Brisbane Athletic to further his career.
Similar to Bournemouth and Swansea, Burnley’s target for this season is to reach the safety of 42 points in the league. So bedding youngster may not be at the forefront of the manager’s plans. Find out more about Burnley Fc’s Academy here.
Crystal Palace Academy Productivity
Also with only one first team academy player is South London-based Crystal Palace. The Eagle’s academy is where Victor Moses, Ben Watson, Tom Soares and Wayne Routledge all began their professional careers. However, this season it’s only Fergie’s last signing Wilfred Zaha bridging the gap between the development squad and first team.
We’re sure the Palace senior management will expect a lot more bang for their buck for the financial investment needed to run a Category one academy. Find out more about Crystal Palace Academy here.
Manchester City Academy Productivity
The final team in our ‘one man show’ tier of academy productivity is the new European superpower Manchester City.
Sheikh Mansour’s cheque book has allowed the citizens to transform the whole make-up of the club. Huge investment in the first team, youth team, women’s team and infrastructure is evident for all to see.
With all this financial resource, success will follow. In a short space of time, City have won:
- 2 Premier League titles
- The Women’s Super League title
- The U21’s Premier League international Cup
- U18’s PDL National Champions
However, even with all the success at youth level, it is only Kelechi Iheanacho who has broken through and cemented his place in the squad. This is a far removed from the system that made Shaun Wright-Phillips, Micah Richards, Stephen Ireland, Daniel Sturridge and Joey Barton such household names. Check out our Manchester City Academy guide for more info.
Best Football Academies: Premier League Clubs with 2 Academy Graduates
The remaining clubs all invest in their Category One Academies. This is no surprise as these clubs are investing a lot of time and resource in producing players top class players.
The next few clubs comprise the current Premier League Champions, a previous UEFA Cup finalist and a club known as ‘The Academy of Football’. However with only two academy prospects in the first team ranks, maybe the latter should be called ‘The Club Formerly Known as the Academy of Football’.
Leicester City Academy Productivity
Leicester City defied all odds by lifting the Premier League trophy in 2016. However, it was more of a ‘ Moneyball’ strategy than ‘Class of 92’ repeat that brought home the title.
Although the club that developed former England internationals Gary Lineker, Peter Shilton, and Emile Heskey can still claim a duo of academy products in the current first team. Andy King and Jeffrey Schlupp are now Premier League winners and are very much in the manager plans. For more information on Leicester City academy check out our ultimate guide.
Middlesbrough FC Academy Productivity
Steward Downing and Ben Gibson are the only two academy grads in the current Middlesbrough first team. It appears established players are the chosen route for survival, opposed to letting the Category One talent loose on the Premier League just yet. This may be the safest option. Although English teams need aggression in the middle of the park, something former Middlesbrough Academy graduates Lee Cattermole and Christ Brunt had in abundance. Find out all about Middlesbrough FC academy here.
West Ham United Academy Productivity
The hammers complete the list of teams with only two academy graduates which came as a big surprise to us. The academy that coached Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Glen Johnson and Jermain Defoe, appears as if the talent conveyor belt may in need some WD40.
Current club captain Mark Noble and potential wonder kid Reece Oxford are the only Irons academy players in the squad. Does this signal a shift in focus from the East London club? What to know more about West Ham’s Academy, check out our ultimate guide here.
Best Football Academies: Premier League Clubs with 3 Academy Graduates:
Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion are the only clubs with three academies players each in their squad. Both well-established Premier League teams, although flirting with relegations is an annual occurrence.
This said they still trust in local players. A mantra that would appear to run throughout the club by ensuring their Category One academy recruits train and play at the higher standard of youth football.
Sunderland FC Academy Productivity
Sunderland’s academy most famous exports are Jordan Henderson, Michael Gray, Michael Bridges, all three progressing through the youth team, before becoming Premier League regulars. Something we’re sure the current trio of academy Lynden Gooch, Rees Greenwood, Jordan Pickford would love to replicate. For a more in depth look at Sunderland FC Academy click here.
West Bromwich Albion Academy
The Baggies haven’t such a rich history of bringing through young talent. But they still have Saido Berahino, Sam Field and Jonathon Leko in the current first team squad – despite how hard Berahino tries for a transfer.
Best Football Academies: Premier League Clubs with 4 Academy Graduates
One of, if not the most excited group of academy players ever were Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Phil Neville and Nicky Butt. Given their debut by Sir Alex, his formula of young local talent with seasoned internationals brought huge success at the Theatre of dreams. Even if some pundits were against the idea.
“You can’t win anything with kids” Alan Hansen August 19, 1995
However, after a few barren years of youth production, the current crop has smashed the door wide open for future development squad players. So, if you’re good enough, you’ll get a chance at the Premier League’s most successful club.
Timothy Fosu Mensah, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba all taking their chance with both hands. Cementing themselves in the manager’s thinking and could/should be for years to come.
Chelsea FC Academy Productivity
There has been discussions about the limited first team chances given to Chelsea’s youth players and the club use of the loan system. In recent seasons The Blues have sent players to other clubs throughout Europe. Whether it’s proving to the manager they are worth a place in Chelsea’s first team. Or to add a few 0’s on the end of the price tag, is yet to be seen. However even with 38 players out on loan Chelsea are still ahead of the majority of Premier League clubs in giving academy graduates a chance.
Since Roman Abramovic took over chances for young talent has been sparse, with exception to Ryan Bertrand, Robert Huth, and John Terry the only notable graduates in this time.
Mr. Chelsea (Terry) is still club captain, playing alongside former youth team players Ola Aina, Nathaniel Chalobah, Ruben Loftus-Cheek. A clear message to all Chelsea Loanee’s that first team opportunities are available if they perform well.
Liverpool FC Academy Productivity
One of England’s most successful teams both domestically and in Europe is Liverpool FC. With a rich history of producing players who understand the values and playing style of the Merseyside club. The list of academy products includes football greats past and present with the likes of:
- Robbie Fowler
- Steven Gerrard
- Jamie Carragher
- Michael Owen
- Steve McMannan
- Phil Thompson
- Raheem Sterling
Although today’s crop of first team youth prospects are not yet household names, we’re sure that Klopp will help Cameron Brannagan, Pedro Chirivella, Sheyi Ojo, Connor Randall break through and develop into key players for the club.
Tottenham Hotspurs FC Academy Productivity
Last season was exciting for everyone involved with Spurs. This is due to the youthfulness of the current squad and the lack of fear this has brought.
The Tottenham’s youth team banner was previously flown by club legends Sol Campbell, Ledley King, and Peter Crouch. However, new boys Tom Carroll, Harry Kane, Josh Onomah and Harry Winks seem to understand what it takes to represent The Lilywhites. We’re hopeful for England’s sake players of this ability keep on coming through the Tottenham ranks.
Best Football Academies: Premier League Clubs with 5 Academy Graduates
Already we can see that some bigger clubs are giving squad numbers to players who have worked their way through the development pathway. Although the jury is still out on whether enough players are getting the chance what they can do on the main stage.
The final 3 Premier League clubs statically show the best chance of progressing into the first team through the academy system.
Arsenal FC Academy Productivity
First up is the final team from the capital, Arsenal FC. Since Arsène took charge, he has always worked with the mantra ‘if you’re good enough you’re old enough’ and this was evident as Cesc Fàbregas took the captain’s armband at age 21.
However, Wenger wasn’t the first Gunners manager to build his squads around academy graduates. Below is a list of household names having come off the Arsenal academy productive line:
- Tony Adams
- Andy Cole
- Paul Merson
- Ray Parlour
- Martin Keown
- Graham Rix
- Michael Thomas
- Jack Wilshere
- Liam Brady
- Pat Rice
This is just a snapshot of youth products that progressed to play Arsenal and represent their country.
However, unlike some of the other ‘Top 4′ teams, Arsenal always trust in their youthful recruits not only in the league cup but also in the Premier League. This season is no different with no less than 5 grads representing the north London club’s first team.
Chuba Akpom, Hector Bellerin, Francis Coquelin, Keiran Gibbs and Alex Iwobi all climing the development pyramid at London Colney. It will be interesting to see how these players grow whilst playing alongside the likes of Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Özil.
Everton FC Academy Productivity
The final 5-star team is Everton FC who like their local rivals Liverpool has always produced well-rounded footballers. England’s current captain Wayne Rooney is the most high-profile grad to come through Everton’s pathway. However, fan favorites Leon Osman, Leighton Baines and Tony Hibbert are also worth a mention.
Everton’s current first team has the new generation of players bidding to take the club forward. Understanding what it takes to play for The Toffees, Ross Barkley, Tyias Browning, Tom Davies, Matthew Pennington and Kieran Dowell all climbed the ladder through to first team opportunities, ensuring the rich production line is represented well.
Best Football Academies: Premier League Clubs with 6 Academy Graduates
The final team on the list of best football academies in England is no doubt the team you expected all along. With a youth department guilty of producing, Matthew Le Tissier, Alan Shearer, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale, Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana, it’s no surprise the club continues to invest in the youth.
At present, there are six (yes six) players in the first team squad that put in the hard yards at Saints academy to progress to the first team. These home-grown stars are Jake Hesketh, Lloyd Isgove, Sam McQueen, Harrison Reed, Matt Target and James Ward-Prowse.
So there you go. The best football academies in the UK or the football academy with the best chance of breaking through to the first team is Southampton FC Academy.
We hope this shows you which clubs have a high focus on youth production and seeing a player’s progression all the way through to the first team. As mentioned before, this is just one factor of measurement on how good an academy is, but we hope this provides you with a better understanding of how difficult it is in the current football system to progress.
What are your thoughts on this, do you think the current players coming through the EPPP system are good enough? Is the pressure on manager stifling the production and progression of young English players? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Now you know the best football academies with the greatest chance of progression to the first team. Find out more about them by checking out our ultimate guide on every academy in the English Football League. Or if you read our guide on how to get a football trial in England.