Football Academies: when done correctly, they can be the source of such greatness. A committed and thorough project will inevitably yield quality produce, as some of Europe’s famous football factories have shown over the years.
But which clubs can boast the best academies across the entire continent? Well, courtesy of a study undertaken by the CIES Football Observatory, we can take a look at the clubs that have the most currently active graduates from their youth systems in Europe’s ‘big five leagues’.
Which Football Academies Have the Most Currently Active Graduates Plying Their Trade in Europe’s Top Five Leagues?
Chelsea – 23 Graduates
A club more famed for its often-mocked loan network, Chelsea have produced some of the continent’s best talent in recent years. The club won the UEFA Youth League in 2015 and 2016, before earning runner-up medals in 2018 and 2019.
Amongst the 23 graduates in Europe’s top five leagues can be found West Ham United’s Declan Rice, AC Milan’s Fikayo Tomori and of course the likes of Mason Mount and Reece James currently involved in the Blues’ senior side.
Manchester United – 23 Graduates
Many say the Class of ’92 will never be bettered in English domestic football – certainly not Harry Redknapp who, quite fairly, argues West Ham’s generation of Joe Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Frank Lampard and co. were superior.
What is certain, is that Manchester United’s current crop of academy graduates playing in Europe’s top five leagues are not as trophy-laden. Marcus Rashford, Paul Pogba and Mason Greenwood are the standouts from their list.
Valencia – 25 Graduates
Valencia’s most incredible home-grown talent is arguably David Silva, who consistently dazzled Premier League spectators for the best part of a decade before returning to Spain.
The little magician is still plying his trade in La Liga, although the likes of Manchester City’s Ferran Torres and Carlos Soler and Jose Gaya – who both still play at Valencia – are the more valuable assets that started out at the club’s academy and are playing in the big five leagues.
Arsenal – 25 Graduates
The Gunners have produced a multitude of talent from Hale End. Jack Wilshere should have been something great, Serge Gnabry somehow became something great and the likes of Ashley Cole and Cesc Fabregas always were and have been something great.
Saint-Etienne – 25 Graduates
French domestic football gets a bad rep, but no one can fault the sheer talent that comes out of Ligue 1 academies.
Saint-Etienne are one such club who produce such talent, including Wesley Fofana, Kurt Zouma and Allan Saint-Maximin – all impressing at their respective Premier League clubs.
Paris Saint-Germain – 30 Graduates
Yes, PSG love to spend big and effectively buy their domestic dominance, but don’t let that detract from their incredible youth network which has produced 30 players currently featuring in Europe’s top five divisions.
The side from the French capital have a long list of graduated stars, including the likes of Kingsley Coman, Ferland Mendy, Christopher Nkunku, Mike Maignan and Presnel Kimpembe – among others.
Stade Rennais – 30 Graduates
The third French entrants in this list come in the form of Stade Rennais, who also have 30 graduates playing across the big five.
Aside from FIFA Ultimate Team legend Jimmy Briand, their most sensational graduates are Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembele and Real Madrid’s Eduardo Camavinga – who has often been tipped to become the world’s best midfielder for the next decade and beyond.
Birmingham City and Las Palmas will be the first to dispute that, however, having produced Jude Bellingham and Pedri respectively.
Lyon – 32 Graduates
Another French club in this top ten, Lyon boast 32 former academy players to be playing in Europe’s top five leagues.
Anthony Martial, Alexandre Lacazette, Rayan Cherki, Houssem Aouar and Nabil Fekir are some stand out names to have come from the Lyon youth ranks while the headline act is Karim Benzema, who is proving a dominant force in La Liga.
Barcelona – 42 Graduates
Times may be bleak for Barcelona, but the Catalan giants can still fall upon their famed La Masia academy to give them pride.
Their extensive list of graduates includes Ansu Fati, Gavi, Jordi Alba, Adama Traore, Thiago Alcantara and, of course, Lionel Messi, who ended his famous 21-year affiliation with the Catalan giants in notoriously heartbreaking fashion this summer.
Real Madrid – 42 Graduates
Quite appropriately tied with La Blaugrana at the top of the list are famous arch-rivals Real Madrid. Los Blancos can also boast a successful youth network, with 42 graduates in Europe’s top five leagues right now.
The standout names include now Atletico Madrid machine Marcos Llorente and PSG’S very own rocket Achraf Hakimi.