In recent seasons we’ve seen a drastic increase in the amount of money being pumped into the game of football.
Players are now being sold for astronomical figures, with some of those players only needing one breakout season to earn themselves moves to some of the world’s biggest clubs. They’ve then gone on to become some of the best players in the world, but they all had to come from somewhere.
Some clubs don’t necessarily get the credit they deserve when it comes to nurturing young players and giving them opportunities to break into first team setups. Here’s a look at seven clubs which have been breeding grounds for top players in recent years:
Playing in the Dutch Eredivisie, Groningen are far from the very top of European football. But looking at the club’s alumni, you sit there and wonder why this is the case.
They’ve had some very high profile names on their books in the past which have included Arjen Robben who has gone on to have an illustrious career, Virgil van Dijk who only recently won the PFA Player of the Year award after transforming Liverpool’s defence and Luis Suarez who is widely viewed as one of Europe’s most dangerous strikers.
They’ve also nurtured the likes of Daley Blind and Dusan Tadic who are both now part of an Ajax side who reached the Champions League semi-final this campaign.
It’s an extraordinary feat for a Groningen club who have very little financial backing, but who have instead used the resources available to them to nurture these young players.
Ajax have had a reputation of producing world-class talent for many decades now, especially in the 1990s when the likes of Clarence Seedorf, Edwin van der Sar and Patrick Kluivert all graduated from the club’s youth academy.
But this trend has continued into the new century as well, with the likes of Toby Alderweireld, Christian Eriksen and Ryan Babel all going on to have great careers after leaving the club.
The club’s ability to develop young players was never more evident than this season with Matthijs de Ligt, Frenkie de Jong and Donny van de Beek all playing key roles in leading Ajax to the Champions League semi-finals. With de Jong already signed up by Barcelona, both de Ligt and van de Beek look set to follow him by signing for some of Europe’s biggest clubs.
Another club which has become synonymous with building their team around young players, Borussia Dortmund have become experts in breeding world-class talent. The likes of Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gotze, Mats Hummels and Shinji Kagawa all won a Bundesliga title together in 2012 under the age of 24, and have all gone on to have further success.
Three of the four players joined Bayern Munich where they’ve won numerous titles – with both Hummels and Lewandowski still playing their football at the Allianz Arena – but that hasn’t stopped Dortmund producing more world-class talent since.
Players such as Marco Reus, Antonio Rudiger and Christian Pulisic all learned their trade at Signal Iduna Park, with Jadon Sancho now the next big name to come out of their youth academy and into the limelight of European football.
Other than their Cup Winners’ Cup triumph in 1963 Sporting CP have never won a major European title, although they have produced one of Europe’s most decorated players of all time.
Portuguese sensation Cristiano Ronaldo learned his trade with Sporting before being signed up by Manchester United, and he has since gone on to win five Champions Leagues, six league titles across three different countries as well as a European Championship with Portugal in 2016 and five Ballon d’Ors. Not bad at all…
It’s not only Ronaldo who Sporting have produced, with players such as Joao Moutinho, Rui Patricio, Jose Fonte and Cedric Soares – who were all part of Portugal’s Euro 2016 winning team – all also originated with the club. Current star man Bruno Fernandes also looks poised for a big summer move after a stellar season.
Those players have since written themselves into Portuguese footballing folk law, and Sporting can take a lot of the credit for their success.
When Manchester City signed Vincent Kompany from Anderlecht back in 2008, he proved to be one of the first of Belgium’s ‘golden generation’ – with more than a few starting their careers at the defender’s alma mater of Anderlecht.
In recent years, the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Cheikou Kouyate, and Youri Tielemans have all learned their trade with the Belgian outfit before all securing moves to the Premier League.
Lukaku established himself as one of the league’s most deadly strikers, Kouyate was a real engine in the centre of the midfield with West Ham before moving to Crystal Palace, and even though Tielemans has spent just half a season with Leicester City, there’re already rumours of a big-money move to a Champions League side coming his way this summer.
It’s quite hard to fathom when you look at the list of players who spent time learning their trade with Ligue 2 side Le Harve.
We’ll start with those who went on to be part of France’s World Cup winning squad in 2018, with Steve Mandanda, Benjamin Mendy and Paul Pogba all beginning their careers with the French club.
To add to that illustrious trio both Riyad Mahrez and Dimitri Payet also started off with Le Harve before announcing themselves in the Premier League years later. Perhaps we should start paying more attention to their current crop of players.
Whilst they haven’t quite produced World Cup winners or Ballon d’Or nominee, League One side Charlton deserve to be an honorary mention on this list.
In recent seasons they’ve managed to produce some fine talent, with both Joe Gomez and Jonjo Shelvey being snapped up by Liverpool at the age of just 18.
More recently Ademola Lookman and Karlan Grant have both earned moves to the Premier League after starting in the youth ranks at Charlton. Current star Joe Aribo too looks set for the top tiers, but only time will tell.