Is the romance of their success in danger at big clubs around Europe?
Jese Rodriguez and Gerard Deulofeu are two of the brightest talents in Spain. Notably, neither have broken into the first-team at their respective clubs, but one is much more likely to succeed on the big stage due to a policy that is quickly spreading across Europe. Deulofeu will eventually showcase his talents on the La Liga stage for Barcelona, continuing in a long line of exceptional talents from their academy. Rodriguez, with comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo already made, may not be so lucky. Real Madrid don’t take the time to bring through their equally impressive youth talents and offer them an opportunity at the highest level in Spanish and European football.
Jose Mourinho was evidently in need of another right-back due to Sergio Ramos’ permanent switch to centre-back, but Castilla right-back Daniel Carvajal was quickly moved on when Bayer Leverkusen came calling this past summer. Barcelona have their problems in defence, too, but Marc Bartra is seen as one of the ideal candidates to fill one of the defensive spots in the squad, while Sergi Roberto is also likely to be given a chance in the midfield as this season progresses.
New money in football doesn’t really allow for clubs to be patient with their own youth players. It takes time, effort and it’s not exactly the most glamorous way to build an empire. Sadly, it is something that many fans want to see, and it’s certainly something that Real Madrid fans have flagged up on many occasions.
Liverpool have seen a number of good young players brought into the first-time over the past couple of seasons, but Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen and Jamie Carragher were the last to come through and make a real impact at the club. Similar story with Manchester United, who may see something from Tom Cleverley, Danny Welbeck and Jonny Evans over the next few seasons, but it’s a long way off from the boom days of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and David Beckham.
Certainly, there’s not always an opportunity to bring through the products of a youth academy: simple maths would state that there is not enough room in a squad and many players will be deemed not good enough to succeed at the highest level. The coaching quality, which has been questioned in the past, may also be something to note. But isn’t it alarming that many clubs have not looked to follow through on the potential that they have?
Clubs like Chelsea and now Manchester City won’t look to their own youth system to fill a gap, instead they’ll turn to the transfer market and make good use of their wealth. Manchester City have a fine youth academy with plenty of potential; wouldn’t it be pleasant to strike a successful balance between expensive imports and home-grown local talent?
Many in Spain are given little choice but to use their youth reserves. Sporting Gijon and Athletic Bilbao are two of many clubs in La Liga whose academy graduates now make up a large part of their first-team squad. Interestingly, many clubs in Spain benefit from those who are not wanted from Real Madrid’s academy. The league is filled with players who Madrid quickly discarded.
It also has to be said that Bayern Munich, along with a few others in Germany such as Dortmund and Schalke, are excelling with their own in key areas of the first-team. Holgar Badstuber, Thomas Muller, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Toni Kroos are natural first-choice players for Jupp Heynckes, and the national team is benefiting greatly from the leaning on German youth.
But as mentioned, it doesn’t make sense for clubs like PSG to look to their own reserves when they can cherry pick the best and most established players from around Europe. Italy is certainly mourning the loss of Marco Verratti, who was drawn to France and PSG this past summer but could have been a great in Italian football. Ok, he’s not fresh out of the academy at one of the Italian giants, but it seemed a natural progression for the player to move to either Juventus or Milan.
Josh McEachran may never realise his potential at Chelsea, and many have spoken about the need for him to move on and kick-start his Premier League career elsewhere. Is he greatly inferior to players like Victor Moses, Ramirez and previously Raul Meireles? Yes, they’re all further along the development line, but McEachran is spoken about highly enough for him to surely play a good role in the Chelsea squad.
What qualifies as talent out of your own youth academy? Certainly not Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott at Arsenal, but what about Kieran Gibbs, Wojciech Szczesny or even Serge Gnabry? Each of them brought in from elsewhere but developed into Arsenal players through the youth team setup. Arsenal need to use the youth players that Arsene Wenger was laid for the foundation for, but there is clearly a desire to use these players and give them a chance ahead of big-money signings.
Real Madrid have really led the way in the respect of looking elsewhere for quality ahead of their own, with the last notable players from their cantera being Guti, Raul and current captain Iker Casillas. Alvaro Arbeloa is also a Madrid product but was shipped out before returning three seasons ago. And there is plenty of knowledge about Raul and his move from Atletico’s youth system across the city.
But fans want to see their own players do well at the highest level. Few could argue that Juan Mata couldn’t have been a success at Real Madrid, and what about Javi Garcia, Juanfran, Borja Valero, Roberto Soldado? It’s not the Madrid way, and the club use their phenomenal status to bring in the greatest talents in the world. It’s not necessarily bad, but what could have been achieved with a similar ethos to Barcelona?