Ajax’s youth academy is famous all over the world for producing young talent. Johan Cruijff, Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard, Wim Kieft, Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Kluivert are a couple of names who became world stars after successfully completing their education at the Ajax youth academy. Central within the club are the tactics (4-3-3 wing play), training, behavior and house rules.
More recently, the AFC Ajax Youth Academy produced players like Donny van de Beek, Christian Eriksen, Frenkie de Jong, Justin Kluivert and Matthijs de Ligt. Sportcomplex De Toekomst is the name of the training grounds of AFC Ajax, with a capacity of 5,000 it serves as home grounds for the reserves team and Jong Ajax. The Ajax youth academy also produced different Belgian players, because of a previous collaboration with Germinal Beerschot. The most famous example is centre back Jan Vertonghen, out of contract at the end of the season.
4. Sporting Lisbon
The Sporting youth academy occupies 4th place in terms of youth training in European football, in a study undertaken by the International centre for Sports Studies (CIES). A total of 54 players produced at the Sporting Academy can be found across European teams, eight of which are still playing at Sporting Lisboa. Though Benfica and Porto have a great youth academy too, the Sporting academy is the best academy in Portugal and one of the best football academies in the world.
The Sporting CP Youth Academy developed footballers such as Ballon d’Or recipients Cristiano Ronaldo and Luís Figo. Aside from these two star players, the academy has produced more than 100 players who have gone to represent Portugal at the national level and also featured prominently in their later clubs.
The Santos Futebol Clube Reserves and Academy consist of the reserve and academy teams of Santos FC. The main objective of their youth academy is to discover talented young players who have future potential to play for Santos’ first team. The Santos youth academy is our pick from the best football academies in Latin America.
The biggest name to come out of the Santos youth academy is Pele, who began his career at Santos. But Pele is not the only big name to have had his education at their youth academy, in recent years Santos also produced great players such as Neymar Jnr and Robinho.
2. Athletic Bilbao
The youth academy of Athletic Bilbao is called the ‘Cantera’ and has the goal of developing players from childhood through to the integration into the first team. The club has come to rely almost exclusively on their youth academy as they only allow players native to the Basque region in their squad.
“Con cantera y afición, no hace falta importación” is the slogan of the club: “with homegrown talent and local support, you don’t need imports.” Together with Barcelona and Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao hold the record for being in Primera Division the longest. The 3 teams have been playing in La Liga since 1929 and have never been relegated.
La Masia de Can Planes, usually shortened to La Masia, in English: “The Farmhouse”, is the term used for the FC Barcelona’s youth academy. The academy has more than 300 young talents and has a big influence on the success of the club. La Masia de Can Planes originally was an old Catalan farmhouse, built in 1702. In 1979, it was first used by the club to develop its talents.
Easily the greatest of the best football academies in the world, La Masia has produced numerous young players that have made it in top clubs around the world. In November 2012, Barcelona had 11 players on the field who all were homegrown stars. In 2010, the three nominees for the Ballon d’Or came out of the Barcelona youth academy: Lionel Messi, Andrés Iniesta and Xavi. No other youth academy does better than the one located in Barcelona and this makes La Masia the best of all football academies.