Ranking Europe's Best Clubs on the Players They've Developed This Century
What might the footballing landscape look like if clubs could only field players they had developed through their youth systems and academies? Some parts would look much the same, but others are likely to be drastically different to what we know today.
As club football hits pause for the international break, we've dug through the academy graduate lists of Europe's teams and plotted out what their best XIs might resemble if they could only use their own.
In an effort to ensure we feature largely recognisable names, our criteria is fairly loose: To qualify, a player must only have spent two years at the club in question before the age of 21.
Some players split their formative years between clubs—such as Philipp Max, Kerem Demirbay and a host of Portuguese stars—and in those cases, we've made them eligible for just one, choosing the most appropriate.
We've also tried to steer clear of situations in which a player was signed young and pushed straight into the first team, as Ivan Rakitic was at Schalke 04. You can't really say Schalke developed him—FC Basel did—so he doesn't feature in Die Konigsblauen's team.
Players are judged on their ability levels now, rather than on any legacy or level reached in the past.
15-11. Feyenoord, Anderlecht, Valencia, Dinamo, PSG
Justin Bijlow; Rick Karsdorp, Terence Kongolo, Stefan de Vrij, Bruno Martins Indi; Tonny Vilhena, Georginio Wijnaldum, Jordy Clasie; Jean-Paul Boetius, Vincent Janssen, Robin van Persie
Mile Svilar; Alexis Saelemaekers, Chancel Mbemba, Vincent Kompany, Jordan Lukaku; Youri Tielemans, Sven Kums, Leander Dendoncker; Dodi Lukebakio, Dennis Praet, Romelu Lukaku
Vicente Guaita; Juan Bernat, David Lomban, Raul Albiol, Jose Gaya; Carlos Soler, David Silva, Isco, Portu; Nolito, Paco Alcacer
12. Dinamo Zagreb
Adrian Semper; Sime Vrsaljko, Dejan Lovren, Filip Benkovic, Josip Pivaric; Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic, Milan Badelj; Marko Pjaca, Josip Brekalo, Andrej Kramaric
11. Paris Saint-Germain
Alphonse Areola; Youssouf Sabaly, Presnel Kimpembe, Mamadou Sakho, Ferland Mendy; Adrien Rabiot, Matteo Guendouzi, Kingsley Coman, Tim Weah; Moussa Dembele, Jean-Kevin Augustin
Stephane Ruffier; Kevin Malcuit, Abdou Diallo, Marcel Tisserand, Layvin Kurzawa; Nampalys Mendy, Kevin N'Doram, Adrien Bongiovanni, Yannick Carrasco; Valere Germain, Kylian Mbappe
Remember when Mbappe played for Monaco? With all he's achieved over the last 18 months, it feels like so long ago, but his blistering goals against Manchester City, Borussia Dortmund and Juventus came as recently as 2017.
Here, he reunites with Germain, the player he would either rotate with or replace while he was breaking into the first team, and he'll know several others—Bongiovanni, Carrasco and Kurzawa among them—through spending five years with the club.
Ruffier, Malcuit, Diallo and Mendy are players who came through the ranks at Monaco but have developed elsewhere.
Ederson Moraes; Joao Cancelo, Ruben Dias, Roderick Miranda, Yuri Ribeiro; Andre Gomes, Danilo Pereira, Helder Costa, Bernardo Silva, Goncalo Guedes; Nelson Oliveira
Benfica's academy XI boasts elite quality in certain areas (goalkeeper, right-back, midfield) but is lacking in others (central defence, left-back, striker). It's enough to land a spot just inside the top 10 but no higher.
Pereira has been a star for Porto for several years but initially started out at Benfica, finding his way back to the Primeira Liga via Italy, Greece and the Netherlands.
Bernardo Silva left Benfica having made just one league appearance, and now he's one of the finest attacking players in the world. Talk about dropping the ball.
8. Real Madrid
Iker Casillas; Dani Carvajal, Nacho Fernandez, Diego Llorente, Marcos Alonso; Dani Parejo, Borja Valero; Juan Mata, Jose Callejon, Lucas Vazquez, Mariano Diaz
There aren't too many standout parts to this team, but it's solid all the way through.
Valero and Parejo will give you a passing masterclass from the base of midfield, while Alonso and Carvajal will motor up and down, balancing play and aiding the wingers.
A Mata-Callejon-Vazquez trio has speed, guile and poaching ability, and they'll complement striker Mariano Diaz, who we have selected ahead of Alvaro Morata based on both players' form over the past 12 months.
7. Bayern Munich
Thomas Kraft; Sebastian Langkamp, Mats Hummels, Holger Badstuber, David Alaba; Alessandro Schopf, Emre Can, Toni Kroos, Nicola Sansone, Thomas Muller; Sandro Wagner
Die Roten's decision to sell Kroos to Real Madrid in 2014 haunts them to this day, as the 28-year-old has developed into one of the finest midfielders to play the game. They cut bait on Can much earlier, and he has found his way back to the top level by way of Liverpool and now Juventus.
Hummels, Badstuber, Alaba and Muller are enjoying or have enjoyed long, successful careers in Bavaria, while Wagner has returned late on to squeeze in some trophies.
Marco Bizot; Toby Alderweireld, Matthijs de Ligt, Jan Vertonghen, Daley Blind; Donny van de Beek, Davy Klaassen, Christian Eriksen; Quincy Promes, Justin Kluivert, Kasper Dolberg
That is one stacked defensive line. Alderweireld is not at his happiest at right-back, but he'll make do there, as he's capable of playing there and swapping him out for Kenny Tete makes the team worse.
As mentioned in the intro, we've tried to avoid putting players in these XIs (when possible) if they don't genuinely feel like academy graduates of the club in question, so that's why Frenkie de Jong is missing—he feels very much like a Willem II man.
Promes, currently starring with Sevilla, is one that got away from Ajax.
Rui Patricio; Ricardo Pereira, Eric Dier, Tiago Ilori, Cedric Soares; Joao Mario, Joao Moutinho, William Carvalho; Ricardo Quaresma, Gelson Martins, Cristiano Ronaldo
Ronaldo and Quaresma, back together again at club level. That would be one impudent, cocky but deadly forward line. Martins' searing pace would add a nice dimension outside of their trickery and panache, too.
The midfield is workmanlike and might lack a little in the creative department, but you can trust Moutinho, Carvalho and Mario to at least bring an intensity.
The weak point here is the defensive line; we're having to play Cedric at left-back to make up the numbers, and Ilori is promising but still a Championship-level defender at Reading.
Anthony Lopes; Lamine Gassama, Mouctar Diakhaby, Antony Briancon, Samuel Umtiti; Houssem Aouar, Corentin Tolisso, Anthony Martial, Nabil Fekir; Karim Benzema, Alexandre Lacazette
What Lyon lack slightly in defence, they more than make up for in attack. Just set this team into offensive overdrive and watch them thrill.
Umtiti has been moved over to left-back to fill a gaping hole, though it's hardly a position of unfamiliarity to him—he played quite a lot of left-back when he broke into Lyon's first team.
The central midfield oozes class and intelligence, while the attacking quadrant is about as good as any single academy has produced in some time.
3. Schalke 04
Manuel Neuer; Benedikt Howedes, Thilo Kehrer, Joel Matip, Philipp Max; Max Meyer, Kerem Demirbay; Leroy Sane, Mesut Ozil, Julian Draxler; Pierre-Michel Lasogga
Schalke are a top-class striker away from having, well, a top outright academy class.
If you're feeling adventurous, you could play Draxler up front and bring Mainz's Danny Latza into the midfield, but this XI qualifies as one of the strongest anyway.
In Neuer, they have one of the game's greats between the sticks, Kherer's emergence makes the defensive line strong, and the attacking midfield trio of Ozil, Sane and Draxler is just nasty.
2. Atletico Madrid
David De Gea; Javi Manquillo, Saul Niguez, Lucas Hernandez, Theo Hernandez; Thomas Partey, Ignacio Camacho, Rodri, Koke; Fernando Torres, Alvaro Morata
There's a familiar streak running through this XI, as almost half of it either still plays at Atletico Madrid or only recently departed. Saul, Lucas, Thomas, Rodri and Koke turn out in red and white each week, while Torres' heartfelt goodbye was only a few months ago.
In creating an optimal XI, we have had to shift Saul to centre-back—a position he hasn't played regularly since his loan to Rayo Vallecano in 2013-14—and Thomas to the wing. Given the Ghanaian can play virtually any position, he'll be fine.
Morata's inclusion may surprise some, but he spent two years in Atleti's cantera before moving on to Getafe and then settling at Real Madrid.
Pepe Reina; Sergi Roberto, Marc Bartra, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba; Sergio Busquets, Thiago Alcantara, Andres Iniesta; Gerard Deulofeu, Lionel Messi, Pedro
Any XI with Messi involved has a strong shot at being the best, but in this case, Barcelona aren't overreliant on him. This team is packed with quality from back to front.
In purchasing Jordi Alba from Valencia for €14 million in 2012, they essentially admitted to making a mistake by releasing him from their academy setup in 2005. The same happened with Pique, though his buy-back fee wasn't particularly costly.
For the most part, though, Barca utilise their graduates well and only sell on once they no longer have need of them. The exception that proves this rule is Thiago Alcantara, who left for Bayern Munich in 2013 via a clause as he hadn't been given enough games. Talk about mismanagement.
All statistics via WhoScored.com