Time and time again it becomes clear that elite football clubs have been transformed into media and entertainment enterprises, keen to capitalise on their global commercial appeal. However, talent management remains at the core of clubs’ activities at all levels of the football pyramid, often serving as an indispensable source of revenue to ensure financial sustainability. The ability of clubs to efficiently manage talent also influences their Enterprise Value (EV), hence we hereby delve into how they are able to do that with the help of the brand-new digital data tool of Football Benchmark, the Youth Football Platform.

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The brand-new Football Benchmark Youth Football Platform delivers comprehensive and objective rankings of the top Under-21 players in Europe and South America. Additionally, it offers detailed statistics and insights into which clubs and leagues excel at transitioning players from academy to first-team football in Europe. Get your access today!

Successful youth transitions from academy to first team

While not mutually exclusive strategies, football clubs can opt to primarily develop young talents internally through their youth teams, instead of acquiring them via the transfer market.

Football academies can be vital to clubs, as they embody tradition while offering a pathway for local talent. They not only bolster club identity and a strong culture, but also provide financial advantages crucial to today’s football economy. It is definitely a rather long-term investment that requires accurate planning and patience but investing in academies also aligns with UEFA’s new Financial Sustainability regulations, allowing clubs to profit from the sale of home-grown players or the promotion of such footballers to the first team. The latter allows savings on transfer fees and wages for similar talents, while simultaneously promoting a sense of belonging and potentially boosting the loyalty of fans.

As there was no uniform, internationally accepted definition of when a transition from academy to first team football is complete, at Football Benchmark we developed our own approach based on discussions with elite coaches and other industry experts. In our view a “successful transition” means a player who has reached 450 cumulative minutes of first team playing time in their career, considering only competitive club matches. Importantly, a player must have spent at least three full seasons or 36 months at the same club’s academy between the ages of 15 and 21 in order to be accounted for in our methodology. Please note that a transition is „direct” if the player reaches the 450-minute-threshold while playing for the first team of the club whose academy they were signed for, whereas a transition is „indirect” if that threshold is reached while at another club (e.g., while being loaned out).

The number of successful transitions to first team football is one of the key metrics for assessing the effectiveness of the operation of football clubs’ academies.

The following charts show the best-performing clubs among the top 32 clubs by EV in this regard, between 2018/19 and 2022/23, considering direct transitions only.

Note: The values show how many academy players of each club reached first-team player status in recent seasons by playing at least 450 aggregate minutes for the first team of the club.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, once again non-Big Five clubs dominate the direct transitions ranking, with SL Benfica and AFC Ajax leading with 12 successful direct transitions over the past five seasons. João Félix and Gonçalo Ramos are two of the young talents who completed their transitions to elite, first team football at SL Benfica before moving to Club Atlético de Madrid in 2019 and Paris Saint-Germain FC in 2023, respectively. For the Dutch side, recent direct transition success stories include Noussair Mazraoui (currently at FC Bayern München) and Ryan Gravenberch (now at Liverpool FC).

Sporting Clube de Portugal follow suit with 11 transitions, while their domestic rivals, FC Porto, lag behind with seven direct transitions. This finding further strengthens the appeal of the Portuguese market in terms of youth player development, which is closely related to the positive player trading performance examined previously.

FC Barcelona are fourth in this ranking with eight direct transitions. Players such as Ansu Fati, Alejandro Baldé and Gavi have completed their transition directly at the “Blaugrana” in the period in question.

Expanding the analysis to the total number of successful transitions, including both direct and indirect, we find two Italian clubs at the top of the ranking: Atalanta BC and FC Internazionale Milano, with 35 and 33 successful transitions, respectively. For both clubs, almost all players moved indirectly, with the only exception of Giorgio Scalvini, the only direct transition for the “Gli Orobici”. FC Inter relied exclusively on indirect transitions, which include players such as Andrea Pinamonti (currently at US Sassuolo Calcio), Gaetano Oristanio (Cagliari Calcio) and Giovanni Fabbian (Bologna FC 1909).

Note: The values show how many academy players of each club reached first-team player status in recent seasons by playing at least 450 aggregate minutes for either the first team of the club (direct) or at another club while on loan (indirect).

Manchester City FC are ranked third, with 28 successful transitions. Phil Foden, Cole Palmer (currently at Chelsea FC,) and Brahim Diaz (now at Real Madrid CF), are three of the most prominent young players developed by the Citizens in recent seasons.

SL Benfica (27) are again one of the highest-ranked clubs, with 27 total successful transitions, of which 44% were direct. Manchester United FC close the top five with 26 total transitions, including Alejandro Garnacho among others.

Golden Boy Football Benchmark Index

The Golden Boy Football Benchmark Index (GBFB Index) provides an objective method for comparing the recent on-pitch performances and sporting potential of the best Under-21 talents in the best European leagues. The underlying methodology was developed by Football Benchmark; we have been the data & analytics partner of Tuttosport's European Golden Boy Award since 2023.

The corresponding section of the Youth Football Platform showcases the latest GBFB Index values of all players that are eligible for selection.

Under-21 Player Performance Analysis

The purpose of this section is to provide an objective analysis and ranking of Under-21 men’s football players along a variety of metrics: playing time in competitive (senior) matches, on-pitch performance statistics, and national team experience. This allows the identification of players with the most experience at an early stage in their career.

The database is updated up to four times a year. Only footballers playing in one of Europe’s (UEFA) or South America’s (CONMEBOL) first division leagues or in the second divisions of England, France, Germany, Italy, or Spain at the time of each update are considered. Match data since the 2020/21 season is included. All players of the ‘Under-21 Player Performance Analysis’ section can be selected for a direct comparison. The ‘Player Comparison’ section offers a different, more focused view of the dataset.

How to get access to the new Youth Football Platform?

The Youth Football Platform is a subscription-based premium service offered by Football Benchmark. To learn more, reach out to us below to book a demonstration. When contacting us, please provide details such as your full name and professional background (e.g., company name, position, etc.). This allows our team to tailor the demo to your specific needs.

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