Homegrown players should be the pride of every club; they serve as a testament to the local footballing culture, management and training. Unfortunately, their numbers are getting thinner and thinner as the market keeps providing increasing amounts of money for transfers. We’ve decided to list eleven football clubs who pride themselves on their youth academies, tradition and hard work.
While club owner Zdravko Mamic continues to find himself in all kinds of legal troubles, there’s no denying his club Dinamo Zagreb has a youth academy to be proud of. Names like Luka Modric, Eduardo, Dejan Lovren and Mateo Kovacic have brought foreign scouts to the Croatian capital on numerous occasions. The players seem to get sold quickly, but there’s always a new wave of Croatian wunderkinds to be found at Dinamo.
The famous “Boca Factory” in Argentina has produced quite a few names worth mentioning over the years. The legendary midfielder Juan Roman Riquelme, the controversial (yet talented) striker Carlos Tevez; oh and don’t forget Nico Gaitan, Nicolas Burdisso and Fernando Gago. Things may have been slowing down in recent times, but fans of the club claim not to be worried and that a new generation of winners is on its way.
The youth set-up at St Mary’s, on the south coast of England, is getting more attention by the day, thanks to the success of their prodigies across the nation and beyond. Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott and Luke Shaw were all sold for hefty sums, which enabled Southampton to become quite a respectable club striving for a place in Europe – the Saint’s aspirations, too, are reaching new heights, as time goes on and their academy thrives. Let’s not forget that a certain Welshman, Gareth Bale, also passed through their ranks.
Athletic Bilbao’s transfer policy stipulates that the club may only sign Basque players, but this (politically motivated) principle has not been to the Athletic’s detriment. The youth academy in Bilbao teaches discipline and devotion and has produced a significant number of Spain’s international stars; some of the better known ones are Iker Muniain, Ander Herrera and Fernando Llorente. This dedication to developing local talent has arguably helped Athletic become one of the most successful football clubs in Spanish history.
West Ham’s most famous nickname is undoubtedly “The Hammers”. But there’s another one that many people overlook: “The Academy”. The London club has a long tradition of producing skilled players adept at playing many different positions – some of the most notable among them being Frank Lampard, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Joe Cole and Michael Carrick. West Ham also contributed to England’s only World Cup title in 1966 by developing players such as Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst.
Portugal, for all its size, is a nation brimming with football talent, and Sporting CP have been at the epicentre of the country’s development system for years. After presenting Luis Figo to the world back in 1989, the Lisbon team have also shown us the likes of Nani, Joao Moutinho, Rui Patricio and last, but certainly not least, Cristiano Ronaldo.
The “Galacticos” are as famous for bringing in foreign talent as they are for producing their own superstars. The list of Real Madrid’s graduates features names such as Raul, Guti, Iker Casillas, Juan Mata and Alvaro Morata. Not bad for a club that’s always appears ready to “splash the cash” on a new signing or two.
Researching the famous ‘Class of ‘92’, with Beckham, Giggs, Scholes, Butt and the Neville brothers is probably the most effective way of getting to know Manchester United’s footballing DNA. Hard work, friendship and discipline are the principles Sir Alex Ferguson instilled in many a boy over the years, and his legacy is still very much alive, with the likes of young Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard fighting for their club on the pitch. These players were given their chance in the first team by the current manager, Louis Van Gaal, who also has a history of developing footballing talent.
Their players were at the core of Germany’s 2014 World Cup winning side and have been with the national team for years. Their youngsters have been dazzling Europe and many remain at the top of the game even when they leave the club. We’re talking, of course, about German giants Bayern Munich. Some of Bayern’s most prominent players include Thomas Muller, Philipp Lahm, David Alaba and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Toni Kroos, Mats Hummels, Emre Can and Owen Hargreaves, too, have been taught to play at this famous youth academy. Enough said.
There is no getting around mentioning Johan Cruyff whenever one talks at length about football. Ajax Amsterdam is a team that has changed the way many of us think about tactics, scoring and enjoying the game. With names like Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf, Christian Eriksen and Wesley Sneijder, it’s easy to see why Ajax is proud of the training methods and philosophy used at the youth academy. The academy is always rethinking drills and focusing on different aspects of the game, and this style has proven to be truly unique and uncopiable.
Messi. Puyol. Xavi. Iniesta. Pique. Pedro. Thiago Alcantara. Busquets. Thiago Motta. Fabregas. Victor Valdes.
We couldn’t possibly name all the world-class players Barcelona’s famous La Masia has produced over the years, which is why they are Top Eleven’s unanimous top academy this time. It’s not just developing Catalan players that La Masia does brilliantly; it’s also bringing in talent from all over the globe to create a highly cohesive, loyal group of players capable of dominating the world of football.
Which youth academy do you find fascinating or think is the best? Tell us in the Top Eleven blog’s comments section!