During the past decade the idea of promoting youth products through the ranks has become somewhat of a rarity, but in this list I’ll rank those who have bucked the trend and have managed to produce some of the most influential players of the modern era.
Schalke – The fact that the recent 2014 World Cup winning Germany side included four products of the Gelsenkirchen academy is a clear indication of their quality for producing young talent. The club’s products include Manuel Neuer – a player viewed by many as the worlds best goalkeeper and Mesut Özil – who had a fantastic season for Arsenal, assisting 18 times in the Premier league (with 18). Two other prized products include Benedikt Höwedes and Julian Draxler (who moved to Wolfsburg in August 2015). These two were integral to Schalke’s ability to maintain their coveted Champions League spot year after year before the latter’s departure this time a year ago.
An honourable mention goes to keeper Jens Lehmann who played almost a decade with his boyhood club before playing in both Italy and England. In the Premier League with Arsenal, he won won the league and held the record for the most consecutive clean sheets in the Champions League – with ten.
Key products: Max Meyer, Benedikt Höwedes, Julian Draxler, Mesut Özil , Manuel Neuer, Joel Matip and Jens Lehmann,
Southampton – The south coast English outfit has become renowned for selling some of their best players in recent seasons – with Dejan Lovren, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana (academy product), Sadio Mané and Morgan Schneiderlin among just some of those sold off in the recent past.
But the aura that surrounds the club has come about as a result of not just the numbers but also the sheer quality of the players that are produced. Their most spectacular product will of course be Gareth Bale (who’s currently the world’s most expensive player), whilst accomplished England winger Theo Walcott is also a house hold name amongst fans of Arsenal and the worldwide franchise that’s the Premier League.
Fellow academy products Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Callum Chambers have also made the move to North London in recent seasons, and have once again gone on to prove the worth of Southampton’s academy. Luke Shaw is also another successful product of the academy, and his defensive assurance lead to Manchester United splashing out £30 million on this future England prodigy a couple of seasons ago.
Southampton have also produced the Premier League’s top scorer in Alan Shearer (with 260 goals), as well as fan favourite midfielder Matt Le Tissier, who contributed over 100 goals and assists during their time in the Premier League.
Key Products: Gareth Bale, Alan Shearer, Matt Le Tissier, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Luke Shaw
Lyon – Before the Arab riches transformed the fortunes of PSG, Lyon were the dominant force in French football, and their multiple academy graduates helped contribute towards seven consecutive Ligue 1 titles between 2001 and 2008. Two exiled French internationals in Hatem Ben Arfa and Karim Benzema were particularly integral in securing just some of those titles they accumulated.
Lyon are now beginning the process of producing another batch of sensational youngsters, with Alexandre Lacazette (one of the most prolific strikers in Ligue 1 during recent seasons) and Nabil Fekir, who has the creative vision to consistently supply Lacazette with the service any striker would thrive off attracting the attention of some of Europe’s biggest clubs.
Commanding centre-back Samuel Umtiti has just completed a €25 million transfer to Barcelona after impressing for the club since making his debut in 2012.
Key products: Hatem Ben Arfa, Karim Benzema, Alexandre Lacazette, Nabil Fekir, Samuel Umtiti, Maxime Gonalons and Loïc Rémy
Bayern Munich – The Bavarian side have dominated the top flight of German football for well over a decade now, and this due in no small part to their plentiful supply of talented youngsters. Their finest export is definitely Franz Beckenbauer, who is one only two men to have ever won the World Cup both as a player and a manager. They have also produced Bastian Schweinsteiger – who has the most appearances in the European Championships for Germany, and 2014 World Cup winning captain Philipp Lahm.
German goalkeeper Sepp Maier is also one of Bayern’s high profile products, as he spent his whole career with the club (he played 536 League games for Bayern), and was also a member of the ‘Bayern Brigade’ that won the 1974 World Cup – a team that also featured the aforementioned Beckenbauer.
Some other notable products include the versatile Austrian midfielder David Alaba and the creative linchpin of Real Madrid’s ‘La Decima’ team Toni Kroos – who both helped Bayern win numerous German titles and Cups, as well as their two consecutive Champions League final appearances (of which they won the second one against fierce rivals Borussia Dortmund, having been beaten by Chelsea the previous year).
Key products: Franz Beckenbauer, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, David Alaba, Sepp Maier, Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels
Barcelona – Barcelona’s La Masia academy has produced everything from pacy full-backs to creative visionaries that have moulded the modern era of World football with their destructive tiki-taka ideology that is indoctrinated on each and every graduate of the academy.
Crafted by the Dutch visionary Johan Cruyff, La Masia has produced the likes of Lionel Messi – commonly regarded as one of the greatest players of all time, and Carles Puyol, a domineering centre-half who’s no nonsense style of play brought about the clubs most successful era. As previously stated La Masia’s products have helped Barcelona win numerous titles, hence solidifying them amongst Europe’s elite. Many of La Masia’s products were also integral members of the Spanish national teams prolonged era of dominance – one in which they won the World Cup and two consecutive European Championships (seven players in the 2010 World Cup winning squad were from La Masia’s academy, whilst six of them started the final)
The quality of the players that La Masia has produced is undeniable, but possibly its greatest achievement comes in the form of the legacy it will leave – the tiki-taka style of play is one that will be passed down from generation to generation. This ability to revolutionise the way football is played, as well as the abundance of talented players produced is what makes La Masia stand out from the rest of the academies on this list. It also helped transform Spain from perennial underachievers, into world-beaters.
Key products : Gerard Piqué, Carles Puyol, Xavi Hernandez, Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Pep Guardiola and Sergio Busquets