ECA Report on Youth Academies in EUROPE

Jul 17, 14 ECA Report on Youth Academies in EUROPE

The ECA which stands for the European Club Association compiled a report on Youth Academies around Europe. 96 clubs from 41 countries were used in gathering the data for the Youth Survey. You can download the full report on ECA website which is

I have taken some of the key factors relating to the youth game, no Irish or Welsh clubs were represented in the this report, however Liam Brady was a member of the Youth Task Force. Glentoran FC from Northern Ireland were 1 of the 96 clubs used. NI had two clubs who participated in the survey, England had 6, Scotland had 4.

In terms of the areas on which the qualitative research would focus, the task force agreed to limit the scope to the following areas of each youth academy that was observed: Vision & Philosophy, Infrastructure, Technical Approach and Education. I have selected some of key points from the report starting with vision & objectives.

Vision & Objectives:

  • Over 75% of the academies surveyed have a well-defined youth development vision.
  • 50% define the objective of the youth academy, ‘to create economic added value’ and 60% of the clubs consider their youth academy as a source of income, rather than a cost.
  • The goal for most clubs regarding  their youth academy is to develop players for pro football, in particular their own team.
  • 50% of clubs work with satellite clubs who are mostly amateurs.

75% of the clubs allow parents at training sessions

It was found in the report that having a philosophy, vision and mission were the key to successful solutions. Nurturing talent for the future should be the main priority for a club. The study showed that the most successful youth academies were those who pursued their vision and their objective with perseverance. It wasn’t a question of size but a question of spirit and belief. 


  • 50% of the clubs have the youth academy represented on the executive board.
  • 66% of the clubs have the youth academy represented in the technical heart/board by the youth director.
  • 40& of the clubs have the first team coach represented in the technical heart/board.
  • Transition of academy players is decided by the technical heart/board (66% of the clubs)
  • 80% of clubs consider the club manager/first team coach and the youth academy director as the most important members of the technical heart/board and responsible for the transition of players.

The biggest challenge for clubs academies was the organisation and transition of players to the first team. Many clubs struggle with the rolls of the 2nd team or reserve team. The balance of players who are not (yet) good enough for the 1st team, excessive contracted players from the 1st teams or players coming from the youth academy. Many players end up to good for the youth academy  but not ready for first team football. As we have seen UEFA have introduced the Youth Champions league to solve this problem.

‘It is fundamental that the academy directors main task is on the field, “Coach The Coaches”, and not the administrative management’

Education and Scouting

Most clubs have around 220 players in their youth academies and most work with 3-4 age groups. Success of any pro clubs starts with the talent recruitment and this is where a well organised scouting department comes in. The scout would generally be linked to the technical heart of the club in order to understand the parameters for selection of the club and also linked to the supporting function like Education, Social and psychological factors.

  • 75% come from the region (less than 1-hour drive)
  • 60% have players from abroad
  • 3% in the oldest age groups are from abroad.
  • 75% have relationships with schools, whereas 50% have relations with a university.
  • 50% have study opportunities at the club.
  • 75% of the clubs allow parents at training sessions.

Sporting is the only club in the world that has developed and trained two FIFA world players of the year, Luis Figo & Cristiano Ronaldo.

Studies have proven that the most successful players who have moved abroad to chase the dream did so at the right moment. After they had developed their football talents in combination with their social, educational, psychological and personality development towards adolescence.

The principles of football education are to combine football with school in building the players character. The report found that the focus on education of players is the core philosophy in most clubs nowadays.

Infrastructure ( Facilities, Medical, Social)

  • 75% have combined facilities for youth and first team.
  • On average there are 4 pitches per youth academy.
  • 66% have transportation for their academy players to training sessions.
  • 75% carry out antropometric assessment( refers to the measurements of the individual human)
  • 50% + work with psychologists, mostly for mental screening and about 60% of the clubs provide social support.
  • Many clubs are using a mix on natural grass and artificial grass.
  • Most clubs train senior and youth teams in close proximity to each other. However there is sufficient separation between the two to allow for tailor-made private utilisation processes.

In the youngest age groups, all the individual  creativity unwinds through fun and play without coaching interference, the middle age groups see introduction of more specific technical development for defence, midfield, and forward positions and , in the older age groups there is more focus on tactical (u16s+) playing systems.

Technical Content & Coaching

  • Most play a consistent formation 1-4-3-3 (52%) and 1-4-4-2 (28%)
  • 66% focus on individual progression rather than team development; however nearly all training sessions are organised with the team.
  • Most clubs have defined learning objectives and most work with 3 age groups: u12s, 13-15 age, 16 and above.
  • Team Sessions: U12s 41-42 weeks, 3 x per week, 4-5 hrs per week. U13-15s 44 weeks, 5 x per week, 7hrs per week. U16s and above, 5 x per week, 7-9hrs per week.
  • Individual Sessions: U12s once per week 30-60 minutes and 12 and above at least 2 per week 90 to 2hrs sessions.
  • Game time: U12s, 22-26 matches of 50-60 minutes. U13-15s, 30 matches of 70 minutes and above u16s, 30 official matches of 90 minutes.
  • Number of tournaments decreases from 10 to 6 per year but International tournaments has increased 1 to 2 per year.
  • 75% work with video analysis and coaching syllabus and physical fitness training starts at most clubs from age 14.
  • 99% of clubs youth teams follow the example of the first team.
  • Many clubs have no individual training whilst others are focusing a lot more in this area.
  • As the game is getting faster the main focus for many clubs is the technical development of the player in all age groups.
  • Most clubs have academy directors but it was important also to have the right balance between coaches who have a background as players and coaches educated through academies universities.

Finance & Productivity

  • 50% of the clubs spend less than  6% of their budget on Youth Academy.
  • 30% of clubs spend up to 0.5million on YA.
  • 30% spend between 0.5m and 1.5m on YA.
  • 30% spend above 3million on YA.
  • Average spending in YA was only 6% of the clubs total budget.
  • In general there are 6 academy players that are regularly playing for the first team.
  • 8.6% of academy players signed 1st pro contracts at the club in the last 3 years.
  • 50% of the clubs have a minimum of 2 first team players who were registered at the YA for at least 5 years.
  • In almost 50% of the YA, the budgets increased significantly over the last 5 years.
  • Staff (26%), facilities (15%) and players’ contracts (15%) are the most important costs of the youth academy.
  • Of the clubs visited on average they produce between 30 and 50 players per year playing in the national championships.

Youth Development

Whats shows from this report is that is makes sense to invest in youth programmes. In professional academies money is saved by not having to pay large sums in transfer and massive salaries. I for one no longer enjoy watching professional football, not being able to recognise the local players. If English and Irish clubs had proper structures like they do in Europe, I think we would see much more local kids making it.

The report also found that the average spend on YA was 6% of the clubs budget, but 60% of the clubs consider that their YA is a source of income, rather than a cost. Financial fair-play (cost of academy excluded from the break-even requirements) should now play a part in clubs investing more in their YA. You can see why Ajax, Sporting, FC Barcelona have been so successful in producing players, they each have their own philosophy and even when a new academy director comes in the ethos, the values and beliefs of the club never change.

Let take a look at the Organisation Of The Youth Competition around Europe. 

Team / Game size per age Group

  • 11v11 : Age 13 was the most common age and a large percentage at u12s
  • 9v9: Age 12 mostly but also U13s
  • 8v8: This varied from u10s to u13s with u10s having a large percentage.
  • 7v7: Mostly played at u10s and u11s
  • 6v6: u5s to u9s
  • 5v5: U5s to U9s mainly. U8s mostly
  • 4v4: U11s

Age Group When Start On Full Size Pitch

  • U15s: 5% & U14s: 25%
  • U13: 28%
  • U12s: 29%
  • U11s: 11%
  • U10: 1%, U9s: 1%,

Number Of Players & Game Format Per Age Group (U5 up to U9

  • 4v4=45%; 5v5= 40%; 6v6= 5%; 7v7= 10%

Number Of Players & Game Format Per Age Group (U10 up to U11

  • 7v7= 55%; 8v8 = 23%; 9v9 =12%; 6v6=5%; 5v5= 4%; 11v11= 1%

Number Of Players & Game Format Per Age Group (U12 up to U13

  • 11v11 =52%; 9v9 =29%, 7v7 =14%, 8v8 = 7%; 10v10 =1%; 6v6 = 1%

Number Of Players & Game Format Per Age Group (U14 up to U23

  • 11v11 =98%; 9v9 =2%

To find out more go to European Club Association 

Content for this post was gathered from the ECA  report on Youth Academies In Europe and I want to thanks OlivIer Jarosz supplying me with the information. Follow the ECA on twitter @ECAEurope


I always like to hear your opinions and views. If you feel you have something to say, please comment below or email me If, you don’t have anything to add then please forward this on to a friend. As always, thanks for reading.

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