The 33rd edition of the CIES Football Observatory Monthly Report presents a comparative analysis of the presence of club-trained players in 31 European top divisions between 2009 and 2017. It notably reveals that footballers having been for at least three years between the ages of 15 and 21 in their club of employment accounted for almost one quarter of champion winning team squads, compared to only about one fifth for all clubs surveyed.
The ability to develop footballers for the first team squad contributes to the competitive advantage held by the most successful clubs. However, this finding is partially related to the current club-trained player definition. Indeed, after three years, a player recruited up until the age of 18 can still be considered as a club-trained footballer for the team that signed him. This encourages top European teams to lure the best talents initially trained by less competitive clubs.
A change in the definition of club-trained or association-trained players would be useful to ensure a sounder development of the European game. Lowering the relevant age range from 15 to 21 years to 12 to 17 years would be helpful in limiting the increasing speculation around the transfer of minors. Indeed, according to FIFA rules, communitarian players can only move abroad after their 16th birthday. This would de facto disallow recruiting teams or associations to acquire a training status for players imported as minors.
While having a well performing youth academy does not lead directly to success, the report shows that it is a relevant indicator of the club’s ability to look to the future. The existence of a powerful youth setting is also a good indicator of the club’s strength as a territorially embedded organisation. Beyond short-term results, investing in youth training can be considered a gauge for the sustainable development of the club as an institution.