Football clubs playing outside the European top 5 are deprived of the opportunity to rack up huge profits through big television contracts. Saudi sovereign wealth funds are in no hurry to become their owners, so the only option left is to invest in the development of academy clubs and sell students. Especially successful in this matter is Benfica Lisbon, which the International Center for Sports Studies (CIES) has ranked first in the ranking of clubs with the highest income from the sales of its youth players in the last 10 years.
We analyzed the details of the preparation of the seven best clubs in the CIES ranking: Portuguese teams with an original approach attracted special attention.
1. Benfica (Portugal, 516 million euros)
Total number of players sold: thirtyMost expensive sale: Joao Félix (127.2 million euros, Atlético de Madrid)
In the latest report from the audit and consulting company Deloitte Football Money League 2024, Benfica’s income amounted to 223.4 million euros, which allowed the Eagles to occupy 22nd place in the ranking of the most profitable clubs in the world . Actually, the achievement is very honorable, because among the top 30, the Lisbon team is the only team that is not included in the five major European leagues. A well-thought-out transfer policy and a focus on the club’s academy help the Eagles succeed.
The young Joao Félix in the Benfica match
Photo: Maja Hitij/Getty Images
The idea of opening Caixa Futebol Benfica (in operation since 2006) comes from the team’s great forward, Eusebio. The Academy is located 20 minutes from Lisbon in an area of 19 hectares with nine natural grass fields, two artificial grass fields, three state-of-the-art gyms and the main pride of the center: a laboratory with a 360S simulator. . On the territory of a huge campus there is a secondary school, opened in 2019, and all academy teams play exclusively in the 4-3-3 formation, for a comfortable adaptation to the first team.
The training center simultaneously trains 15 children’s and youth teams, and 172 children’s scouts from all over the world work to fill this forge of talents. Foreign children, approximately a third of them at the academy, initially live in Portuguese families, so that the process of adapting to local customs and lifestyle is less painful for them.
In the last 10 years alone, the Eagles have produced great players such as Bernardo Silva, Nelson Semedo, Joao Cancelo, Gonçalo Guedes, André Gomes, Renato Sanches and Joao Félix.
Powerful history of Portugal:
The Portuguese Super Cup is named after the spy. After being tortured in a concentration camp, he returned to football
2. Ajax (Netherlands, 376 million euros)
Total number of players sold: 36 Most expensive sale: Frenkie de Jong (86 million euros, Barcelona)
In the Netherlands, Ajax’s academy is called De Toekomst – “The Future”. On campus there are 12 playing fields, a gym, an arena, a school and a swimming pool. Like Benfica, all teams play in a 4-3-3 formation. Priority for admission to the academy is given to children from Amsterdam and only by special invitation: scouts can follow the talents for years. The academy has only eight scouts on permanent contracts, but there are more than 100 independent scouts covering the entire country.
In the academy we mainly work on elements such as coordination, positional play, practicing shots, passes, feints, shots and throw-ins. The coaches (25 specialists work at the academy headquarters) highlight several parameters for the players’ progress: technique, thinking, speed and character. Additionally, each parameter has 10 characteristics by which talents are evaluated.
Ajax U12 players are the winners of former Amsterdam coach Erik ten Hag’s tournament
Photo: FC Ajax
Parents pay only 12 euros a year for their children, just for the insurance and everything else is free. However, entering the “Future” does not at all mean that talent stays here until the final exams, because every year, for lack of progress, these players are eliminated without the slightest regret. For example, at the age of 16, Quincy Promes left the academy due to poor discipline.
3. Lyon (France, 370 million euros)
Total number of players sold: 32 Most expensive sale: Alexandre Lacazette (53 million euros)
The Lyon academy opened its doors in 1952 and gave the world such outstanding players as Ludovic Giuly, Frédéric Kanouté and Karim Benzema. The sports complex is located in Meziers (the metropolitan city of Lyon) and is the main mixed football academy in France: it trains 649 boys and girls. On the territory of the complex there are 14 football fields, three of which are artificial grass. Every year, 20 to 30 people graduate from the academy, and school results are even more important than achievements on the soccer field.
The young Karim Benzema in a Lyon match
Photo: Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images
“The children leave their families and are under our care and protection,” says the academy’s director, Georges Prost. “We have school inspectors who act as parents, because sometimes it is not so easy to deal with children, especially if they are only 11, 12 or 13 years old.” In recent seasons, Lyon has been exporting its experience to other countries: the Academy’s specialists are coaches of clubs such as Atlético (Lebanon), Dakar (Senegal), Resende (Brazil), Rova Sports (Kenya) and others. .
4. Real Madrid (Spain, 364 million euros)
Total number of players sold: 28 Most expensive sale: Álvaro Morata (66 million euros)
If the theater begins with a coat rack, the first door of the Real Madrid quarry in Valdebebas leads to the locker room of the club’s youngest category: children under five years old. A kind of message from the club’s management to young talents, proving that this is the first step on the way to the main team of Madrid. The complex contains 11 football fields, the Alfredo Di Stéfano Stadium and many other structures through which the player must advance until reaching the Santiago Bernabéu.
Alfredo Di Stéfano and the young Carvajal
The road is long and winding and, as the Real Madrid coaches try to convey to their students, it becomes more difficult every year. Another symbolism lies in the fact that the walls of the changing rooms in the quarry for up to 13 years are painted yellow, and in the so-called “high quarry”, blue, which is associated with wisdom and rigour. In total, the academy has about 350 students of different genders. Real’s reports for 2021-2022 show that the annual maintenance costs of the entire complex amount to almost €25 million, but are fully recovered.
5. Chelsea (England, 364 million euros)
Total number of players sold: 28 Most expensive sale: Mason Mount (€64.2 million)
The London club is a bit reminiscent of Real Madrid: there are many great players (Jamal Musiala, Tammy Abraham, Nathan Ake, Declan Rice, Fikayo Tomori), but not all of them were given a chance in the Blues first team. The excellent performance of the Chelsea Academy is also confirmed with two consecutive victories in the UEFA Youth League (2015, 2016). The key people in the club’s academy over the years, director of football development and operations Neil Bath and head of youth development and recruitment Jim Fraser, have no intention of stopping. They developed the Vision 2030 development concept.
By the end of this decade, Bath and Fraser had set three main goals for the academy:
at least 15% of academy graduates in Chelsea’s first team in Premier League matches; at least 25% of the Blues students on the team’s roster for the season; the highest number of Cobham graduates in professional football compared to other academies.
Chelsea – winner of the 2015 UEFA Youth League
Photo: Darren Walsh/Getty Images
The constant pursuit of excellence led Chelsea to announce a five-year agreement in 2022 with AiSCOUT, an automated talent analysis and development platform. AiSCOUT uses machine learning to identify and analyze talent in youth and amateur football, adding data and video footage to Chelsea’s scouting network. Close consultation during the development of the platform over two years gave the club a high degree of confidence that it could meet its needs.
6. Monaco (France, 325 million euros)
Total number of players sold: 18 Most expensive sale: Kylian Mbappé (180 million euros)
The Monaco Academy is one of the most respected training centers in Europe. Five world champions trained here: Thierry Henry, Emmanuel Petit, Lilian Thuram, David Trezeguet and Kylian Mbappé. The center was founded in 1975 by the club’s president, Jean-Louis Campora. Scouts select players for their technical ability, athleticism, game intelligence and strength. In 1992, the club opened another center in Dakar (Senegal). As a result, nine students from Monaco participated in the 2002 World Cup match between France and Senegal.
Kylian Mbappé, 18, in a match with Monaco
Photo: Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images
As in any other French academy, great attention is paid to education here: in case of poor performance, students are suspended from training and even expelled. The students are divided into several groups (U17, U19 and Elite Group), with 60 people (coaches + staff). In 2022, the academy moved to a new campus located next to the club’s Stade Louis II, called Diagonal.
It is worth noting that Monaco always focuses on quality: in the last 10 years they have sold 18 players, but all for huge sums of money. In addition to Mbappé, there are Aurélien Tchouameni (80 million euros), Thomas Lemar (72 million euros) and Anthony Martial (60 million euros).
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7. Sporting Lisbon (Portugal, 306 million euros)
Total number of players sold: 31 Most expensive sale: João Mario (44.78 million euros)
The productivity of the Lions Academy can best be summed up by two names: Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Figo, who won the Ballon d’Or in different years. The Lisbon residents found Cris in Madeira, and Figo in the town of Almada, where he played futsal. Nowadays Sporting has a cult of Ronaldo; A couple of years ago they even renamed the club’s academy in his honor. And yet, the main person and inspirer of the Lions’ talent forging is Aurelio Pereira, who has headed Sporting’s youth department since 1987.
Ronaldo and Figo train with Portugal in 2006
Photo: Stuart Franklin/Bongarts/Getty Images
Pereira took a very original approach and decided that the best scouts were ordinary football fans. “They see talent every day and can make the best recommendations. Our scouts are coaches, judges, firefighters, drivers, police officers and many others,” Aurelio admitted. Currently, Sporting has the support of more than 100 thousand followers, who are paid for successful recommendations.