Top 5: Youth Football Academies in the World
When I was 16 and starting my coaching career, I always wondered where the next Messi or Ronaldo was going to come from. There are so many great youth football academies in the world, that any one of them could produce the next world’s best. So I have broken it down to the top 5 youth football academies in the world. These views are my own and there are plenty of great academies. We have a lot to talk about so let’s dive right into it.
Notable Products: Gareth Bale and Alan Shearer
I know fifth place seems high for Southampton, but with their recent products and their current youngsters, I am going to justify this position. Even while they were playing in the third tier of English Football, Southampton continued to produce players that were the envy of the country’s top teams.
Gareth Bale is the most recent top product of Southampton, but Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Luke Shaw, James Ward-Prowse, and Alan Shearer are all very good footballers who have emerged from St Mary’s. Youngsters Callum Slattery, Jake Hesket, Will Wood, and Josh Debayo will all find themselves in the clubs first team squad, and look set to continue the clubs recent record of breeding their own quality players.
Notable Products: Jan Vertonghen and Christian Eriksen
If this was a historical list, Ajax would be first, however current production puts Ajax a few spots lower in my opinion. Ajax Academy graduates of past include Johan Cruyff, Frank Rijkaard, Dennis Bergkamp, Frank and Ronald de Boer, Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf and Patrick Kluivert. Just hearing those names reminds you of the world power Ajax Academy was, and still is. However, while Ajax may have slipped slightly, they still have easily one of the top academies in world football. Recent youth products feature the likes of Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder, Nigel de Jong, Maarten Stekelenburg, Daley Blind, Urby Emanuelson, Christian Eriksen, Thomas Vermaelen, and Jan Vertonghen, and to be honest I could keep going with names. While others may have produced greater quality, Ajax has produce a lot more players at the top levels of world football. Current youth players we need to watch are Kasper Dolberg, and Leon Bergsma.
3. Sporting Lisbon
Notable Products: Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo
Since producing Luis Figo in 1989, Sporting Lisbon have been at the center of Portugal’s young footballing talent. Rui Patricio, Eric Dier, Nani, Simao, Joao Moutinho, Miguel Veloso, Ricardo Quaresma, Silvestre Varela, Beto, Jose Fonte, Luis Boa Morte and Nene are just some of many talents to have emerged from the Sporting Academy since Ballon d’Or winner Luis Figo. However, all are overlooked by Sporting’s most notable academy product, Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo, to some the greatest player in the world, has won the Ballon d’Or on three occasions and played 25 times for Sporting before joining Manchester United at the age of 18. Sporting is looking to produce the next Ronaldo, and have a few players we should pay attention to like Bubacar Djalớ, Domingos Duarte, and Ponde.
2. Bayern Munich
Notable Products: Thomas Muller and Franz Beckenbauer
Bayern’s power in Germany is daunting, and one of the things that pulls fans away from watching the Bundesliga is Bayern’s dominance and freakish ability to lure the best players from their competitors. As a Borussia Dortmund fan myself, the transfer window is terrifying. Regardless of this, in recent years, Bayern themselves have had one of the best academies in the game. Their current squad includes academy graduates like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Holger Badstuber, Thomas Muller, David Alaba and Gianluca Gaudino. Upcoming in their production machine is Joshua Kimmich, Sinan Kurt, and Marco Stefandl, and in a five years I predict Bayern Munich will be the number one producing youth academy in the world
Notable Products: Lionel Messi and Pep Guardiola
The unquestionable best youth academy in world soccer today is Barcelona. In truth, even as powerful as Bayern has become in the last 5 years, no other club comes close to the conveyor belt of talent that has come through Barcelona. ‘La Masia’, or ‘The Farmhouse’, as it is known, has been the world’s leading academy for over a decade. In 2012, Barcelona had a starting 11 featuring only players from their academy. I mean who does that, no one! At least not at the competitive level of La Liga. In fact, when Spain won the 2010 World Cup, seven of their starting 11 had learned the game at Barcelona.
The most notable youth products include Carles Puyol, Xavi, Pepe Reina, Victor Valdes, Mikel Arteta, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Thiago Motta, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Bojan, Pedro, Jordi Alba, Giovani dos Santos, Sergi Roberto, Cristian Tello, Gerard Deulofeu, Marc Bartra and Thiago Alcantara, etc. etc. etc. The talent of Barcelona Youth Academy is one of a kind. Despite the quite incredible talents of the players listed above, once more, one man overshadows the rest. Lionel Messi is Barcelona’s finest youth product, and possibly the best player in the history of the game. His balance, aptitude, skill, vision, passing and dribbling are all reflected in the ‘La Masia’ philosophy and Messi is undoubtedly their best representative. So the question is, who could be the next Messi? Barcelona’s players to watch are, Oriol Busquets, Carles Aleñá, and Lee Seung-Woo.
By Sean Downey. – Michigan Tournament Solutions writer