What are the best football academies in Europe at training top level footballers?
Europe’s elite football teams include star players from all over the globe. No longer can players expect to spend their whole career at one club. Totti and Terry may be among the last few ‘clubman’.
With such high competition for academy graduates, players often need to find first team football at other European clubs. With the inevitable club swapping throughout a player’s career, it’s hard to keep track of where a player’s career started. We wanted to find out which youth academy produced the most top-level footballers in the world.
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The Best Football Academies in Europe
Football observatory has found out which club has the best production line for current players in UEFA’s Top 5 Major leagues.
Most online polls predict teams like Barcelona, Manchester United and Sporting Lisbon for bringing through the most elite players. The likes of Ronaldo, Messi and the ‘Class of 92’ may influence people’s judgement here.
So how do these clubs – famed for producing talent – fair in today’s transfer crazy world? Where owners expect immediate success and allow less time for bedding in youth players.
Let us find out with the list of the best football academies for producing elite football players.
How to Judge The Best Football Academies in Europe
The research carried out by footballobservaty.com looked at every player playing in UEFA’s top 5 major leagues:
- English Premier League
- Spanish La Liga
- Italian Seria A
- German Bundesliga
- French League 1
The guidelines for the research compared players who were officially trained by a club. UEFA’s club train player guidelines are:
“A player who, between the age of 15–21, has been registered with his current club for three entire seasons or of 36 months.“
UEFA Guidelines 2010
The research covers players in domestic squads before October 1st 2016. Looking at each club’s current squad and players who play for other top European clubs.
Top 15 Clubs at Producing Players for the Top 5 Major European Leagues
The first two clubs on our list are joint with 20 ‘club trained’ players in the top 5 European leagues. These clubs are River Plate FC and St-Etienne FC.
River Plate FC
The Argentinian super club is the only non-European team on the list. With 36 Premera Division titles, the club is used to success and this winning mentality appears to run through their academy graduates. Javier Mascherano, Gonzalo Higuaín, Radamel Falcao and Erik Lamela were all trained by River Plate academy.
River Plate has 20 club-trained players in Europe’s top 5 leagues.
River Plate is joint in 14th place with Ligue 1 team St-Etienne. The French club may not be among Europe’s elite, but has a history of producing top class players. Current club trained stars include Blaise Matuidi, Kurt Zouma, Dimitri Payet and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
St- Etienne has 6 academy players in their first team squad and 15 playing in the top 5 major leagues.
The Joint 11th Best Football Academies In Europe – Paris Saint Germain, FC Bordeaux and Nantes FC
The next three clubs on the list also play in the French Ligue 1.
Paris Saint Germain
Even with all the financial investment and activity in the transfer market, French giants PSG can still produce top-level players. Only seven club-trained players could secure a place in the first team. 14 other club-trained players are playing for other clubs within the top 5 leagues.
Kingsley Coman, Adrien Rabiot and Mamadou Sakho all started their careers in Paris, before transferring to different clubs.
Paris Saint Germain has 21 club-trained players in the top 5 European leagues.
Joining the French champions is fellow Ligue 1 team, FC Bordeaux. Holding on to their best club-trained players has been a challenge for the six times French Ligue 1 winners. Mathieu Valbuena, Rio Mavuba and Grzegorz Krychowiak among those players opting to move to bigger clubs.
The first team squad has 9 academy graduates, with a further 12 playing in Europe’s top 5 leagues. Making 21 club-trained players in the top 5 European leagues.
The third French team joint on 21 club-trained players is FC Nantes. Having won the French title 8 times FC Nantes experienced earlier success. But, keeping pace with the big boys has been difficult in recent years.
Jérémy Toulalan, Jordan Veretout and Georges-Kevin N’Koudou all trained with the Ligue 1 club youth academy.
Nantes FC has 10 academy graduates in their first team squad and 11 playing in the top 5 European leagues.
The 8th Best Football Academies In Europe – Stade Rennais FC, AS Monaco and Arsenal FC
There are three European clubs in joint 8th place in the list, two from French Ligue 1 and one from the Premier League.
Stade Rennais FC
Rennes FC has never won the French title, but the club has lifted the French cup twice.
Rennes current squad has 4 club trained players. There are 18 academy graduates playing elsewhere in Europe’s top 5 major leagues.
Three notable players are Ousmane Dembélé, Moussa Sow, Abdoulaye Doucouré.
Like PSG, Monaco’s billionaire owners target league and European success with big money signings opposed to promoting youth players. There is only room for 5 club trained players in the first team squad. In addition 17 playing for clubs in the top 5 leagues.
Three high profile academy graduates are Yannick Carrasco, Layvin Kurzawa and Nampalys Mendy.
22 AS Monaco trained graduates are playing in Europe’s top 5 leagues.
The final club on 22 club-trained players is North London based club Arsenal FC.
One of England’s most successful clubs with 13 league titles, Arsenal academy has always produced technical players. Recent big names are Jack Wilshere, Héctor Bellerín and Wojciech Szczesny.
13 Arsenal academy graduates play in the top 5 leagues and 9 play for the first team.
Check out our guide to Arsenal FC Academy.
The 7th Best Football Academy in Europe – AS Roma
AS Roma is the only Italian team in the top 15 teams for top level club trained players. The likes of Alessandro Florenzi, Alessio Romagnoli, Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi are all former academy players.
Totti and De Rossi are 2 of the 3 academy graduates in the current Roma squad. The 21 other club-trained players throughout the top 5 leagues, make 24 in total.
The 5th Best Football Academies in Europe – Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao
Joint 5th on the best academies list are La Liga teams Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao.
Real Sociedad FC
Seven straight seasons in the Spanish top flight has helped Real Sociedad secure their status in the national league. With 16 club trained squad members, the message is clear to youth players. Progression is possible if you are good enough.
Notable Real Sociedad club trained players are Antoine Griezmann, Asier Illarramendi, Xabi Alonso.
Besides the 16 squad players, 9 club-trained graduates play for other teams in the top 5 major leagues, making 25 players.
To match the 25 players of Real Sociedad, Bilbao also has 17 graduates in their first team and 8 playing in the top 5 league.
With 96% of the current Bilbao squad Spanish nationals, youth development is essential. Aymeric Laporte, Iñaki Williams and Iker Muniain are notable Bilbao academy graduates.
The 4th Best Football Academies in Europe – Lyon
Olympique Lyonnais (Lyon)
The final French Ligue 1 team is Lyon FC. The seven-times French champions have a rich history of producing outstanding players. Ludovic Giuly and Frédéric Kanouté are notable club trained players, although recent players are even better.
Karim Benzema, Alexandre Lacazette, Anthony Martial are three of the current academy graduates who play at the highest level.
Lyon has 12 academy graduates in their current squad and 17 around Europe’s top 5 leagues, making at total of 29 players.
The 3 Best Football Academies in Europe for producing Top 5 European League Players
Manchester United FC
The third is England’s most successful team, Manchester United. Going through a sticky patch in the league since Alex Ferguson retirement, United are still prominent in the transfer market and youth development.
The Red Devils first team has 6 club trained players and a massive 28 academy players in Europe’s elite leagues. This adds up to 34 academy graduates.
Notable graduates are Paul Pogba, Danny Welbeck and Ryan Shawcross.
Find out more about Manchester United’s Academy here.
In Second place is one of the most consistent youth production factories in the world. ‘La Masia’ is the formidable football academy of FC Barcelona.
La Liga Champions 24 times, Barcelona’s rivalry with Real Madrid is fierce even at youth level.
Some of the world’s leading players came through ‘La Masia’, including world cup winners Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fàbregas and Gerard Piqué.
Even with big money imports such as Luis Suárez and Neymar Jr, FC Barcelona has 7 ‘La Masia’ graduates in the first team squad. In addition, 30 club-trained graduates play in Europe’s top 5 leagues, raising the total to 37.
Real Madrid FC
The number one team at producing top-level footballers is Real Madrid FC.
Famous for bringing Galacticos to the Bernabeu, youth development is still in the plans.
Players such as Álvaro Morata, Saúl Ñíguez, Juan Mata and Filipe Luís all began their careers in Madrid.
Real Madrid has more club trained squad players (7) than rivals Barcelona (6). This may show where Zidane’s focus lies.
Real has 41 club-trained players throughout Europe’s top 5 leagues, crowning them the best academy for development elite footballers in the world.
Honourable Mentions for English Academies
Spurs are in joint 23rd for producing top 5 major league players.
10 Players in current squad, 7 players in other top 5 European Leagues; Total of 17 players
Notable Players: Harry Kane, Andros Townsend, Nabil Bentaleb. Find out more about Tottenham’s Academy
Southampton FC and Chelsea in joint 37th place
5 Players in current squad, 8 players in other top 5 European Leagues; Total of 13 players
Notable Players: Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott and Luke Shaw. More on Southampton’s Academy here
3 Players in current squad, 10 players in other top 5 European Leagues; Total of 13 players
Notable Players: Ryan Bertrand, Robert Huth and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Find out all you need to know on Chelsea’s Academy here.
Manchester City FC is joint 45th Place
1 player in current squad, 11 players in the top 5 European Leagues; Total of 12 players
Notable Manchester City Academy players: Daniel Sturridge, Kelechi Iheanacho and Kasper Schmeichel.
So there you go, the definitive list of best football academies in Europe that produce the most elite footballers.
Real Madrid edging out rivals last season’s winners, Barcelona.
The report highlights the sorry state of the English Premier League. Only 10% of players are still playing for the club that trained them. In contrast, La Liga teams average 24.1% of club-trained players. No doubt a big factor in why Spain has dominated club and international tournaments over the past 15 years.
Only time will show if the Premier Leagues EPPP system increases the number of club trained players in years to come.
Although French Ligue 1 is not as competitive as the English Premier League, seven teams in the top 15 show the quality of players produced. The French national team is reaping the benefits of this larger choice of top-level players.
What are your thoughts? Should English clubs put more focus on producing high-quality players? Is the international team suffering because of it?