The top 10 most successful academies in world football

Manchester United named an academy graduate in their matchday squad yesterday for the 4000th consecutive game.

This unbelievable run stretches back almost 80 years, to a second division clash against Fulham on 30 October 1937 – a game which saw academy graduates Tom Manley and Jackie Wassall named in the starting line-up. 

Since that day, The Red Devils’ academy has established a tradition of churning out top-class talent, and providing a life in football for thousands of players across the decades. 

Undoubtedly viewed as one of the most successful and prestigious football academies in world football, we take a look at which other clubs occupy a similar position, and continue to produce elite-level talent year after year. 

Here are the top 10 academies in world football.

10. FC Schalke 04

Whilst not one of the first names that would spring to many people’s minds when they think of world football’s talent-development powerhouses, Schalke helped to produce one of the finest crop of footballers we have seen this generation. 

Germany’s 2014 World Cup triumph owed much to their solid defence and world-class ‘keeper in Manuel Neuer. 

Neuer, a graduate of Schalke’s academy himself, played behind the ever-solid Benedikt Howedes for the entirety of the tournament, a man who also came through in Gelsenkirchen. 

In front of them in midfield, fellow graduates Mesut Ozil and Julian Draxler helped to pick apart some of the best defences in world football, with technical ability and a near-telepathic understanding on the pitch on display for all to see. 

Since 2014, Schalke have continued to bring through top-level players, with Manchester City’s Leroy Sane and Bayern Munich’s star man Leon Goretzka two more examples of their ongoing success. 

Other past graduates include defensive stalwart Christoph Metzelder, and former Arsenal and and Borussia Dortmund ‘keeper Jens Lehmann.

9. River Plate

The first non-European club to feature on our list, River Plate boast some of the biggest names in footballing history on their list of alumni. 

Real Madrid legend Alfredo Di Stefano is perhaps the biggest name to come through in Buenos Aires, but fellow superstars Hernan Crespo, Radamel Falcao and Pablo Aimar all also honed their craft at the iconic club before making the move to Europe. 

Known for scouring the streets in local cities and towns for any young players with the right attitude and ability, River’s graduates are known for their technical ability and fantastic reading of the game. 

Perhaps missing a huge name from the past two seasons or so, don’t be surprised to see yet another top-class player emerge from the 36-time domestic champions over the coming years. 

8. Dinamo Zagreb

Another name which might perhaps shock a few readers, Croatia’s Dinamo Zagreb have consistently produced players capable of succeeding at the very highest level.

Former graduates include Marko Pjaca of Juventus, Atletico Madrid’s Sime Vrsaljko, Chelsea midfielder Mateo Kovacic, and 2018 Ballon d’Or winner – and Real Madrid legend – Luka Modric. 

Other notable names include former Tottenham defender Vedran Corluka, and journeyman midfielder Milan Badelj.

Current players Dani Olmo and Antonio Marin look set to continue the Croat club’s ongoing success with exports, with the former having been linked to Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona in recent weeks, to name but a few of his suitors. 

7. Borussia Dortmund

Another club to whom all German national fans owe a debt of service, it was Borussia Dortmund graduate Mario Gotze who scored the goal to seal their 2014 World Cup success. 

Club legend Marco Reus, and Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic are two more players who have established themselves amongst the European elite over the years that follow, whilst there are countless others playing in Germany who were part of their set up at some point. 

Whilst not strictly Dortmund academy player’s, as both were signed after their professional debut, Ilkay Gundogan and Mats Hummels both benefited from the club’s amazing youth facilities and coaching, helping the club to back to back league wins under former manager Jurgen Klopp

Felix Passlack and Jacob Bruun Larsen are two of the latest to come through the BVB academy, with both said to be attracting interest from a host of European clubs.

6. Santos FC

There are currently 92 academies around the world bearing the name of Brazil’s FC Santos, a club near synonymous with some of the countries most famous names.

The birthplace of, in many people’s eyes, the greatest to ever take to a football pitch, the legendary Pele is just one of many to owe their success to the coaches styles and techniques that Santos have been using for generations.

Perhaps the biggest graduate in recent years is the man most likely to break the former’s records, Neymar grew up and broke through at Santos before making his big move to Europe with Barcelona.

Former AC Milan, Real Madrid and Manchester City forward Robinho is another illustrious alumni, as is Gabriel Barbosa, or Gabigol – Inter Milan’s young forward who currently finds himself back in Brazil on loan at Flamengo. 

5. Sporting Lisbon

If Pele is synonymous with Santos’ success in bringing youth through, there is only one man that can be cited as an example of the work Sporting have been doing for generations. 

It was at Sporting Lisbon that Cristiano Ronaldo impressed visiting scouts from Manchester United, and the rest, as they say, is history. 

Other notable members of the talent-pool include former Real Madrid and Barcelona forwards Luis Figo, as well as European journeyman Joao Moutinho – currently winning countless plaudits at the heart of Wolves midfield in the Premier League.

Luis Nani, Pepe, Quaresma, Eric Dier and Gelson Martins have all also gone on to have careers at the highest level.

Another club known to scout far and wide for any players they believe have the right mind-set to succeed in what can be one of the most brutal environments, Lisbon’s methods have certainly paid dividends, as they continue to be one of the biggest exporters of talent across Europe. 

4. Bayern Munich

One of the true powerhouses of world football, Bayern’s academy is said to employ 40 full-time staff and 180 youngsters at any one time, at a reported cost of almost £2.5 million-per-year.

To list all alumni of their prestigious school would need another article in it’s own right, but recent notable graduates include Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Toni Kroos, Mats Hummels, Thomas Muller and David Alaba.

Home-grown talent has always been at the heart of Bayern’s success, both domestically and in Europe, and it is showing no signs of stopping any time soon. 

3. Ajax

Perhaps the most successful academy in history, Ajax are renowned for being a club that favour both technical and mental development above almost all else. 

First bringing through the legendary Johan Cruyff, before later turning to his ways of coaching and teaching in later years, Ajax are said to give a young player a complete education within the game.

Again, a list of all alumni would most likely run longer than your average novel, but Patrick Kluivert, Clarence Seedorf, Marco van Basten, Dennis Bergkamp, Frank and Ronald de Boer, Frank Rijkard, Edgar Davids, Edqin van der Sar and Wesley Sneijder are just a handful of the players that have gone down in history, due to their education in Amsterdam.

Justin Kluivert, Christian Eriksen, Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt are some who have graduated in more recent times, whilst the list of potential future superstars continues to grow by the day.

2. Manchester United

An academy graduate in 4000 consecutive match day squads – that one statistic alone tells you almost everything you need to know about Manchester United’s rich tradition of blooding youth, time and time again. 

The prestigious title of the most successful generation would perhaps have to go to the famous Class of ’92, although had tragedy not have struck for the equally as famous Busy Babes, perhaps history would be telling a different tale. 

Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, Scott McTominay, Mason Greenwood and Angel Gomes are all current members of the first-team squad who have come through the youth ranks.

Whilst their success on the pitch might have waned in recent years, The Red Devils’ ability to bring through talent remains undoubted. 

1. Barcelona 

Perhaps the birth place of the greatest academy generation ever to grace the game, Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy is almost the stuff of folklore. 

Any club in world football would be blessed to have had any one of Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol, Victor Valdes, Sergio Busquets, Pedro, Sergi Roberto or Gerard Pique come through their academy. 

To have all of them come through within the same generation however is almost beyond belief. 

Delivering eight domestic titles in the last 10 seasons, along with three Champions Leagues and six Copa del Rey’s, the Barcelona team of the late 2000’s and early 2010’s is arguably the greatest club side of all time – produced by arguably the greatest academy the world has ever seen. 

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