The ECA Report On Europe’s Academy’s – An Insight.

With the ECA Europe Academy Report recently published, PitchSideTalk takes a look at the facts and figures that surround it. The report looks at European academy’s of all sizes, from Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy to the youth set-up of Finland’s FC Honka. The ECA is a governing body, created in 2008, to monitor the work undergone by academies. The last few seasons in European football have highlighted the need for successful youth set-ups and with the installation of Financial Fair Play measures; it is something clubs are now prioritising on. Below PitchSideTalk takes a look at some of the things the report suggests – analysing and comparing results and ideas from a small selection of the clubs involved.

Young Gun: Wilshere in the early days of his professional career at Arsenal.

Arsenal, England.

Money Spent: €6m per year.

Target: ‘To produce first team players. To be self-sufficient and generate profits.’

Philosophy: ‘The focus is only on quality.’ – Arsene Wenger

Learning Structure: 8-10  Play and fun, receiving passes, dribbling and shooting, small sided games. 11-15 – Technical skills development. Drill work. Development of individual capacity within competitive games. 15+ – Tactical skills development. Emphasis on collective performances, positioning and tactical coaching.

Work with weights: U15 upwards.
Recent Results: Many of Arsenal’s first team players have graduated from the academy. Noticeably Jack Wilshere who joined the club aged 10. 
Unique Aspect: 1st Team manager Arsene Wenger coaches the older academy groups during the senior International breaks.
Coaches: Academy coaches are ideally ex-players with significant experience at a high level.
Barcelona, Spain.
Money Spent: €10m per year.
Target: ‘To have a main squad with players from the academy.’
Learning Structure: 7-11 – General exercises to stimulate technique and overall football concepts. Small sided games. 12-18 – To familiarise and develop skills. Offensive and defensive concepts. Strong emphasis on possession, on passing accuracy, on fluid movement between the orthodox delineations of midfield and attack.
The Future: Just a few famous faces featuring for Barcelona's famed La Masia academy.
Work with weights: Not before 17 years old.
Recent Results: Virtually the entire Barcleona 1st team squad has graduated from its academy. Players like Xavi, Iniesta, Messi and Busquets, to name only a few, have played at the club since childhood.
Unique Aspect: Most of the academy players attend the same local school. Importance of education is constantly emphasised, a number of Barcelona B players even studying at undergraduate degree level.
Coaches: Usually very young, do not necessarily have past experience at high levels.
Ajax, Holland. 

Veterans: Former Ajax academy graduates returning to coach the clubs next generation.

Money Spent: €6m per year.
Target: ‘To have three players make it to the first team every two seasons.’
Philosophy: ‘You need both quality and results. Results without quality is boring; quality without results is meaningless.’ – Johan Cruijff
Learning Structure: U8 – Small sided games, focus on passing, movement and finesse, with confidence on the ball a priority. 8-12 – Focus on technical work and positional play. 13-16 – Focus on individual ball work remains but functional positional training progresses. Player evaluation starts. 17-20 – Focus on skills vs. habits and ball control.
Work with weights: Non-mandatory, maximum of half an hour per day.
Recent Results: Of all the first team players in Holland’s top Eredivise division, 30% of them will have spent part of their development with the Ajax academy.
Unique Aspect: Traditional academies have a trainer who trains a group of players, whilst Ajax promotes the idea that a group of trainers trains an individual player.
Coaches: The ideal coach is an ex-player with lots of experience at high levels. Dennis Bergkamp is currently one of many past players working with the academy. 

Developing: Young Luka Modric playing for Dinamo Zageb before his move to Europe’s elite of football.

NK Dinamo Zagreb, Croatia.

Money Spent: €1.3m per year.
Target: ‘A minimum of two players from each age group will finish their youth careers in Dinamo Zagreb’s youth team.’
Philosophy: ‘Repetition is key as the players are focused on creating the right reactions in ball handling and in combining and cooperating.’ – Damir Vrbanovic, NK Dinamo’s CEO (2011).
Learning Structure: U8-U9 – Applications of technique in free play. Tactical preparation and theory, taking up positions and maintaining basic formation. U10-U11 – Individual tactics, defence and attack. Encouraging one-vs-one and possession games. U12-U16 – Advances in tactical development, focusing on working in different units. Developing physical and functional abilities in the sensitive phases.
Work with weights: Not before the age of 16.
Recent Results: Over the last five years the cost of the academy reached €6.5m. The return from selling players was €50m, equalling a Net Profit of €43.5m.
Unique Factor: The club run successful summer schools in the USA, Canada, Australia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Coaches: High level of intelligence, stable personality. Ability to transfer knowledge, feeling for the game, not necessary a former top player. 
Sporting Lisbon, Portugal. 
Money Spent: €5m per year.
Target: ‘Highest number of players to reach the first team of Sporting Clube De Portugal.’ Philosophy: ‘The mission of the club is to produce football players who can compete at the highest level. It also aims to integrate the Sporting professional team with the promotion of a solid education.’
Learning Structure: 7-13 – Focus on technique, transition from an anarchic game to an organised game. 14-17 – Begin to consider and consolidate tactical aspects of the game. Focus on physical aspect and player profile. 19-21 – Specialist roles and positions, give one or more players to the first team.
Recent Results: Since 2002, Sporting has obtained more than €95m with the transfers of academy graduates.

A Star Is Born: Cristiano Ronaldo playing in his youth days at Sporting Lisbon.

Work with weights: From U15, beginning with only technique but gradually progressing.
Unique Aspect: There is a hotel on the academy grounds can cater for almost 100 players.
Coaches: Ex-players at several levels with an academic background.
To read the whole ECA Academy report, follow the link:
What do you make of the report and the state of youth development across Europe? Do you have anything to say about your particular club’s set-up?
Any thoughts or questions, please feel free to get in touch! Comment below or Tweet @pitchsidetalk. All support hugely appreciated!

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