Key notes on evolution of the football academies

“The success is everything” for the football clubs but how this success came or how it will come is also very important; because, all of victories need a story & sustainability.

If your club does not have a sufficient budget and unlimited transfer option, you will need financial strength as well as a system to settle the structure required for a well-achieved success. For the continuity of this strength, there is only one thing that can help you other than a “multimillionaire investor”; a productive academy. Producing, developing, challanging and selling are the basic parts of this massive cycle.

So how is this productivity achieved? What’s the first step?

Obviously, there are many examples of success in this field in the history of football. Ajax which can be named as a real school; Porto famous for its wide scouting operation; Barcelona with their five-year detailed plans; Athletic Bilbao with their locality principle and strict policy; Borussia Dortmund which does not hesitate to trust talents, Sporting, Benfica, Real Sociedad, Schalke 04… Which one is the right model or solution for you?

If you’re really asking this question, let’s start by saying that this is definitely the wrong question. If you want a sustainable success, you must ask that; “What are the common realities of these clubs?”

When you blend the answers of this question with your local culture and club character, you can have a unique recipe.

We have tried to list some of these common realities that can be useful for clubs. You can benefit & discuss.

Gökhan SEZER
Academy Sportive
Founder & General Director

SCOUTING DIAMETER, MAIN ZONE & STATUS

Although talent is a phenomenon that can be developed, it is never a feature that can be loaded from scratch. For this reason, clubs are obliged to recognize the importance of scouting and invest in this field in the process of developing their youth programme, as well as at the professional team level. While this activity is being put into operation or developed, it should be spread over a wide geography as possible. We see the scouting diameter as a kind of improvement criterion.

However, in addition to widening this diameter, it is necessary to quickly add the concept of a “Main zone” into the process. City, districts and villages where the club and academy are located, and those located in the geography close to / neighboring the city and that do not have a competitor club should find a priority place in this “Main zone” study. It is very valuable and beneficial that the scouting activities carried out within these limits continue until there are almost no players left that the club does not monitor. Among the clubs that can achieve this, we can write Athletic Bilbao first, which consists of players with more than 80% of the academy. Bilbao, which has strict rules about foreign players and chooses to walk with the local players, owes this success to the fact that it has nearly 20 scouts in the years when most clubs do not have any scout, only in the Biscay region with a population of 1.2m.

Of course, increasing commitment to football and the club in this focus region is also important part of this work. The club should develop social and individual/mass communication processes within the district. It is very important to increase the social & sportive status of the club within the region and to gain a “Representation” status that will touch every person. It is imperative to establish close relations with all academies, all youth teams and amateur clubs in the region, to be in the position of “Father” in these relations within the framework of financial means, and to take the role of the “Organizer” of the region. To put it differently, the club should design the football and academy activity in the “main zone” according to its needs and development plan and it cannot achieve this without gaining a strong status in the region, trying to touch everyone and assuming the role of “father”. At the same time, all of these will increase the belonging of the players, their families and resource clubs to the system day by day, enabling truly a “dream and opportunity” in that academy and strengthen the foundation.

PROCESS MONITORING

Academies are shaped by players from football schools and auditions of the clubs first. In addition, it is also very important to recruit the players who are spotted during the scouting activities. Then again, is it a success to recruit hastily children and young people whose talents or compatibilities with the game philosophy of the club is discovered? We think that this is another important question. Most of people answer “Yes” to this question, but actually this is a hasty and selfish approach, as particularly, the development of the skills of children up to the age of 12, who are, in the “pre-development” period, the protection of their family and school order, the preservation of their friendships and their environmental happiness are also vital.

The club should continue to watch the player who attracts attention in his resource club/academy until the age of 12, provided that he is in contact with the resource club/academy and family and the development process of this player is patiently followed. The importance of other academies which we have emphasized in the upper heading, and especially adopted the system envisaged by the club in the focus region can actually be understood more clearly here.

In order for this tracking to be carried out correctly and kept in the memory of the club, it is necessary to make full use of technological opportunities. Clubs should have scouting tools & databases to manage such processes in their academies as well as their professional teams. These tools should also be used seriously to make the actors’ academy performances open to exploration from the whole world. Visibility is a must for marketing.

CLUB-SCHOOL COOPERATION

In the development process of the young players, their non-football life and education are also very important; however, it is quite natural for players to experience disruptions in their schools and training due to training, off-field programs, activities and matches. That is correct; clubs are not obliged to train engineers or doctors but they are responsible for ensuring that players in their academies do not fall short of their peers. Many clubs have added the school performances of the players in their schools to the criteria in the age group pass. On this road, in order to bring “success” criteria and to carry out sports activities smoothly, clubs should make exclusive agreements for the training of the players in the academy and compensatory training activities should be an important topic in these agreements.

Within these agreements, it should be an important matter for the players to meet many different sports branches.(Gymnastic, cycling, basketball, handball, etc.) Especially their body development, agility and flexibility gains are key.

Each club should examine in detail the Purple Talents Project, which the Belgian club RSC Anderlecht has conducted in cooperation with local schools and has achieved very good results.

On the other hand, it is worth mentioning that football is actually a risky career plan based on limited ability and health above all else. For this reason, even if they are not professional players, it should be tried to raise individuals who can take different positions in the football sector and in the club.

INVESTMENT FOR SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT

It is a common mistake for clubs to see the performance on the field as sufficient. They should seriously understand that the mental health and development of the talents in their academies is one of the main factors that determines the efficiency in the production process and they should give the necessary value to this field. Planned one-to-one support to them in areas such as mental health, social life, family life, mental endurance, anxiety level, making mistakes, self-confidence, decision-making, communication & body language will affect their personal development and indirectly their sportive development processes to a great extent.

The ages of individuals to take personal responsibility in real terms and to exist as individuals in life are different from society to society. When this topic is examined in detail, it will be seen that it creates differences in terms of the development of young players and their age of adaptation to the professional team, too. For this reason, clubs should carry out activities to ensure that players take various responsibilities at an early age, especially as an “individual” in their facility and private lives, in order to bring the age of personal responsibility to the players earlier. We see this as a must.

The off-field factors that have a key role in becoming a successful athlete and the headings that will find a place for themselves among the disciplinary rules which should be carefully shaped and frequently audited too.

By the way, the clubs should not only be interested in the social development of the players individually. In case of need, the player’s family should also be able to benefit from the club’s support.

IDENTITY AND PHILOSOPHY

We constantly emphasize; all football clubs must have a football constitution. This constitution should clearly describe the playing philosophy of the club, the rules that will create an “identity” on the field and the functioning of the structure.

Unfortunately, this needing is often discussed over tactics such as 4-5-1, 4-4-2, 3-5-2, and the academies are expected to have a well-functioning layout with the same tactic with professional team, but actually what is meant here is not a tactical template. We are talking about the adoption of a game philosophy, not a formation. When an ideal football constitution consisting of red lines is adopted, continuity in every sense will be ensured in the club, independent of the names, especially the boards and staff.

For example, you should be able to say the following easily;
“We adopt a collective game plan in which both defense and attack are supported by all of players, we try to play offensive football via more time spent in the third zone. For that, we keep our squad wide and pay attention to the fact that minimum 1/3 of this squad consists of players with academy origin. That supports our unique identity. In the transition from our academy to the professional squad, x methods are followed. If we need a transfer, our scout team monitors and reports, but the authority is our football director. Players who do not meet certain criteria are not deemed appropriate to join our club.”

If you really want to enrich this structure with players from your academy, you must work with the same philosophy in your academies. As I said, you have to leave beyond the formation patterns and move around a philosophy. When you don’t follow this strategy, the members of an academy who prioritizes offense and can be percieved as successful on the scoreboard, may encounter a football system that prioritizes defense when they step into the professional team. This contrast can push many players out of the system.

And you will need trainers with vision who have understood and adopted this identity and philosophy well and can explain this philosophy to their players correctly.

HERO: THE TRANSITION PROCESS

One of the two biggest milestones in the career journey of the young player is the transition to the professional team.(Second milestone is being able to adapt well to the social and economic status change that the young player will experience.)

Talent, body, mental maturity, game vision and correct timing are the wheels of this machine. If even one of the impellers does not turn, the machine will not run or provide sufficient efficiency. For this reason, it is necessary to put a systematic and perfect plan into action.

As in the case of Spain, the academy teams of the clubs and the B teams formed using these academies can compete in professional leagues. The way for this is clear in many leagues but it is never an obligation or an accepted solution for a clear transition period.

First of all, in order to manage this process properly, a close relationship should be established between the needs of the professional team and the existing ones of the academy. When clubs look for players to meet their needs in their professional teams, they must first know whether or not there are players in their academies to meet this need. For this, players shedding sweat, especially in the top age category, must be closely monitored by the scouts and coaches of the professional team at this last stage. Please look at the background of Ruben Dias who has joined Manchester City from Benfica in a deal worth €68m. Ruben was a youngster who played at the Benfica academy and we were monitoring this talented boy. He was not able to make it into Portugal’s U21 European Championship squad in 2017. The next season, he became one of the unchangeable names in Benfica’s professional squad and he is in the Premier League now. In short; although the Portuguese national team coaches or scouts did not know him well, Benfica’s side knew his potential and they did not hesitate to adapt him to the professional team.

In a club where player choices are made on merit, there is no harm in signing a professional contract at this stage for players who have achieved the highest age group. In this group, the players who shed sweat will breathe the same air with the professional team, apply the same training program and work closely with the professional team in order to experience the same excitement in the new period will be the choice of more clubs. At the same time, it can be considered that a member of the team working in the analysis of the professional team, according to the work intensity, plays an active role in the management of this last age group.

Finally, clubs that care about academy production and want to successfully assemble a certain percentage of players into their professional team each season will also need an assistant coach who knows the academy and the players in the academy well in their professional teams and will facilitate the transition process.

COACH SQUAD, MENTALITY AND MULTI-FUNCTIONALITY

The selection of the coaches participating in the training in the academy is actually one of the main factors affecting the functioning and success of the academies. Clubs should quickly part ways with their coaches, who prefer their old habits to the transformation of football. If you have coaches who are constantly shouting at the players of the age group they manage and focus to scoreboard, not their development, you should realize that improvement is not possible there. Disciplined individual develops with freedom. There is no longer a place in modern football for those who prioritize cliché tactical propositions rather than timing, thinking fast, taking quick action, quickly recovering a lost ball, controlling the environment or doing the attack correctly.

Secondly, it is imperative that there should not be a concept like “Ego” in the lives of educators in academia. Yes, they have an age group they are responsible for and winning is important for acquiring the habit of winning but it should never be forgotten that the primary goal is actually to develop individual skills, sense of responsibility and discipline on the field. For this, there is a need for a teacher who can be a child with their players when necessary, who can coach both teams and individuals. If you are looking for the right soldiers for the war in the academies, you should know that these names must advise their team to win, but ready to lose every game and they should be ready to appear unsuccessful for the sake of the development of their players.

As long as they are successful and willing, it is very important to establish continuity in the teaching staff. Besides, working with different coaches in the age groups will add different abilities to them.

Well, is it important that these names are chosen from those who are loyal to the club and who know the club? Undoubtedly, this will make the job easier. Particularly, it will be beneficial for the names that have become symbol for the club and can be adopted as idols by young people to join the academies after completing the necessary training but “competence” comes first. Perhaps clubs should subject the coaches they will employ in their academies to an extra coaching program themselves because each country has different systems in coach training and this difference can cause a competence problem. In addition, we also recommend the clubs we support with our ideas to work on a “Coach/manager scouting” operation for both the professional team and their academies.

FACILITY QUALITY & TECHNOLOGICAL TRANSFORMATION

Sporting’s academy, which paved the way for Portugal’s European championship with the players trained in its system, is much smaller than Real Madrid’s academy and has fewer opportunities. So let’s get to know first when facility qualiy is not enough for success. But of course, quality contributes. Especially accommodation, training and pitch are very important for the life and development of the players. If you have an academy that is far from the city center and where the players will live in isolation from social life, it is an obligation for you to enrich your facility socially.

Health departments in academies are also very important. Do not think this against injury only. On the way to development, you need to follow physical evolution of the talents strictly. If you do this, you can predict when a player’s physical development will stop and you do not wait for years to see that.

Secondly, clubs should analyze the climate of the region where their academies are located and review their facilities accordingly. If your academy is in a windy area, taking precautions to prevent this will contribute to your player’s relationship with the ball. If you are in a rainy region, you can add quality to your facility with artificial turf, but the team of a cold and snowy region needs something different, an indoor pitch. Never underestimate this topic.

On the other hand, tech is an indispensable part of academies today. For example, Dortmund and many clubs that took them as an example are now using the special study set in their academies, which uses technology to make their players do fast special training with the ball. Thanks to this set, the players touch the ball more than five thousand times a year in addition to all training and match processes. This also means that a player makes more than five thousand decisions. They improve not only the player’s relationship with the ball and reflexes, but also the speed of decision making and the degree of accuracy in these decisions. These features are beyond dispute for new soccer.

“I KNOW MY FUTURE”

The fact that the players have detailed and clear information about the stages they will go through in the academy and in the transition to the professional team will be one of the main factors that will increase their determination and their trust in the system they are connected. They need to know their question’s answers clearly. When they start questioning life, they may experience emotional breakages with adolescent reactions. Clubs, in this sense, should have a transparent process scheme.

It should be said that Benfica is one of the clubs that seriously put this rule into practice. They have almost broke player selling records in recent windows. Please look at their professional squads in recent years; improving every second and being ready at all times is not an advice, but an opportunity for the academy players of the Portuguese side. They know that; “Manager can write my name on the XI suddenly!”

By the way, it is absolutely crucial that academy players’ contracts with the clubs are built on a rule of belonging as well as on sporting rules. A genuine and secure belonging makes the club strong against risks and the most important of these risks are agents who prioritize their own gain rather than the careers of the players. Unfortunately, players’ families sometimes make this mistake, too. For this reason, the clubs must manage these relationships well. First of all, the agents should not interfear in the relations of the academy players with the clubs.

Finally, when your academy players sign a professional contract, they should be aware that it will be long-term well beforehand. Otherwise, it is possible to lose your talented players very early and cheaply who will make a big contribution to you on the pitch for years or will bring you a huge transfer income. The most recent example of this situation is the Turkish club Bursaspor SK. They are about to lose their golden boy Ali Akman with £1m only.