The growth of the academies (Part 1): Institutes of Higher Learning for soccer -- is this really the way to go?

By Paul Gardner

Soccer academies. What a great idea! Fully-funded centers for the development of young players, superior facilities, top coaching, all the latest scientific and professional knowledge ... and, we are told, with a caring staff who understands not only soccer, but have insight too into the real-life growing-up problems that beset teenagers.

There is also an administrative benefit, in that boys can now be sure that the training they receive is part of a wider program, that they are getting the same basic training as all the other boys of their age. The bad old days of hundreds of freelance clubs, each having their own idea of what was the best way to create players (and some of them having no idea at all), are gone. Or so it seems.

The list of the benefits that can be linked to soccer academies is pretty damn impressive. No doubt it’s not complete. I’ll add one further advantage, rather different from those listed, because it’s intangible. That is the use of the word “academy.”

On the strength of that one word, soccer training jumps from simply running about on grass fields and being shouted at, to being part of the education system. My dictionary, in defining “academy,” starts off with Plato, and works its way to “a school offering instruction or training in a special field.”

A school, then. Which brings up visions of schoolmasters and lecture rooms and syllabuses and timetables and so on -- maybe even homework. But “school” was not the appointed word. “Academy” was chosen. It suggests a step up from a mere school -- you could say from schoolmasters to professors. It gives -- and was no doubt intended to give -- an aura of respectability and seriousness. Those words are important. They do something to dispel the put-down that soccer is merely a sport, so what’s to learn? I mean, who needs an academy to learn how to kick a ball, that sort of thinking.

Certainly the academies have become very serious -- in the financial sense. A lot of money is now being invested by pro clubs and leagues in running academies. English Premier League clubs are estimated to spend around $100 million a year on such programs. It makes sense. A club that can produce its own players -- preferably world-class players, of course -- won’t need to enter the ruinously expensive transfer market in search of stars.

But ... of course, there’s a hitch somewhere along this yellow brick road to stardom. The absolutely fundamental question that has to be asked of the academies is: Do they work? Are they producing the steady flow of superior players that they’re supposed to?

Getting a straight answer to that question encounters difficulties. Not least because the academy system has taken widespread root, it is expensive to run, and a lot of people rely on it now for their living. Put it this way: there is now a sizable group of soccer people who have a vested interest in the academy setup -- people who are unlikely to be too critical of it.

But the critics do exist. Do they have a point? I think they do, and a recent study by the Switzerland-based International Center for Sports Studies (CIES from the French version of its title), Football Observatory division, must surely give pause to anyone who feels that the academies are the way to go. The Football Observatory report relies on statistics -- well, so much the better, for they take the “personal opinion” factor out of the discussion.

The FO has this to say: Across the top leagues in 31 European countries, the percentage of club-trained (i.e. academy-trained) players on their rosters is 19.7% -- the first time it has fallen below 20% since the stats were first calculated, in 2009.

One player in five might not sound so bad, but it does not tell the whole story. Once we look at the big European leagues, the percentage drops considerably. In the English Premier League it is 11.7%, in Germany 13.3%, in Italy 8.6% (the lowest). Two major countries rise above 20% -- Spain (23.7%), a country that is doing rather well, and the Netherlands (22.8%), a country that is not doing at all well.

The figures suggest that there aren’t any clubs, anywhere in Europe, that can rely on their own academies producing more than a couple of players for the first team. Even more worrying, most of the percentages are falling. The EPL figure is now 11.78% -- but a year ago it was 13.8%.

I have no stats telling me how many homegrown players used to graduate to the first team back in the pre-academy days. But we all knew that it wasn’t very many. Predicting which 14-year-olds will make it all the way into the pros has always been known to be a very tricky business.

And it was partly -- maybe even mainly -- for that reason that the smooth efficiency of the academy system was invented, with its systematic scouting, its close monitoring of players’ progress. The computer, of course, plays a big role. The system was, clearly, going to take a lot of the guesswork out of the old hit-or-miss approach to scouting. It very clearly marked a switch from amateurs to professionals.

Having professionals, rather than amateurs, in charge of a major undertaking like youth development will be seen by most people as a good thing. More organized, more efficient, more reliable, more informed, more up to date, just about more everything.

Even so, I think it is a big mistake to assume that professionals will automatically improve everything. That assumes that the pros are close to perfection, and we know, from numerous examples in business and government, how far from the truth that is. Because the pros bring problems of their own. I’ll have more to say about those problems shortly.

At a guess, I’d say the old, rather chaotic system, probably produced, at any one time, a couple of first team players per club. Or, pretty much the same total as the academies, according to the FO figures, are providing.

Actually, the academies may have a statistical advantage. A club-trained player is identified by the FO as a youngster who has spent at least three seasons between the ages of 15 and 21 training with his current side. That is not a very stringent definition -- it includes boys who join the club at ages -- like 15 or 16 -- when there is surely much less doubt involved about their ability to make it, and therefore of their numbering among an academy’s “successes.”

Whatever, I can find no convincing evidence that shows the academies to be producing more top players than the old laissez-faire system. The FO figures strongly suggest that the opposite is happening, that the number of acceptably skilled academy graduates is declining.

If the academies were living up to expectations, there should have been a demonstrable, certainly a detectable, up-turn in the appearance of such players. That has not happened. Which is a serious indictment of the academies on two fronts: They are not doing the job in soccer terms, and -- for those who believe in a profit-and-loss verdict -- they are proving a poor investment.

So, to ask whether the academies are doing their job is not a mischievous question. Despite the thinking and the energy and the money that, worldwide, has gone into the building up of the academy system, something is misfiring.

56 comments about "The growth of the academies (Part 1): Institutes of Higher Learning for soccer -- is this really the way to go? ".
  1. Roy Gordon, November 16, 2015 at 8:41 p.m.

    It is difficult to argue with Mr. Gardner's statistics. However, player development has changed in the past 50 years. In industrialized countries fewer and fewer children are developing their skills in the streets in part because that is not where they play anymore. The academies were set up in part to overcome this change. Children still need the opportunity to develop skills and the sense of their game on their own and the dearth of these opportunities continues to be a weakness in any system.

  2. Lonaka K replied, November 16, 2015 at 9:40 p.m.

    I agree with you Roy. We do not have creative players because they do not spend time on their own figuring out how to beat a defender to score. What mist of our system produce are "ROBOTS". Just visit a soccer pitch and you'll here coaches and parents constantly yelling instructions to the players. Do this, do that, shoot, pass etc. never good play keep it up.

  3. don Lamb replied, November 16, 2015 at 11:15 p.m.

    The main statistic that matters in this case is 8-12. That is generally how long it takes for a player to "develop" into a pro. Even though no MLS academies have even been around that long, we are still seeing players like Fagundez, Yedlin, and more than a couple from FC Dallas and Galaxy, so I'm not sure this article carries much weight. I won't even get into the problems with the analysis that he did on the European academy to first team transition. And shouldn't it be syllabi, not syllabuses???

  4. Walt Pericciuoli, November 16, 2015 at 8:43 p.m.

    Great topic Paul. I for one, do not believe the academy system as it is in the USA, has produced any more top level players than in the pre academy days. In fact, if there are statistics to show it, I would bet there are less players now than before. I look forward to part two. This is a topic of great importance for the future of our sport in the USA.

  5. BJ Genovese, November 16, 2015 at 9:37 p.m.

    They will not be succesful until they become residential academies. In a country as big as the US with talent falling thru the net because they dont live within an hour and half from the training grounds there is no way they are truly getting even close to all the talent available. Also PG you can measure academy successes by how many percent make it to the first team. Many many players in Europe play on first teams but went to an academy for another team. Quality and talent is overlooked most by people closest to that talent. Thats why players are spotted most easily for talent by people on the outside. With no bais and clear eyes. The academies in the US must become funded as residential academies. Only then will you start to see the real gems.

  6. Lonaka K, November 16, 2015 at 9:51 p.m.

    The pyramid fir academies should be turned upside down. Start at the youngest ages. Develop their skills and techniques. Don't worry about winning championship. Learn about winning small games, figuring out how to beat a defender, learn how to defend, understanding the importance of ball movement, combination plays, first time passing, when to dribble and when to pass, stressing and demanding first touch of the ball, accuracy in passing. Most players that play in these academies come there at the age of 14 not havinfg a 10th of these skills and techniques and now the coaches are trying to integrate the tactical side of the game, and it falls apart because the players are deficient.

  7. don Lamb replied, November 17, 2015 at 8:17 a.m.

    You are right. We don't need to go back to the old system. We need to expand the new one. A big part of that is starting with children who are 9-10 years old. Serious development needs to start in the "golden years" when children are at such an important time in their growth.

  8. Joe Linzner, November 16, 2015 at 9:58 p.m.

    Acadamies, on the surface, a great idea. Factually however, pruding a player trained to follow that acadamy's system of play, in effect disparate Robots, essentially brainwashed to play as they are taught. Soccer is game that must be played by individuals with creativity and united thinking. If we recall the USSR and it's infamous state sponsored sports system one has to ask why was the USSR's National soccer team a mediocre one. We know how much money the STATE spent on Sports and we can realistically see that the acadamy system is destinied to produce pedestrian players and pedestrian teams. Any academy that does not encourage creative play and instead uses xx's and oo's and enforces such play will always lose to creative teams. The trouble with x and o is that what happens if that fails the use x-b and o-b or what else...... on the field, the game is different than on any board. It is alos the reason why we do well on set plays... where in game.... not so much...

  9. Ric Fonseca, November 16, 2015 at 11:34 p.m.

    Yes it is "syllabi" not the one PG uses. But why quibble about this? Academies are just for enriching those former and current coaches, but one thing for sure, this country will not agree to have "residential academies" as parents will most certainly not send their kids for several years, so let's look at Bradenton and see just how "well" they've done and how many top notch youth players they've produced and how many have signed on to MLS teams. BTW, other than baseball and basketball camps - not so many academies in these sports - are there, that is to say residential academies?

  10. don Lamb replied, November 17, 2015 at 8:12 a.m.

    Yes, the "syllabi" correction was a bit of a poke at the writer. Felt it was a propos to point that out since he is taking such a brave stance on his critique of my profession -- why not take a slight dig about something so obvious within his? Back to the point -- Are you suggesting we continue with the status quo? I think we can all conclude that is not good enough. I think you are mistaken if you think that our culture is not ready for a change in the youth development. Their are many many young parents in their 20s and 30s who grew up in an inadequate and unprofessional system, and we are more than willing than to find a better way. Finally, how is everyone here ignoring the products that the MLS academies have just stared to develop. I mentioned some above -- Fagundez, Yedlin and a slew at LA Galaxy and FC Dallas (no coincidence that those two are the most successful given the greater time and investment that they have made. That fact alone would suggest that there is merit to the system). There are many other players: Hamid and Najar come to mind as well. And these players have been produced with a system that is nowhere near mature. These next 5-10 years will tell the real story about the early success of the MLS academy system. Until then, any review of the system will be incomplete at best. Here, it just seems ignorant. However, the academy system alone is not enough. The development of the USL as a reserve/developmental league is absolutely crucial to getting academy products in their late teens and early 20s ready for the first team. But no, let's blow it all up and go back 10-20 years when we were really developing players!!

  11. don Lamb replied, November 17, 2015 at 10:15 a.m.

    All American - Your point is part of my point. The players that HAVE been produced are not even really true products of the MLS academies because they are just getting started. Developing a player is an 8-12 process, so expecting the academies to be cranking out players when they have not been operating for nearly that long is not good analysis. We are a good 5 years away from really being able to assess that development. What is your point about countries like Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia? Do you think those kids don't grow up in academy systems?? Brazilians have some of the most intense youth training in the world -- like boot camp type of training with early morning to dark training. The notion that South Americans learn the game on the streets is largely a myth. Sure they play there too, but their development systems are very intensive.

  12. don Lamb replied, November 17, 2015 at 2:41 p.m.

    2007 -- that is when the USSDA system was introduced. That is not what I am talking about. As I said in another response, the USSDAs are glorified travel clubs. MLS academies, on the other hand, are another story. Most have not been around nearly that long. The ones that have been around the longest are producing the best players -- mainly LA and Dallas. Even those that were among the first the start are still getting their infrastructure down. Your solution is to look at the once in a generation players and copy what they did? That is asinine. Those players have God-given talents that can't be recreated in the street or an academy. Even if playing in the street was the way to produce players, that is a cultural thing and the soccer culture is nowhere close to that level in this country. Professional academies and competitive lower division teams are by far the best route for us to go in terms of developing top level talent.

  13. don Lamb replied, November 18, 2015 at 7:04 a.m.

    I insist on seeing soccer differently because, culturally, it is completely different. Are you seriously comparing basketball development to soccer development? You are right that Yedlin is a bad example, and all we really have right now are bad examples. That is because the system has not been in place very long at all. You don't just start producing players overnight. It is at the minimum an 8-12 year process, and that is with the infrastructure in place (which is not complete on a national scale yet). You point to countries (Argentina and Brazil) where the infrastructure and culture have been in place for decades and wonder why we aren't producing players of that caliber... Professional academies are a huge part of that infrastructure. And, again, by professional academies, I am talking about independent facilities that are not set up as clubs. We need it all, so why are so many people (including yourself) supporting this article written by an uninformed journalist decreeing that academies are not the way to go? It just goes to show how far off our soccer culture is when it comes to development.

  14. don Lamb replied, November 18, 2015 at 12:13 p.m.

    An proper academy is not focused on winning games or championship -- only player development. A big part of player development is problem solving and individual character or style. Players cannot develop here the way they do in Brazil because the culture here does not value the things (the game) the way they do there. Telling kids to just go play and expecting the type of player that you are describing to pop out is extremely naive. We are going to have to create those environments. Hence, that is where academies need to step up. And don't get me wrong, an academy can create those types of pick up game environments in addition using a specific training curriculum. And, a training curriculum doesn't mean that every player is going to develop the same way (i.e. produce robots). A good curriculum will do the following: develop movement patterns and ball skills, present developmentally appropriate situations that have unlimited numbers of problems and solutions, and use small sided game environments a great deal. In addition to that, the academy should take partial responsibility for instilling a passion for the game and a joy for the game so that the player will look to play everywhere. We can't just let this happen on its own though because our culture won't make it happen.

  15. don Lamb replied, November 18, 2015 at 3:52 p.m.

    Good plan. Let's wait for Messi to happen here, and then everyone will be inspired. Where is this Messi going to play street soccer? Our children do not play soccer in there free time in large numbers. Academies can help ignite that passion. Assuming that academies are producing robots is ignorant, and assuming a world class player can just happen in our current culture is as naive as it gets.

  16. don Lamb replied, November 18, 2015 at 10:04 p.m.

    You are simply not very knowledgable about this topic. All of those countries you mentioned (including the ones in Central America) train their youth players in something like an academy. It certainly doesn't sound like you have any actual experience with the topic. A true academy will make it priority number one to find players who love the game and show potential no matter what their ethnicity or level of income. You think academies don't scout? Why do you keep bringing up DAs when that is not what I am talking about?

  17. don Lamb replied, November 18, 2015 at 11:53 p.m.

    Exactly. So that is what the article should be about: the fact that we need more youth academies that are going to focus on the right things and create the right environments for the players/children to develop in. The infrastructure is largely there (or at least getting there) at the top levels, but the youth levels are sorely lacking in good coaching and training practices.

  18. don Lamb replied, November 19, 2015 at 11:54 a.m.

    Okay, but the article was not about the semantics of everything. The article questioned the importance of academies. The fact is that they are very important and we need them -- yes, they need to be better, but we absolutely have to have them. The article was suggesting we do not need them. They need to be better, yes, and maybe they have not earned the right to be called academies, but the fact is that we absolutely need a lot of high quality academies in this country. You and others here, including the author, have been saying that the academy system is overrated, which is not the case (maybe the USSDA system is overrated, but they are not the same thing). The overwhelming majority of pro players from around the globe start in academies.

  19. don Lamb replied, November 19, 2015 at 8:45 p.m.

    Indeed. Academy players should play a lot in unstructured environments ;) Nice debate. cheers

  20. don Lamb replied, November 20, 2015 at 10:45 a.m.

    hahaha. But have you practiced your "theory?" Please... Players are a product of culture. Our basketball culture is strong enough to produce amazing basketball players without much coaching. Our soccer culture needs to be facilitated by experts who can both teach the game and create deeper cultural connections to the game within the players.

  21. don Lamb replied, November 20, 2015 at 10:52 a.m.

    Also would add that basketball skills are simpler and easier than soccer skills, which are much more complex involving many more variables and more difficult due to how physics influence the two sports and the nature of using hands versus using everything except the hands. So, developmentally, they should not be treated the same.

  22. don Lamb replied, November 20, 2015 at 2:38 p.m.

    We produce great black basketball players because that population values the game so highly. The same can be said for Brazilian soccer players. It has little to do with style. Germany produces great soccer players because they value it so highly. Same with most other European and South American cultures. To say that they are better because of their "style" is silly. The Germans are the best in the world right now. Before that, the Spanish were the best the world has ever seen. Both teams were full of players who were products of the academy system. Our culture does not value soccer like most cultures. Therefore, we are going to have to work harder at cultivating talent, not work less hard.

  23. don Lamb replied, November 21, 2015 at 3:19 p.m.

    To put it bluntly, no, our culture does not value soccer as much as many others. Listen, there is a lot of truth to what you are preaching. Ibrahimovic is another one of those players that you think could supposedly only come from South America. But to think that the academy system should not be a vital part of the development of players in the US is ridiculous. You can only name a handful of players from around the globe that fit into the category that you describe. Are we supposed to sit around and wait for that to happen? Like it or not, the academies should be the primary nurturer of talent. Pick up games, futsal, street soccer type environments should be facilitated by academies along with their training curriculum, but to just sit here and wait for something that the odds suggest could be generations away if it even ever happen. That is not the way to become great. Even if that did happen, we would need players around that one player...

  24. don Lamb replied, November 21, 2015 at 10:09 p.m.

    Okay, I see where you are going wrong... Academies CAN be creative environments. You are assuming that an academy has to be player factories. It is ignorance, really, so maybe there is no way to argue against that. Your judgement that only South Americans rank as the world's best is highly subjective and certainly leaves out most midfield and defensive players. Secondly, your idea that South Americans do not grow up in academy-like settings is wrong.

  25. don Lamb replied, November 21, 2015 at 10:16 p.m.

    And FINALLY.... your last assertion that academies are for privileged kids could not be farther from the truth. A real academy is tied in to the community much deeper than a club. A real academy develops real relationships with the players and a real academy will strive to include every player in the community whether they can pay a dime or not. A real academy is not after state cups or scholarship offers. You are completely off base in your view of what a REAL academy is.

  26. don Lamb replied, November 22, 2015 at 7:15 p.m.

    So all of this logic, much of which is subjective (Germany easily has a better roster than Argentina on paper), has led you to believe that we should not have academies in the US? I would not say we should strictly follow South America or Europe. The fact is both of those places have training environments for children much younger than 14. We need to cultivate our path. Given the culture here, we need to make sure that children in the golden years are learning the game from people who really understand it because our culture does not necessarily understand the game at a high level as a generality. We need to create the types of environments that exist naturally in places like Brazil. Unfortunately, they do not happen here like you want to believe, which means we are not going to be churning out Neymar's or Messi's anytime soon.

  27. don Lamb replied, November 23, 2015 at 10:21 a.m.

    Okay, great. You are starting to come around. Are you aware that Messi went to Barca when he was 12? Before that, he was with Newell's Old Boys (very much a structured environment). The point is that he, and I and am pretty positive the others that you mention too, were indeed in an academy system well before 14. In fact, I did a little search to make sure my facts are right, and there is a video titled "8 year old Messi scoring sensational lob for Newell's Old Boys." ...

  28. don Lamb replied, November 23, 2015 at 5:58 p.m.

    So you acknowledge that Messi did in fact develop in an academy system? Do you think Ronaldo walked off the street into that second division team? The guys who did not play in an academy system are the exception to the rule. I'll give you Ronaldinho and Ibra (although I'm somewhat skeptical that they were not training in a structured environment in addition to playing freely in other arenas), but you are certifiably crazy if you want to keep making this argument, and it's clear that you have no actual real world knowledge of this stuff. You finally acknowledge that true academies are good places for players to develop, but then you go back to talking about USSDA system. Why can't you just say that the US needs true academies and leave it at that. Are you too thick in the skull to call it like it is because that would mean admitting that your preposterous claim about the value of real academies is false?

  29. don Lamb replied, November 24, 2015 at 9:10 a.m.

    Good debate. Cheers. I can respect that, and I'll leave it at this: the continued development of academies is vital to the progression of the game in this country as is the culture of unstructured play.

  30. Bob Ashpole, November 16, 2015 at 11:52 p.m.

    Interesting contrast in the statistics of the CIES report and the German FA 2011 report which found that 52% of Bundesliga players had come up through Bundesliga clubs' youth systems. R. Hognigstein, DAS Reboot, p. 148. The Bundesliga club academies, however, are not the most important component as they only train about 800 players of 196,000 teenage boys playing. 14,000 boys not selected for the top of the pyramid receive weekly lessons from 400 FA coaches at regional training centers throughout the country. So the top 7% of all teen boys receive quality training on a weekly basis. Hognigstein, p. 135.

  31. Joe Linzner, November 17, 2015 at 8:45 a.m.

    OK, let's take Yedlin, excellent athlete, gifted with startling pace, yet abhorrent touch, so-so comfort on the ball, dribbling ability-lacking, vision-improving apace, positioning-not at pro level. In general a talented athlete but certainly a work in progress.... certainly needed on MNT with his desire to contribute and work hard.
    I prefer coaches who can show how and what needs to be done.... not x'n o' pad men. Film reviews, of course-letthe player see what the error is and have him figure out what MAY have worked better... I would do tat individually and then as a group for each player.

  32. Joe Linzner, November 17, 2015 at 8:51 a.m.

    in actuality "syllabuses" is also an accepted form of plurality in the Oxford English Dictionary!

  33. R2 Dad, November 17, 2015 at 9:38 a.m.

    DAs should require good coaches, but we use the same lame licensing process and that doesn't prove you are a good coach as is used for the existing Rec and Travel teams/clubs. Most DAs are the same as clubs, privately owned. Until I see evidence that these "good" coaches can aggregate around top players, I don't think we will see the kind of progress needed. Especially at the young ages, I'm not seeing it.

  34. don Lamb replied, November 17, 2015 at 10:24 a.m.

    Correct that USSDAs are simply glorified clubs. We need people focused on the players, not the club. We need professional academies (not travel clubs) and professional teams (MLS, NASL, USL) doing the development.

  35. don Lamb replied, November 17, 2015 at 3 p.m.

    I fail to see how these points go against anything that I have said. When I say MLS academies and professional academies, I am including unaffiliated/independent academies as "professional." USSDA is not the (primary, at least) way forward, but the academy system of development certainly is. Young players need training in a professional environment from a young age. They should also be playing outside of their formal training, of course, in futsal games, the back yard, the park, the street, wherever. To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, we need more of this sort of thing: an expert in youth development creates a youth academy to focus specifically on the U8, U10, and U12 ages. After this program, a player could theoretically play with an MLS academy until playing for the second team in a lower division and then the first team in the top division. Or, we could just show young players youtube clips of Ronaldinho and Messi and tell them to go play just like them... The method I propose takes a massive culture shift and a it takes a ton of infrastructure. MLS and others has been creating that infrastructure, and the culture has slowly been shifting, but it doesn't happen overnight. What was your solution again?

  36. don Lamb replied, November 18, 2015 at 6:56 a.m.

    The money is not what is missing from the equation. The DA clubs make a TON of money, so it's not like sell-on fees are going to change a lot for them financially. It would change the picture in terms of grass-roots academies, but its not like the players that DAs are producing are entertaining million dollar bids at this point. There is incentive for DAs to develop pros -- that is a huge feather in their cap to say that xx is playing for yy. We developed xx, so give us your money and you can be the next one. There is also incentive for MLS clubs to develop players since it is a salary cap league and homegrown players factor into that formula very favorably. The influx of foreign players is good since it will raise the standard that our kids will have to get to, and it is also necessary due to expansion. There are still plenty of opportunities for our youth to break into, and better so if they are breaking into a strong team. The level of play at the USL is very important too. I agree that compensation should be part of the equation for developing players, but the clubs are already heavily compensated, and they already supposedly have the best coaches. MLS clubs have been developing relationships with elite clubs in their area so that they will pass on top players. It takes a while for this trust to be built up and for it to make since with infrastructure. That is part of the reason it is taking years to get there. That is however the model that we need to follow. It would be great, and I hope like you do, that training compensation will be involved. Anyway, we are a long way from your original points, so I am glad you have started making some sense.

  37. don Lamb replied, November 18, 2015 at 12:21 p.m.

    You lament the lack of academy productivity but then chastise MLS for importing too many players and taking spots from homegrown players. The fact is that we are not at a point where homegrown players can step in and fill a large number of spots. Again, that is why we need more academies. In 10 years, we won't have to continue importing mediocre players from second tier leagues because we should be producing that level here. The infrastructure is growing and academies are a huge part of that. I am in no way invested in MLS -- I am heavily invested in youth development. Talk about being invested -- should I be quiet and let you start on Part II?

  38. don Lamb replied, November 18, 2015 at 3:57 p.m.

    You are flat out wrong. MLS is investing in a wide range of growth including both homegrown players and foreign players. If you have not noticed the change in direction in terms of developing and incorporating youth players that has happened in MLS over the last five year, then you must not be watching.

  39. don Lamb replied, November 19, 2015 at 11:58 a.m.

    Even though those guys were homegrown players, not many were high quality pro prospects with options. Look at Jordan Morris, who most certainly is a quality prospect with options. He was offered $235,000. A far cry from the numbers you cite.

  40. Walt Pericciuoli, November 17, 2015 at 10:43 a.m.

    Professional "residential" Academies, run by and paid for by MLS clubs are the only Academies there should be. Period!
    Also, how can you possibly use Yedlin as an example of the best the academies have to offer. Compared to Ramos, Reyna, Donavan and Dempsey, all who came up before the academy system. Which is my point.

  41. Ginger Peeler replied, November 18, 2015 at 4:09 p.m.

    Which is PG's point.

  42. Thomas Hosier, November 17, 2015 at 11:13 a.m.

    What I see of the Academy system, as Joe Linzner suggests, is development of little system robots, not skilled, innovative, creative players. Players often come to the academy with better than average skill, creativity and innovation which is soon coached out of them for "the system!" The Messi's and Ronaldo's are special they brought their talent to the training academies and it wasn't coached out of them.

  43. Emilio Tellini, November 17, 2015 at 12:36 p.m.

    It looks to me that, especially in Europe, most of the new generation players are coming from South America and Africa, in addition to the countries ex-Yugoslavia (Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia and Montenegro). Do they have academies there? As far as the academy in the US it looks to me like a "bubble". Just because they are there, the players think they are the best and when they play they are very careful not to hurt each other, taking something away from the heat of the game. Soccer is a contact sport and sometime you can get hurt in the heat of the game. I would be very interested in reading about the opinion of Paul Gardner regarding this and the situation in South America, Africa and ex-Yugoslavia countries.

  44. don Lamb replied, November 17, 2015 at 2:24 p.m.

    South America and Eastern Europe are littered with academies. Not sure about Africa.

  45. Lou vulovich, November 17, 2015 at 2:20 p.m.

    The academy concept was a good idea gone bad. You start out with an Academy director, who may or may not have any prior experience in developing young players. Coaches are hired, usually with the same type of qualifications as AD,
    usually they are under paid and their only objective is to climb up the coaching ladder to make a better living. The coach is never rewarded by developing young players and loosing, he is only rewarded by wining games and getting his team to the championship, he can only accomplish this objective by playing conservative and using defensive tactics and disciplined players who will follow his every instruction or they will not play. So to sum it up, you build an academy with millions of dollars and bring in hundreds of talented 12-19 year olds, than you hire people who either have no experience nor track record or worst who don't care. End result you get a bunch of very talented young boys following the coaches orders, slowly regressing in every way and looking like their older counterparts the modern robotic professional soccer player we have today.
    We have very talented and creative players here and in Europe, you just won't see that creativity on the field because the game is played by the guy on the sideline.
    This is not the case 100% percent of the time just 95% in the US and Europe, exceptions Barca, BM, Southhampton, Dinamo Zagreb and a few others.
    South American clubs who survive by selling players to European clubs protect their investments, by simply letting them play and develop.
    To say we don't have creative players is wrong, we have many from 12-19. Usually they are the guys at the end of the bench, who put on a juggling exhibition at half time waiting for their 10 minutes, maybe.

  46. Dennis Mueller, November 17, 2015 at 3:24 p.m.

    What is required to excel at any endeavor is practice, lots of practice. That has been shown to be more important than inborn talent. It is not that talent does not count, but it counts more in a negative direction (For example, if you cannot run fast, your ability will forever be limited no matter how much practice, you do not have to be Usain Bolt, but you cannot be the slow kid in you grade school.) Who will practice enough, only those players who love it. They will juggle a ball every monent they are bored (Messi with an orange while standing around waiting, kick the ball against a wall when there is no one to play with and fine ways to play games at every opportunity.
    The real goal must be to find with that love of the game (or somehow instill it in them). Those players will be those who rise to the top. Of course, they must also avoid all the pitfalls that await young people. Avoid drugs, social pressures, be immune to negativity, etc.
    Most of us who coached youth players have seem more would-be stars fail from personal problems or lack of effort than lack of talent or good coaching.

  47. A. Torres, November 17, 2015 at 3:51 p.m.

    The biggest problem I see with the academies and there are many… but the biggest is that they do not allow players to develop their own genuine skills. Most talented players eventually have the skills they naturally possess coached out of them. There seems to be no room for spontaneity and free expression; there is only room to follow “our style of play”. That’s why we produce great athletic players (they have size, stamina…etc.), but they lack technical ability and most important confidence. When the US plays big teams what we are missing is the confidence and ability to take on the man in front of you and break through to the next level
    Also there are too many different leagues, which make it impossible for any agency (even Europeans) not just US soccer to keep proper tabs on all potential prospects. The US is too big of a country. Sometimes more is not always better, see Uruguay and Paraguay that are small countries and have small populations but seem to produce technically gifted players in abundance irrespective of their size.

  48. K G, November 17, 2015 at 4:10 p.m.

    Sorry - missed the point where he said to take a model of success and replicate it. So when do we hire Abby Wambach to kick some butt? Time to learn from the ladies on how to grind out an overwhelmingly dominate program while being underfunded, unsponsored, and ignored by the media. And this is not because the rest of the world stinks at women's soccer. Let the lads 'suffer' to feed their hunger. See who is a winner within themselves.

  49. G C, November 17, 2015 at 6:37 p.m.

    This article is misleading. The CIES study was looking at homegrown players. They were interested in how many first-team players are homegrown. 20% of first-team players were homegrown in 2014. The report didn't say anything about the rest of the players. The other 80% could have come from other academies. (Or the other 80% could have come from the streets.) The probability is that most of a club's players were trained at some academy, just not their own. My guess is that the facts would support the opposite of Paul's point.

  50. don Lamb replied, November 17, 2015 at 9:44 p.m.

    Precisely. You solved the riddle presented by the author (I don't think that was his intention). The rhetoric on here about academies producing robots is naive. It seems like there is confusion between USSDAs and a true academy for starters.

  51. Bill Wells, November 18, 2015 at 10:26 a.m.

    My son played on an academy player development team. Then off to college. He is a good player and should have gone to a soccer academy for college. Where you say, England has some Richmond International is one. But where are these academies in the USA? None all are NCAA or NAIA schools who play in the fall. Not a true soccer academy. And there is the problem with the USA and soccer. From what I have seen of the BMT and the MNT they do not come close to representing the best the USA has. Until the USA has the scouts out looking and schools for the players to go to, the USA will remain a 2nd rate power in soccer.

  52. don Lamb replied, November 18, 2015 at 12:27 p.m.

    The lower tier professional leagues are where 18-20 year olds should be playing. Education should be a part of their experience too, of course, but the academy age groups should be much younger.

  53. Scot Sutherland, November 18, 2015 at 10:57 a.m.

    How does Germany do it? And Spain? Maybe it isn't the system but what is being taught in the system that matters.

  54. Emilio Tellini replied, November 18, 2015 at 11:52 a.m.


  55. Emilio Tellini replied, November 18, 2015 at 11:56 a.m.

    Maybe we should look at the difference between the US Academies and the "rest of the world" Academies.

  56. don Lamb replied, November 18, 2015 at 12:22 p.m.

    No doubt -- Coaching needs to be better. That is the most important part of the infrastructure.

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