Manchester United has produced more players that currently play in Europe’s elite five leagues than any other English club.
The Trafford-based Carrington football academy has developed 24 players into top-flight performers, either in England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A, Germany’s Bundesliga or France’s Ligue 1.
The players must have spent at least three years in the development system of a club between the formative ages of 15 and 21, according to the research carried out by the CIES Football Observatory in Switzerland.
Of the 24 players United has produced, nine still remain at the club, including Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Jonny Evans, Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck. Fifteen players are at other clubs, including Phil Neville at Everton, Ron-Robert Zieler at Hannover 96, Paul Pogba at Juventus and Ryan Shawcross at Stoke.
Of the 24 players, four of them are considered "secondary products" by CIES. These four players—Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and the Da Silva twins—spent three of the six formative years with another club’s development system before joining United.
In a report by sportingintelligence.com, Arsenal’s academy comes in second in England with 20 products, and behind them are Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur with 15 products apiece.
Carrington also ranks as the fifth most successful academy in the world.
Unsurprisingly, Barcelona leads the way with 38 products, followed by Olympique Lyonnais, Real Madrid and Rennes with 31, 29 and 24 products respectively.
Manchester United has a long history of taking youth development very seriously. Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Matt Busby before him have produced some of the world’s greatest players.
George Best is perhaps the most notable example; the great Pele once regarded the Northern Irishman as “the greatest footballer in the world.” In Best's honour, United fans regularly use the following anonymous quote:
“Maradona good; Pele better; George Best”
Home-grown Manchester United players that sit alongside Best as Ballon d’Or winners are Sir Bobby Charlton and Cristiano Ronaldo, while David Beckham and Duncan Edwards came close when they were announced in second place in 1999 and third place in 1957, respectively.
Several other world-class players emerged during the Busby Babes era and the Fergie Fledgling era, but, disappointingly, these two periods of great success in youth development have not been replicated as often as desired.
Nevertheless, it's a testament to United's legacy that the club diligently ensures the Carrington facility remains the benchmark for football youth development in England and continues to strive to be the best in the world.
When the current crop of academy undergraduates stride out of the Carrington dressing rooms, they do so past 10-foot pictures of Best, Charlton, Edwards, Beckham and Ryan Giggs on the corridor wall.
Let's hope this inspires them to mirror those players' achievements. It certainly makes sense for United to continue to invest and nurture their own; Wayne Rooney cost three times the amount that United laid out on the academy facility.
Importantly, there is something respectable and moral about developing your own players. By contrast, there is something dishonourable and dissolute about just buying your way to glory like a Chelsea or Manchester City.
Manchester United does it the right way, and that’s something the club and its fans should be proud of.
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