Arsenal FC is a club which is world-renowned for developing young talent. They don’t just prioritize young players in the transfer market, they also bring youth talent into the team through their famous Hale End Academy.
The Academy System
Sort of Like Soccer School
The Football Association (FA), unlike North American sports leagues like the NHL or MLB, allows teams to recruit minors under the age of eighteen. For the most part, these wonder-kids do not play for the first team (the big club), but at the ‘youth’ level.
The FA, of course, has all sorts of rules and regulations as to what kids clubs can and cannot recruit, as well as holding clubs to high academic as well as athletic standards. There are many levels of youth football in Europe, from Under-7s (players seven and under), up to U-21, and everything in between.
The major advantage of this system, as opposed to leaving development to public or private schools, is the players are trained at a professional level for much longer, resulting in better players sooner.
This also gives clubs a leg-up at the first team level, as they will not have to invest millions of dollars in transfer fees (Don’t know what that is? We’ll get there).
Two famous examples are West Ham United and Southampton, both hosting excellent academies. Neither club has the resource of Manchester United or even Arsenal, but stay competitive by saving money and developing players.
West Ham has brought up players like Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick, and Rio Ferdinand, who all found success with large clubs, winning all sort of trophies in the process.
Meanwhile, Southampton are responsible for talents such as Gareth Bale, currently of Real Madrid, as well as Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
What About MLS Academies?
Currently, several MLS teams do have academies but struggle to find talent to develop. The reasons are varied; American owners just don’t understand the role of an academy, parents not being willing to send their children to a soccer school, and even incompetence on the part of U.S. Soccer have all been raised as reasons for this dearth of youth development.
Whatever the reasons, the results on the national stage are telling. Most U.S. internationals were raised in foreign countries, but do not feel like they would get the same opportunities playing for those national teams than team USA.
A great example is Jermaine Jones, a long-time stalwart for the Yanks. He was born in Germany to an American serviceman and a German bride and even represented Germany at the youth level. But, with opportunities limited, he declared he would play for the US at the senior level.
The fact that the world’s third-largest country is currently ranked as the 23rd best team worldwide is proof enough of the harm not having an Academy system is doing to the USMNT.