Football supporters are intrinsically drawn towards youth players rising through the ranks.
There is something distinctly tribalistic about supporters’ attitudes towards the emergence of a local-born player, particularly in a footballing world that is becoming increasingly dominated by mega-money signings and leaving organic promotion as a redundant concept.
Academies are rapidly being transformed into money-making vehicles for the elite clubs and graduating into the senior fold is harder than it’s ever been.
Despite the decreasing reliance on academy players to pad out the first-team squad, youth systems remain a source of visceral pride for fans and club personnel alike.
But which of the Premier League’s established top six sides boasts the best academy system?
It’s a question that’s bound to draw some debate, and one that can be analysed through a variety of different lenses.
In order to draw a conclusion on the subject, GIVEMESPORT have created a starting XI for each of the top six clubs comprising of players to have graduated from the academy setup.
There are some important criteria dictating each line-up that need to be addressed before we attempt to rank these from worst to best.
Only those individuals who arrived at the club aged 16 or younger qualify for selection, while we have only included players who are still plying their trade today.
It’s by no means a foolproof method of establishing a clear definitive winner, but the XIs do provide a strong indication of where the next best thing is most likely to emerge from.
So, without further ado, here’s our ranking of each of the top six club’s academy system, listed in descending order from worst to best.
Let’s take a look…
6. Tottenham Hotspur
It’s a good job Spurs have Harry Kane to boast in their academy XI.
Apart from producing one of the greatest strikers the Premier League has ever seen, the north London giants don’t have a huge amount to shout about and the fact he’s partnered with Troy Parrott speaks volumes about what an anomalous case the World Cup Golden Boot winner really is.
With a lack of wide players produced by Spurs, Andros Townsend slots infield at the tip of a respectable diamond including Harry Winks, current Norwich City loanee Oliver Skipp and Nabil Bentaleb, whose contract with Schalke expires in the summer.
There’s a real lack of proven quality in the defensive unit, particularly with David Button in goal, and the Lilywhites would be exposed by the other XIs in this ranking.
Liverpool are a club who are renowned for their world-beating academy system having produced the likes of Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen down the years.
That golden generation of academy graduates, however, has been and gone.
Of course, this XI is still littered with first-class players including Trent Alexander-Arnold and Raheem Sterling, while Curtis Jones’ auspicious development suggests he’ll be entering that bracket soon enough.
But there’s simply too many weak links in the side to boost them higher in the list, with Liverpool backup goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher, current academy star Paul Glatzel, Sheffield United’s Jack Robinson and Nantes’ Pedro Chirivella all sneaking into the side by virtue of an absence of quality alternatives.
RB Leipzig’s impressive first-choice stopper Peter Gulasci failed to qualify for the side having moved to Anfield as an 18-year-old.
Arsenal are building an unwanted reputation for willingly disposing of their most valuable academy gems for a snip of their true value.
Donyell Malen and Serge Gnabry are two of the most high-profile examples of that tendency in motion and form part of a strong forward line alongside Bukayo Saka and Alex Iwobi.
The latter may be lacking the cutting-edge that players need to stand out in the Premier League, but the fact the Gunners managed to attract a £35m fee for his signature has to be regarded as a triumph for the academy system in the modern game.
Central midfield is where Arsenal are distinctly lacking quality in this XI, though Ainsley Maitland-Niles appears to have a bright future ahead of him and Jack Wilshere’s career really hasn’t reflected the enormity of his talent.
The defensive unit is stacked with experience and the overall solidity of this XI gives them the edge over Liverpool.
3. Manchester City
Manchester City may have become a behemoth in the transfer market and adopted an aggressive spending approach towards global expansion but they are a club who have consistently produced brilliant young talent before and after Sheikh Mansour’s takeover.
The problem is that few players have been able to carve out a route into the first-team, forcing many to fly the nest in search of first-team opportunities.
Kieran Trippier, Dedryck Boyata, Ben Mee, Kasper Schmeichel, David Brooks and Jadon Sancho are all fantastic players who have gone on to enjoy fruitful careers at the top level after leaving City, and they form the majority of what is an undeniably strong XI.
Current academy star Phil Foden may well be the best player in the history of City’s academy, while 19-year-old Tommy Doyle looks a precocious talent for the future.
Elsewhere Daniel Sturridge moved away from Manchester to pursue his lofty ambitions at Chelsea before City emerged into the force they are today, while Eric Garcia looks destined to follow Brahim Diaz back to Spain when his contract expires in the summer.
It’s rather ironic that arguably the chief revolutionisers of the transfer market boast the second-most impressive academy XI.
Frank Lampard’s revolution in the 2019/20 season underlined the strength of Chelsea’s academy and the club’s extravagant spending spree last summer may actually represent a poignant turning point in his managerial stint.
The likes of Fikayo Tomori, Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham underpinned Lampard’s success in his first season in the job, and it was only after an influx of mega-money signings arrived that the wheels started to come off.
With the exception of Neil Etheridge, who certainly didn’t appear out of his depth during his time with Cardiff City in the Premier League, this Chelsea side is full of high quality players who are either already established or in the process of establishing themselves in one of Europe’s elite divisions.
Dominic Solanke hasn’t yet proven to be the clinical top-flight striker many expected him to become, but his return of ten goals and six assists in 25 Championship appearances this season suggests he may yet find his feet at the highest level of English football.
This is a formidable XI that illuminates the strength of Chelsea’s youth system.
1. Manchester United
The class of ’92 may represent the pinnacle of Man United’s academy achievement but their current roster of graduates show that the club’s production line is incredibly consistent.
The Red Devils claim top spot due to the strength of their spine, which includes a frightening centre-forward pairing, a midfield duo who complement each other perfectly and an experienced centre-back partnership that rarely give strikers a sniff.
Robbie Brady and Timothy Fosu-Mensah are notable weak links in the left-midfield and right-back positions respectively, but otherwise there is proven quality from back to front with a smattering of potential thrown in with Dean Henderson and Brandon Williams.
It’s an incredibly accomplished line-up and deservedly takes the crown.