Power Ranking the Big Football Nations by the Talent They Produce
When football fans and pundits alike look for fixable flaws in their respective national teams, one of the first topics to be brought up is their country's youth system.
Countries that do well are credited with a healthy, productive youth system; countries that don't are not.
As we'll see in the coming slides, often there is a direct correlation, but there are times when such a correlation does not exist or only weakly exists.
Ahead, we'll look at the top 10 talent-producing countries in the world and justify their place on the list by the talent they've produced and are producing.
You'll see that many decently impressive footballing countries are not included on this list, but we've decided that such countries simply don't rank among the top 10. You, of course, are free to disagree (and hopefully explain) in the comment box below, or by reaching me via Twitter.
Turkey might be a surprise pick to start off this list, but they shouldn't be.
Germany has greatly benefited from the talents of one ethnically Turkish midfielder in Mesut Ozil and another, Nuri Sahin, was the Bundesliga's best player just two years ago.
Now Gokhan Tore, Necip Uysal, Serdar Aziz, Cenk Tosun and Semih Kaya, among others, are stepping up to provide the backbone for the Turkish national team's next generation.
Unfortunately for Turkey, the country's solid youth system has not paid dividends lately as Guus Hiddink was unable to qualify his team for this summer's Euro 2012.
However, with the right coach, the Turkish national team could probably experience some real success, similar to the success they experienced at the 2002 World Cup (third place) or, more recently, at Euro 2008 (semifinalist).
Croatia are another team who you wouldn't expect to be on this list.
But the fact is that the country's domestic league pumps out some of the finest talent in the world.
Sime Vrsaljko, Ante Vukusic, Mateo Kovacic, Matej Delac and Mario Situm are not yet household names, but they've all already impressed in the game time they've earned at their respective clubs.
Croatia are a relatively young national team, having only gained FIFA recognition in 1993, but they've already tapped into a regular source of talent within their country and look to be one of Europe's top footballing countries for years to come.
Honestly, given Argentina's rich football history, they've really been lacking in terms of talent production as of late.
Ezequiel Munoz and Mateo Musacchio, both 21, have been around for quite a while and the only real notable product as of late has been Erik Lamela (pictured left), who annouced himself to the world at Roma this season.
Beyond him, there are promising talents in the making, like Manuel Lanzini and Juan Iturbe, as well as Lucas Ocampos and Leonel Galeano, but all of these guys still look at least a couple of years away from contributing much to the national team.
Given Argentina's lack of talent at the youth levels, you might say that Argentina's lack of success internationally and inability to qualify for the 2012 Summer Olympics is understandable.
However, given the massive amount of talent currently in the national team, I'm convinced Argentina will be a force to be reckoned with at Brazil 2014.
One look at the French national team might lead to wonder if the country's youth system is effective at all. Beyond Yann M'Vila, everyone is at least 24, and the minimum age goes up to 25 if you remove Marvin Martin and Karim Benzema from the equation.
Nevertheless, guys like Raphael Varane, Ali Ahmada, Serge Aurier, Willy Boly, Francis Coquelin, Kurt Zouma and M'baye Niang all remind us just how much French talent there is in the French domestic league.
If you don't know these guys yet, you will shortly, because they've all excelled to reach this point of their careers and will only get better with time.
Not all of them will be the next Karim Benzema, Zinedine Zidane or Lilian Thuram, but they all look set to hit some pretty high points in their respective careers.
As for what that means for the French national team, we'll see with time. The team is no longer in disarray the way it was under Raymond Domenech, but Laurent Blanc ultimately could not mold a winning team while in charge.
Now it is up to Didier Deschamps to put his stamp on the national team ahead of the 2014 World Cup.
Italy ever so slightly edged out France for sixth place and, were Mario Balotelli not a youth product from Italy, I may have been tempted to switch the rankings of the two countries.
Aside from Balotelli though, Italy's U-21 team boasts the likes of Stephen El Shaarawy, Fabio Borini, Mattia Destro and Marco Verratti, among many others.
Those four have been linked with or are currently playing for some of the world's biggest clubs and are sure to be fixtures in the Italian national team in the future.
Cesare Prandelli did a terrific job to take Italy all the way to the final of Euro 2012 and Italy should only be stronger once the aforementioned four players become more mature and become good enough to compete on the same level as the world's best.
I'm probably going to get some hate for ranking England so highly, but I'll stand by my ranking; England are a top five talent-producing country.
Ideally, many Englanders would like to see their country produce talents that would move them into the the top two or three, but with guys like Jack Wilshere, Phil Jones, Danny Welbeck, Jack Rodwell, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Steven Caulker, Jonjo Shelvey and Connor Wickham all not yet above 21, England's youth system has done pretty well for itself.
Right now, England are just missing that key world class player, an Andrea Pirlo or Mesut Ozil if you will, who will take them from being a good footballing nation to being one of the best. It has always been hoped that Wayne Rooney would be that player, but he's shown that he can't do it by himself.
Nevertheless, England have a number of quality players coming through their ranks and are not likely to have issues with depth any time soon. And who knows; anyone of the teens currently coming through the youth teams in England could prove to be the difference-maker that the country has been long searching for.
It always amazes me how a country as small as the Netherlands can consistently produce some of the world's best footballers.
Some might think that the Netherlands' golden age is coming to a close with their recent disappointing exit from Euro 2012, but with players like Luuk de Jong, Georginio Wijnaldum, Adam Maher, Ola John, Jeffrey Bruma, Luc Castaignos, Jetro Willems, Marco Van Ginkel and more coming through, the Netherlands look like they have a very healthy future.
The Eredivisie may no longer be the best league to play in because of finances, but its talent production is only rivaled by three other much, much larger nations.
The next Netherlands manager will be very lucky, as he'll have the opportunity to work with and oversee all these talents and pick which ones are good enough to help lead the Dutch to glory.
Brazil's ranking may be at an all-time low, but that surely isn't down to a lack of talent.
With names like Neymar, Danilo, Lucas and Oscar still dominating the transfer columns, Brazil remains at the forefront of world football talent production. Beyond those four, Romulo, Coutinho, Firmino, Alex Sandro, Carlos Casemiro and many more are out there trying to make their name with their immense talent.
Right now, Brazil's problem is that they have yet to find a coach to bring their collective talents into a functioning game plan. Mano Menezes doesn't look like the man to complete such a task so far, but he's only had the 2011 Copa America to compete in as an official competition.
He'll be judged on how he performs at the World Cup and, with an abundance of talent available to him, he won't have any excuses if he fails to deliver World Cup glory on home soil.
Many would rank Germany as the world's best talent producer and I can't argue with the youth model adopted by most Bundesliga clubs in Germany. However, given Germany's somewhat underwhelming finish in Euro 2012, I thought a first-place ranking would be a bit too gracious.
Nevertheless, names like Mario Gotze, Andre Schurrle, Lewis Hotlby, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, Bernd Leno, Julian Draxler, Moritz Leitner and Patrick Hermann all ready to transition to the national team in the next couple of years, one can't really say anything negative about the German approach to youth development.
It's led them to finish third at the last two World Cups and second at Euro 2008. First place still eludes the Germans, but I wouldn't put it past them to get it in 2014, when their top players will be well into their prime and everyone in the squad and staff will be hungrier for success than ever before.
Who else could it be but Spain? Especially after Spain reached the final of the European U-19 Championship, to further its dominance over any and all international tournaments played at any level, Spain had to take first place on this list.
It's almost pointless to try and list all the names currently in Spain's youth system and coming through, especially since Iker Muniain, David de Gea, Thiago Alcantara, Jon Aurtenetxe, Isco, Rodrigo, Oriol Romeu, Isaac Cuenca, Cristian Tello, Inigo Martinez and Gerard Deulofeu make up a small percentage of the massive amount of talent being produced by the youth systems of Spain's football clubs.
The sheer amount of talent being produced is especially remarkable given the financial constraints that La Liga clubs are often subjected to.
With all the talent coming through Spain's ranks, could they make even more history and undisputably become the best national team of all time by winning the 2014 World Cup?
I certainly wouldn't rule them out, especially not with Vicente Del Bosque calling the shots.