The best academies are often regarded as the ones who provide the clearest pathway from youth to first team, however there are a number of other goals in which particular programmes will have developed. Academies generally revolve around identifying and nurturing young talent, as well as providing them with a platform to potentially have a professional career within the game. Let’s take a closer look at what we consider to be the best football academies currently in operation in the UK.
The likes of Matt Le Tissier, Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale and Luke Shaw have all come through the academy system on the south coast, with the club’s goal being to produce a first-team made up of 50% academy graduates year-on-year. The Saints undoubtedly pride themselves on the fact that their success has been bred rather than bought on the whole, which is one of the reasons as to why they hold Category 1 status in the Premier League's new Elite Player Performance Plan. All youth teams at Southampton play in the same style and utilise the same formation as the first team, while there is a significant emphasis on education and integrity too.
Under the guidance of the club’s new Director of Football, Marcel Brands, Everton have looked to restructure their academy system, which has produced the likes of Wayne Rooney and Ross Barkley in recent times. A significantly smaller group of full-time scouts are now working to identify new talent, while Everton have always been good at giving youngsters first-team opportunities, with five of their current squad being made up of academy graduates.
There is an emphasis upon technical excellence at Crewe, with their academy goal being to play attractive, passing football, whilst also developing players ready for the first-team. Academy director Dario Gradi has had a huge influence on the club, helping to bring through names such as Robbie Savage, Danny Murphy, Dean Ashton and Nick Powell. In total, over 80 youth team players have represented the Crewe Alexandra first team, with the club having even fielded an entire starting eleven made up of academy graduates in 2018.
Hamilton Academical FC
Hamilton are currently leading the way in Scotland when it comes to the number of academy players making the step up to first-team football, with the likes of James McCarthy and James McArthur having come through the club. Figures from CIES Football Observatory showed that Accies gave more game-time to home-grown players than any other club in the Scottish Premiership last season, while a number of their most talented youngsters have moved on to bigger clubs.
It may have been over 20 years since the famous Class of 92’ came through the ranks at Old Trafford, however Manchester United have upheld their strong emphasis on developing youngsters, with a former academy graduate having been named in the first-team squad since Oct. 30, 1937. The likes of Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard are among the current graduates making a name for themselves at the highest level, with United CEO Ed Woodward having recently discussed the demand for this process to continue.
For youngsters, sport should really only be about one word, fun! However, ensuring that organised physical activity is enjoyable is easier said than done, with everyone having different personalities and needs in this area. So, just how can coaches ensure that they consistently put on engaging sessions?