English Football’s Top Five Youth Academies

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Youth academies are the backbone of a country’s football set-up.

There’s always a sense of excitement when a home-grown talent works his way into the first team. Will he be a club icon? Will he go on to play for his country one day, memories of his first club still fresh in his mind? Or will we never see him again?

Investing in a state-of-the-art youth academy always pays dividends and it’s something the fans love to see.

Some clubs have excellent youth systems but make poor use of their graduates. Chelsea, for example, have a slew of talented youngsters but regularly elect to spend huge fees on foreign players instead.

However, just because their respective clubs don’t give them a fair chance, this doesn’t mean that the academy is to blame.

This list will be focused on current players, rather than an academy’s legacy.

Top Five Youth Academies in England

5. Arsenal

Arsenal are no great shakes right now. A mid-table finish looks inevitable, but at least they can take solace in their stellar youngsters regularly stealing the show.

Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe have been two of the Gunners’ best players this year, while others such as Luke Ayling, Eberechi Eze and Ainsley Maitland-Niles have also been impressive elsewhere in the Premier League.

This goes without mentioning their standout graduate over the past ten years – Serge Gnabry. Last season, he was an integral part of a treble-winning Bayern Munich side and is generally considered one of the best wingers in the world.

Given their current situation, the higher-ups at the Emirates will no doubt kick themselves every day for letting him go. As will Tony Pulis, if he has a shred of self-awareness.

4. Southampton

Southampton’s academy has received numerous plaudits in recent years. It’s difficult to keep track of all their top-flight graduates, there’s just so many.

Luke Shaw and James Ward-Prowse have both been excellent this season. Other notable alumni, such as Gareth Bale and Theo Walcott, have also displayed their talents this campaign (though one more than the other).

Unfortunately for the Saints, their youth products rarely stay at St. Mary’s for long, with players such as Ward-Prowse and Jack Stephens being notable exceptions.

This is through no fault of the academy, however. It has consistently pushed its youngsters to be the best they can be, which often leads them to outgrow their parent club.

3. Manchester United

Is there a youth system in England more heralded than Manchester United’s? The number of legends that have passed through its ranks is staggering. If these rankings were based on the legacy of United’s academy, they would easily be number one.

The class of ’92 speaks for themselves, but they’re not the subject of this article. United’s current output is certainly stellar but only enough to land them third in this list.

This being said, Marcus Rashford, Dean Henderson and Paul Pogba are all top-quality players who passed through the system. Unlike some other big clubs, Manchester United are often more than willing to give their youth products a chance in the first team.

 

This pride in their development system has rewarded them with excellent playing staff time and time again. Rashford is a good example of this – aged just 18, he was given his Premier League debut and returned this faith with a brace.

Other players now away from the club, like Sam Johnstone and Dwight McNeil, create a very respectable set of alumni.

2. Liverpool

It’s close, but Liverpool’s academy is currently better than Manchester United’s by the slightest of margins.

United may produce more players, but the quality of Liverpool’s top graduates trumps that of the Red Devils’.

Trent Alexander-Arnold, Raheem Sterling and Curtis Jones make up an impressive array of players. Alexander-Arnold and Sterling are already elite players, while it seems inevitable that Jones will make it to that level soon enough.

Alexander-Arnold has been frequently touted as one of England’s most exciting prospects in years and it’s not hard to see why. His passing and set-piece delivery are supernatural, while his defensive instincts are reliable and frankly underrated.

Harry Wilson and Caoimhin Kelleher have also impressed, though neither look like being first-team regulars. Again, the extremely high skill levels in Liverpool’s senior team is the cause of this. It seems very likely that they’ll go onto have successful careers, even if not at Anfield.

1. Chelsea

The consistency that Chelsea generates Premier League quality talents with is unrivalled in England right now. Other teams may produce better players, but the fact that Chelsea have so many academy graduates playing at the top levels speaks for itself.

Of the 19 other clubs in the Premier League, 12 of them have at least one player in their ranks who went to Chelsea’s academy.

This goes without mentioning the academy talents still at Stamford Bridge. Mason Mount, Reece James and Andreas Christensen have all carved out a place in Chelsea’s first team. Meanwhile, Billy Gilmour, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Tammy Abraham all provide solid rotation options and will undoubtedly get their shot in due time.

The only thing holding Chelsea’s academy back is how their products are used by the club. Chelsea are infamous for their profligacy towards their young players.

This trend has been particularly relevant this season. The previous campaign, Chelsea were under a transfer embargo and needed players, with many U23s stepping up to the mark and performing admirably.

Their reward? Well, Fikayo Tomori was loaned out and their top scorer last year, Abraham, generally finds himself playing second fiddle to Timo Werner. Thankfully, this is not the case for all of them – Mason Mount especially has been a key player for Chelsea since his first-team debut.

Chelsea have begun to show more faith in their academy in recent years and so they should. With a consistently good output and graduates dotted around the elite leagues, Chelsea’s have the best of the youth academies in England.