CIES Football Observatory Monthly Report
Issue no. 9 - November 2015
Youth training in European football:
a comparative analysis
Drs Raffaele Poli, Loïc Ravenel and Roger Besson
Youth training is of fundamental importance for football. Without quality training, the sporting development of the game cannot be guaranteed. The level of spectacle would also be diminished, thus limiting the economic potential of the sport.
Know-how regarding training widely varies both between countries and between clubs from the same association. This Monthly Report is a comparative analysis of 31 top division leagues of UEFA member countries.
The sample is made up of footballers having played in domestic league games since the start of the season, as well as unused footballers having played in adult championships during each of the two preceding seasons. Up to three first team goalkeepers have been taken into account regardless of the conditions above.
Chapter 2 analyses the percentage of club-trained players in the squads of the 460 teams analysed. To be considered as club-trained, a footballer must have been for at least three seasons, between the ages of 15 and 21, in his employer team. This is the definition used by both UEFA and numerous European leagues within the framework of policies aimed at promoting local talent.
Chapter 3 presents the ranking of clubs having trained the most footballers playing for the teams surveyed. We make a distinction between footballers playing in the club that trained them and those playing for another team that is part of the sample.
Chapter 4 looks at footballers having begun their professional career after the 1st January 2015 in the club in which they have been playing on the 1st October of the same year [this is the date on which the CIES Football Observatory carries out its annual census since 2009]. We highlight the leagues and clubs having launched the most talent, as well as the rookies who have been able to become starting 11 players in their respective teams.
2. The employment of club-trained players
The proportion of club-trained players in the squads of the 31 leagues analysed has decreased steadily between 2009 and 2015. It has fallen from 23.1% on the 1st October 2009 to 19.7% six years later. During this period, a drop in club-trained players has been observed in each of the continental areas studied.
During last season, the decrease has been particularly sharp in the zone where teams were traditionally more inclined to giving local talents their chance: Northern Europe. The proportion of club-trained players in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden has dropped from 33.3% to 25.8% (-7.5%).
A contrary trend has been observed in Eastern Europe (+5.0%). This result is mainly due to the Russo-Ukrainian crisis and the economic woes of several clubs in many countries of this continental area.
In four out of five zones taken into account, the percentage of home-grown players in squads has never been as low as in 2015. Throughout the period, the lowest level was measured in Southern Europe. However, the percentage of club-trained players in Western European leagues is now almost as low as in the southern part of the continent.
At league level, the record value in 2015 was measured in Belarus. It is the only country where home-grown players make up over a third of squads: 34.0%. Inversely, the percentage of this category of footballers is particularly low in Turkey (8.3%) and in Italy (8.6%).
Spain is the only country among those of the five principal European leagues (the English Premier League, Spanish Liga, Italian Serie A, German Bundesliga and the French Ligue 1) where the percentage of club-trained players is over 20% [the data for all of the leagues surveyed is presented in the Digital Atlas].
Generally speaking, home-grown players have a lower employment rate than footballers trained elsewhere. This situation is principally linked to a significantly lower age of the former with regard to the latter: 23.5 years of age compared to 26.6.
Thus, from the beginning of July until the end of October 2015, club-trained players only took part in 16.3% of domestic league minutes, even though they make up 19.7% of squads. These disparities vary widely between leagues. At one extreme, in Croatia, the playing time of home-grown footballers is practically equal to that of other players. At the other, in Cyprus, the former play on average less than half as much as the latter. Figure 3 presents the data for all 31 leagues studied.
The presence of club-trained players differs radically between clubs. This category of footballers represents at least half of the squad in 24 teams. The highest percentage overall was measured in the Byelorussian side FK Gomel: 91.7% of footballers. Among the 24 teams where home-grown players make up at least half of the squad, we find clubs from 12 leagues. The majority are located in Central Europe.
There are only 19 clubs where home-grown players disputed a majority of minutes during domestic league matches played between July and October 2015. Among these, we find notably three teams of the five major European leagues: Olympique Lyonnais (55.1%), Athletico Bilbao (53.1%) and Real Sociedad (50.1%).
At the other end of the scale, 32 clubs had no club-trained players in their first team squad and 61 clubs did not field any. Of the 32 clubs, we find teams from two-thirds of the leagues analysed: 19 out of 31.
3. The best training clubs
There is no easy ready-made recipe when it comes to training expertise. Success in such a complex domain is not simply improvised. It stems from the setting up of a coherent policy on the part of clubs, leagues and national associations, as well as from the technical expertise and pedagogic knowledge of the personnel involved.
Figure 6 highlights the teams having trained the highest number of players present on the 1st October 2015 in the first team squads of the clubs studied. The ranking allows us to distinguish between footballers playing in the club that trained them and those under contract with other teams in the sample.
Similarly, we indicate the percentage of minutes on average played by home-grown footballers during domestic league matches having taken place between the beginning of July and the end of October 2015. The higher the value of the indicator, the higher the level of employment of players trained by the club in question.
Partizan Belgrade tops the ranking of training clubs out of the 31 leagues surveyed. The Serbian team trained 78 players present in the sample analysed. Thirteen play for Partizan, while 65 play for another top division team of the championships taken into account.
Of the 20 teams having trained the most players, the highest employment rate was recorded for footballers trained at Dinamo Minsk, with an average of 57.7% of minutes of play between July and October 2015. The employment rate is also above 50% for footballers trained at Sparta Prague, Real Madrid, Olympique Lyonnais, Porto and Ajax.
If we only take into account the big-5 European leagues, Barcelona is the team that trained the most footballers (44). Another Spanish side, Athletic Bilbao, has the greatest number of club-trained players in its squad (18).
Among the top 20 training clubs, Monaco clearly leads the other teams in the average percentage of minutes played by footballers trained in their academy: 64.8%. The level of employment is also over 50% for players trained at Olympique Lyonnais, Real Madrid, Real Sociedad and Bayern Munich.
4. Youth academy players launched in 2015
The notion of youth academy players defines footballers without previous professional experience who made their debut in the first team of their employer club since the 1st January of the year in question. In order to be eligible, a footballer must also still be present in the first team squad on the 1st October, the date of the annual census of the CIES Football Observatory.
In 2015, the clubs analysed launched, on average, just over one debutant. No significant trend has been measured since 2009. With the exception of 2012, the lowest values were recorded in Southern Europe. This result confirms the strong reticence of teams from the southern part of the continent to launch players without prior professional experience.
At league level, the highest value in 2015 was recorded in Ukraine: 2.29 debutants per club [the data for all of the leagues surveyed is presented in the Digital Atlas]. This situation is strongly linked to the record number of academy players launched by Metalurg Zaporizhya: 11 players.
In total, 21 teams launched at least four players without previous professional experience since the 1st January 2015. They are to be found in just 12 of the 31 leagues surveyed. Most are from Belarus and Serbia (three clubs in each country).
At player level, the debutant having played the highest percentage of minutes played between July and October 2015 is Mario Piccinocchi from Lugano (Switzerland). He is an Italian footballer who was trained at Milan AC. In the top 20 places, we notably find five footballers playing in the Dutch top division.
ll the debutants present in the above ranking have the chance of embarking on a successful career. The possibility of accumulating significant experience from the very outset of the career is indeed a determining factor in being successful in such a competitive environment as professional football [regarding this, see Monthly Report 2].
Although no one would contest that youth is the future of football, this Report shows that top division European clubs are less and less courageous when it comes to giving club-trained players a chance to prove themselves.
Monthly Report 9 - November 2015 - Youth training in European football