Ranking the Best Youth Academies in World Football

Christopher AtkinsContributor IDecember 16, 2013

Ranking the Best Youth Academies in World Football

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    It can be the key to a club's long-term success, with a productive academy system offering stability on the pitch and, at the same time, financial rewards.

    While there are clubs who have little history of producing top level footballers themselves, there are also those who have a long tradition of bringing in their own players to first-team level.

    Piecing together all the ingredients of a successful academy is far from straightforward and is reliant on a number of factors, right up to the availability of first-team football once players are nearing full development.

    Bleacher Report, then, has attempted to rank the top academies in world football based on production levels in recent years.

    For clarification, clubs which largely operate as "finishing schools" for talent developed elsewhere have been omitted in favour of those who bring players through from an earlier age.

15. Right to Dream

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    Not a professional football club, the Right to Dream academy is proving to be a fine provider of footballing talent into the Ghanaian game, while also handing further education opportunities to many deserving youngsters.

    Since their humble beginnings in the year 2000, per the academy's website, Right to Dream have produced 15 players who have earned contracts outside of Ghana including six international footballers.

    The Under-15 side have finished in the top eight of the Manchester United Premier Cup on four occasions in recent years, making the side the most successful to emerge from the African continent at youth level.

    Striker Majeed Waris will likely feature for Ghana at the 2014 World Cup, while several players are contracted to Premier League giants Manchester City, including Bismark Adjei-Boateng.

    Notable Graduates: Majeed Waris, Mohammed Abu, Bismark Adjei-Boateng, Razak Nuhu, Godsway Donyoh, Thomas Agyiri.

14. Anderlecht

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    While there is competition from Standard Liege for the title of best academy in Belgium, Anderlecht have worked wonders in recent years to produce a string of top-class footballers on what has not always been a healthy budget.

    Vincent Kompany leads the way for the club's academy graduates, having captained Manchester City to a Premier League title, but the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Dries Mertens are also high-profile products of the Brussels club's system.

    The current side, which have won the Jupiler Pro League in both the past two seasons, is also flooded with players who have come through the system. Dennis Praet, Massimo Bruno and Youri Tielemens, in particular, are seen as major prospects for the future.

    While they have not always produced top talents at the rate of some rivals, Anderlecht are leading the way for domestically-trained Belgian talents in the current golden era for the country's football setup.

    Notable Graduates: Vincent Kompany, Romelu Lukaku, Dries Mertens, Dennis Praet, Massimo Bruno, Walter Baseggio, Franky Vercauteren.

13. Feyenoord

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    There are currently 14 graduates from the club's Varkenoord academy in the Feyenoord first-team squad, while partners Excelsior also boast several names within their senior ranks.

    The two clubs' academies were merged in 2010, with sides competing under both names from Under-8 level right through to Under-19.

    A renewed emphasis on promoting youth talent in recent years has seen a young side begin to rise back towards the top of the Eredivisie, with a handful of players also involved in recent Netherlands squads.

    Having lost several players to English clubs poaching talent, opportunities have been afforded to those who have remained and the club are now reaping the benefits of their decision.

    Notable Graduates: Robin van Persie, Jonathan de Guzman, Leroy Fer, Bruno Martins Indi, Tonny Vilhena, Jordy Clasie.

12. Stade Rennais

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    Rennes may not have achieved great success at senior level in recent times, but there can be no doubting the club's achievement when it comes to producing youth talent.

    The Red and Blacks have been largely based upon players from their academy structure in recent years, with the club's Under-19 side having won the prestigious Coupe Gambardella twice since the turn of the millennium.

    Of those to have emerged at the club in recent times, several have gone on to star at international level including Sylvain Wiltord, Mikael Silvestre, Yann M'Vila, Yoann Gourcuff and Stephane Mbia.

    Per Sporting Intelligence, via the Daily Mail, the club had 24 graduates in Europe's top five leagues as of December 2012.

    Notable Graduates: Sylvain Wiltord, Mikael Silvestre, Yann M'Vila, Yoann Gourcuff, Stephane Mbia, Jimmy Briand, Kevin Theophile-Catherine, Moussa Sow.

11. Real Madrid

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    When considering football's top academies, Real Madrid are a club often overlooked due to their well-known penchant for purchasing expensive players for their first-team squad.

    However, as shown by Sporting Intelligence via the Daily Mail in December 2012, Real Madrid have 29 graduates currently playing in Europe's top five leagues—albeit with just eight at the Santiago Bernabeu at the time.

    Roberto Soldado, Javi Garcia, Juan Mata and Borja Valero are among the club's products to find themselves at top level clubs despite needing to move on from La Fabrica. Others, such as Esteban Granero and Dani Carvajal, meanwhile, left only to later return and continue their Real adventure.

    The club currently have several promising youngsters in their ranks, with Jese, Alvaro Morata, Carvajal and Jose Rodriguez all tipped for long careers in elite level football. The Madrid faithful will no doubt hope to see them fulfil that potential whilst at the Bernabeu.

    Notable Graduates: Raul, Emilio Butragueno, Alvaro Arbeloa, Juan Mata, Roberto Soldado, Manolo Sanchis, Michel, Guti.

10. Southampton

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    Prior to the establishment of the club's academy, Matt Le Tissier and Alan Shearer were big names to have emerged at Southampton. However, the current system has consistently produced talent in recent years to the envy of many of England's biggest clubs.

    Several of the brightest young talents in English football have emerged at the club over the past couple of years, while Gareth Bale and Theo Walcott are among British football's leading lights.

    Per the GuardianSouthampton have recently invested £30 million to redevelop their training ground in order to continue the club's progress which sees them currently lie in the top half of the Premier League.

    Key to their success, though, have been several young English players, with the club offering an antidote to suggestions that domestic talent cannot develop in the big-spending Premier League system.

    Notable Graduates: Adam Lallana, Gareth Bale, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Luke Shaw, Wayne Bridge, James Ward-Prowse.

9. Partizan Belgrade

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    The Belin–Lazarevic–Nadoveza youth school has been prolific in recent years, producing many of Serbia's brightest talents of the current era for senior side FK Partizan Belgrade.

    It was only this summer that the phenomenal Lazar Markovic departed for Benfica and, yet, his mantle of being Serbian football's most hotly anticipated youngster has already shifted onwards to fellow Partizan product Andrija Zivkovic.

    Also among those to have emerged at the club are Stevan Jovetic, Matija Nastasic and Adem Ljajic—all of whom are operating at high levels in European football's elite leagues.

    Zivkovic is set to be joined by Nikola Ninkovic, Milos Jojic and Danilo Pantic in continuing the club's supply line to the top level of European football in coming months and years, as the club's youth focus continues to pay dividends.

    Notable Graduates: Stevan Jovetic, Matija Nastasic, Adem Ljajic, Lazar Markovic, Miralem Sulejmani, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Simon Vukcevic.

8. Santos

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    The club that produced Pele in the 1950s have enjoyed a golden spell of youth talent production in recent years, with Neymar, Ganso, Robinho and Diego being the club's prodigious starlets of the past decade.

    Now at Barcelona, Neymar is the true gem to have emerged at the Vila Belmiro in recent years, but the club have developed a reputation for producing players of real quality.

    The club's current young generations are benefiting from the reputation of their seniors and are earning opportunities as a result. The current Under-20 side, as winners of the 2013 Copa Sao Paulo, are talented in their own right, but there is always a risk that they will be overhyped due to their predecessors' success.

    The likes of Neilton, Victor Andrade, Gabigol and Alison, though, are already well on their way to proving themselves worthy at first-team level.

    Notable Graduates: Neymar, Ganso, Robinho, Diego, Elano, Pele.

7. Dinamo Zagreb

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    Per a recent ECA report, GNK Dinamo have the noble aim of attempting to integrate two players from every age group into the first-team squad. Thus far, progress has been excellent.

    With around 200 youngsters training under their guidance, the club spend around €1.3 million each year on their academy setup and have reaped the rewards in recent years with some excellent talents having emerged.

    While Dinamo have been unable to translate their ability to produce players into success in European competitions, it has proved highly profitable business for the club and their long-term financial standing.

    The report suggests the club have made €50 million from selling academy graduates in the past five years alone, while more than 50 percent of the first-team squad has been made up of homegrown talent over that period.

    Notable Graduates: Luka Modric, Eduardo da Silva, Alen Halilovic, Mateo Kovacic, Sime Vrsaljko, Robert Prosinecki, Dario Simic, Dejan Lovren, Milan Badelj, Vedran Corluka.

6. Manchester United

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    The recent release of the "Class of 92" film has thrown attention onto the youth system at Manchester United and its extreme successes under former manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

    The club's three goals in victory over Aston Villa this weekend were supplied by products Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley, but it is a tradition that stretches back decades. Per the Daily Mail, the club have featured an academy product in their matchday squad for every game in a run stretching back to 1937.

    Research by Sporting Intelligence, via the Daily Mail, showed the Reds to have 24 academy products in Europe's top five leagues in December 2012, placing the club fifth in Europe at the time.

    With the likes of Adnan Januzaj and Jesse Lingard having shown promise in recent months, the future continues to look bright for youth at the Old Trafford club.

    Notable Graduates: Sir Bobby Charlton, George Best, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Gary and Phil Neville, Nicky Butt, Jonny Evans, Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley.

5. Bayern Munich

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    Bayern Munich will this week compete for the honour of being the best club side in the world and, in doing so, will also demonstrate the strength of their club's youth development system over recent years.

    Of the current squad, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Toni Kroos, Holger Badstuber, Thomas Muller, Diego Contento and David Alaba all emerged from the club's youth setup, with many playing key roles in the side's recent rise to the top of the game.

    Per a recent ECA report, the club's Sabener Strasse academy costs €3 million per year to run, with 40 staff looking after over 180 youngsters. At present, it is proving to be worth every penny.

    The report states that key to the academy's philosophy is "to integrate mental and physical strength in players," with an emphasis on local players understanding the club's identity. At present, the approach is working perfectly.

    Notable Graduates: Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Toni Kroos, Holger Badstuber, Thomas Muller, Diego Contento, David Alaba, Owen Hargreaves, Dietmar Hamann, Markus Babbel.

4. Sao Paulo

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    Every major club in Brazil can claim to have produced star players, but none have done so with the regularity of Sao Paulo in recent years.

    The club's youth sides are regularly among the leading contenders for major youth titles in Brazil, with the 2010 Copa Sao Paulo a notable recent triumph.

    Of recent Brazil squads, Lazio's Hernanes, Fluminense's Jean, Chelsea's Oscar and Paris Saint-Germain's Lucas Moura are all products of the side's Cotia training centre, while Kaka is perhaps the club's most famous product.

    With Casemiro and Lucas Piazon, as well as Brazil Under-17 stars Boschilia and Auro, all among the country's brightest talents, there is real hope that the supply line is only set to continue in the years ahead.

    Notable Graduates: Hernanes, Jean, Oscar, Lucas Moura, Breno, Cafu, Kaka, Rogerio Ceni, Antonio Carlos Zago.

3. Ajax

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    Ajax have long since been renowned as one of the great European producers of talent, with the Champions League winning side of the mid-'90s legendary in their success based around a core of home-grown players.

    While the club has experienced some tough times in the intervening years, the supply of talent has continued. Players such as Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart and Nigel de Jong were all sold on, but remain symbols of what the academy can produce.

    The Amsterdam club's present day side is managed by former player Frank de Boer and continues to place a strong emphasis upon youth and homegrown talent.

    Extensive in their scouting of young talent worldwide, the club remains strong at cultivating first-team players through their own youth ranks.

    Notable Graduates: Clarence Seedorf, Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder, Nigel de Jong, John Heitinga, Maarten Stekelenburg, Ricardo van Rhijn

2. Sporting Lisbon

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    According to an ECA report into academies, Sporting have an average of seven players in national team squads at every age level. It is a remarkable feat that is testament to the high quality of coaching delivered at the Alcochete academy.

    Many of those players to have already emerged have gone on to achieve greatness, with the likes of Joao Moutinho, Nani, Miguel Veloso and Cristiano Ronaldo all representative of Sporting's youth prowess.

    Per the above report, the club has produced over 100 professional players from their youth system and many of those have gone on to represent their country. Eight players of the Portugal squad who qualified for Euro 2012 emerged at the club.

    Success in producing young players is no recent phenomenon at the club, either, with Luis Figo, Paulo Futre and Beto being the stars of the 1990s who began life in the green and white of the Lions.

    Notable Graduates: Cristiano Ronaldo, Joao Moutinho, Nani, Miguel Veloso, Luis Figo, Paulo Futre, Beto, Simao, Ricardo Quaresma.

1. Barcelona

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    It was in November 2012 that, as described by the Daily Mail, Barcelona achieved the remarkable feat of having 11 products of their academy on the field at the same time for a La Liga clash.

    The achievement was just the latest in a number of remarkable feats achieved by the La Masia training centre, which include all three shortlisted players for the 2011 Ballon d'Or having emerged from the complex in Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.

    Some of the academy's prospects have failed to live up to the early billing that accompanies any youth team star to emerge at senior level, with Bojan and Jeffren particular disappointments. However, the number of success stories is remarkable.

    Barcelona have conquered all before them in recent years and, for the most part, with a team produced within the club's own academy setup.

    Notable Graduates: Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, Pedro, Victor Valdes, Carles Puyol, Cesc Fabregas, Gerard Pique