It is important to promote grassroots football and to point out the benefits of an established youth policy for a football club and its various stakeholders. Youth development is a key issue and will always remain so. Each football club has developed its own initiatives when it comes to youth development and there is a lot to learn from each other on this front.
‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it’ is something consultants like to say… but do you simply make it a great youth academy because of top level coaches or top quality pitches? If youth academies are usually one of the biggest departments of a football club and up to 60% of Academy Directors state that their centre of development is a source of revenue for their club. We believe this is an area that merits attention and constant improvement.
Back in 2017, we used our experience to assist in the development of the holistic framework of the 12 Professional Youth Academy Quality Areas for clubs. The framework was created to help assessing football academy performance in a qualitative way, but also to guide clubs on how to successfully run a youth academy. We created a report designed and focused on youth development aiming to provide advice to the clubs and to offer a medium to share experience and expertise related to all aspects of youth academies. The added value of this report was to provide a comparable European perspective that did not exist before.
We developed the 12 Quality Areas for ECA aiming to bridge the gap between tangible and intangible licensing and quality insurance approaches by boosting talent development capabilities of clubs.
Our exchanges with more than 120 clubs from over 40 countries have helped us to build a comprehensive knowledge base, and several clubs are currently using this model for their daily operations. This framework can help clubs improve beyond a bureaucratic tick-the-box or licensing exercise.
Whilst there are many important considerations as to why youth development matters, such as fan pride, building club identity or even the economic logic of developing talent with the aim of generating crucial transfer revenue, there is one fundamental reason: without new generations of top talents, the game of football will cease to attract new generations of supporters.
With our experience and expertise on and off the pitch we applied a new methodology in order to strengthen the knowledge around youth academies. Based on the 12 Quality Areas for academies (physical care, cognitive care, finances, facilities, talent identification, productivity, strategic importance, competition, human capital, buy in from club, community connectivity, professional connectivity) we conceptualised and executed a methodology to measure, assess and ultimately improve the functioning of youth academies.
Our goal was to find out how the best youth academies in football operate, to measure it and describe what academies are doing to “deliver” the best players for their clubs. We conducted our study of youth academies in 2021/2022 with 18 clubs participating in in-depth interviews and an extended survey by 63 clubs. Based on our study we created an innovative tool kit for clubs, and we conducted workshops for academy leaders.
Such measurement and assessment of how the best football academies in Europe operate, allows each club to assess what can be improved, changed or added to their own academy. It is an effective tool for developing youth academies in football clubs across the world. We believe that with the help of our experts and using our methodology, each academy can improve its functioning.
“To do the best things in an academy normally costs money. By looking at this publication and its findings, academy leaders can get information on which key aspects they should focus on, and allocate their resources accordingly ”
Our proposition to clubs was to deliver a world-class football academy adaptation and transformation, aimed at strengthening all the positive aspects of its organisation and functioning, and bridging the gap with world-class practices in all areas. The youth academy is often the biggest department in a typical football club and, as such, needs a clear strategy, strong support from the executives and important technical knowledge with a well-thought out plan and execution.
We have a strong methodology based on several years of experience stemming from the academies and countries that are leading in the field of youth and professional football. With a strong alliance/network with football experts that developed several strategic applications for youth football, we base our analysis and recommendations on both on-field and off-field experience. Backed with a solid foundation built on observations of more than 30 youth academies worldwide, we have published several world leading reports (ECA Youth Report on Academies, Study on Youth Academies, etc…). But it is not about trying to implement off-the-shelf solutions that may have worked in other parts of the world but are not adapted to the realities of a given country or club. Ultimately, optimal development can only come from the club's own identity: driven by its own passion, shaped by people open to growth, and then adding international-level knowledge to the mix along with best-in-class working practices to truly make the difference.
Our proposal is to provide football clubs an exclusive and inimitable new methodology, to boost the club's performance both on and off the pitch, starting from the very foundation of the club. We bring together experts on different topics via a think-thank led approach based on the wide experience of our experts and the inputs received from our project partners. Our goal is to facilitate a positive transformation and adaptation force to support and foster change. This entailed a successful transition of working processes, people, approach and goals