Ed. note: With all the talk regarding Chelsea's youth system — e.g. Sam Walker's comments — here's a timely and interesting look at youth integration over the past five season at five of Europe's biggest teams. While I think it'd be interesting to see this data extended to a longer period than just five years and looking at players 21 and under (at the time of their debut) instead of 23 and under, this is a great start.
Youth Integration Part 1: European Champions
Note: Part 1 is about Chelsea compared to other European Champions (Barca, Bayern, Juventus, and PSG). Part 2 is about Chelsea compared to other BPL teams (United, Spurs, Arsenal, and Liverpool). Part 2 will be posted on May 1st, 2016.
This has been an interesting week in regards to our youth system. Hell, you could say that about the entire season, perhaps even our entire history. One thing we're often told is that Chelsea are really bad at integrating youth players into our squad, and that other teams such as Arsenal and Barcelona are very good at it. But how true is this? Are we merely looking through tinted glasses in regards to our rival’s capacity to introduce youth, or are we legitimately bad at bringing youth through? Is it even realistic to integrate large numbers of youth? These are questions I hope my research will be able to answer.
It is impossible for more than one or two youth players to be integrated into a team per year, regardless of the team. I have written this thesis before I have gone into the data. I will write a short paragraph following each team’s data describing the trends and bringing up any mitigating factors (such as managerial change). The teams I have chosen have similar ambitions as Chelsea (to compete for every available trophy every season) or are known for good youth integration.
- Players must be under 23 or 23 at the time of their debut for their parent club to be counted
- Only appearances for the parent club will be counted
- Players who already have 50 or more career appearances (not counting while on loan from the clubs I'm researching) will not be counted (e.g. Hazard had well over this when he came to Chelsea, Kenedy and Miazga did not)
- A player must have at least 5 starts OR play a total of 600 minutes within one season to be considered as "integrated" (and thus on my list). In the following season, they must have at least 10 starts OR 1200 minutes played, their third season and every season after they must have 15 starts OR 1800 minutes played to be counted
- My data will begin during the 2011/2012 season, so any youth player that had their debut before that will not be counted.
- My data for the current season will obviously be incomplete, so players that are borderline will be left out, but if I think it is relevant I will remark on it.
2011/2012: Oriol Romeu (14 Starts, 1532’)
2014/2015: Thibaut Courtois (39 starts, 3505’)
2015/2016: Kenedy (7 starts, 844’), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (7 starts, 651’), Thibaut Courtois (28 starts, 2470’)
The turbulent years from AVB to the end of Rafa seems to have really hurt bringing youth through, with only Romeu making the cut (and his injury taking him out of the equation). Jose’s first two years are also rather sparse even if you include T-Bo. T-Bo is obviously an outlier, both due to the nature of his position and because he’s a world class player that happened to meet my criteria. This season, however, has been very successful for youth development. Is that due to Guus? Is that due to how bad our season has been? Probably both, but it’s hard to say we haven’t used our youth this season. The other side of the outliers is Traore, who I was surprised had played as little as he has this season (2 starts, 379’). He’d either have to start 3 of our 4 remaining games to meet my criteria or play another 221 minutes out of 360 minutes remaining. With yet another managerial change on the horizon, it is hard to tell if our sudden uptick in youth will continue.
2012/2013: Emre Can (5 starts, 463’)
2014/2015: Gianluca Gaudino (6 starts, 547’), Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (5 starts, 472’), Mitchell Weiser (9 starts, 917’)
Bayern brought no one through in 2011/2012 and 2013/2014?!? No they didn’t, but it should be noted that players such as Muller and Kroos (and many, many other very recognizable names) had already debuted before that season under LVG, and thus they didn’t meet my metrics to be counted. 2011/2012 is also Jupp Heynckes's first season, which seems to also be a difficult season for youth. This even repeats itself when Pep takes over in 2013/2014. While there is a decent number of youth in Pep’s second season, it completely disappears for his current season. My assumption is that Pep has stopped experimenting, and has determined his core. So where are the four now? Three have been sold, and Hojbjerg is on loan. So where does the notion that Bayern are good at youth development come from? Two places. The first being that the core of their team such as Muller and Alaba all came through together at roughly the same time before the 2011/2012 season. The other being that Bayern are really, really good at getting great established youth talent (players with greater than 50 career appearances before Bayern bought them). That’s where players such as Gotze, Martinez, and many others come in.
2011/2012: Isaac Cuenca (20 starts, 1861’), Cristian Tello (4 starts, 675’)
2012/2013: Cristian Tello (15 starts, 1630’)
2014/2015: Munir El Haddadi (11 starts, 817’), Rafinha (19 starts, 1685’)
2015/2016: Munir El Haddadi (16 starts, 1634’), Sandro Ramirez (9 starts, 851’)
I’d like to start by noting that during my research of Barca, my computer froze multiple times. Their evil knows no bounds. Like Bayern, most of the players we think of as youth success had their debuts before my cutoff point or joined Barca with 50+ professional appearances. The purchase of Neymar seems to have pushed both Isaac Cuenca and Cristian Tello out of favor. Gerardo Martino’s lone season in charge was the low point of youth integration for Barca. Bringing in Luis Enrique seems to have stabilized Barca’s ability to integrate youth. But, as you can see, only five players over five years have been integrated. So where does the idea of Barca being great at youth development come from? I’d say Pep’s stint produced a great deal of players is one reason. The other would be that Barca is able to use a large quantity of youth, but few have proven to be of real quality (at Barca that is).
2013/2014: Marquinhos (26 starts, 2481’), Adrien Rabiot (16 starts, 1757’)
2014/2015: Marquinhos (38 starts, 3433’), Hervin Ongenda (9 starts, 915’), Adrien Rabiot (17 starts, 1932’)
2015/2016: Jean-Kevin Augustin (6 starts, 582’), Presnel Kimpembe (8 starts, 695’), Marquinhos (29 starts, 2740’), Adrien Rabiot (32 starts, 2839’)
Mo’ money, mo’ problems? Seems like it for the first few years of PSG’s new found riches when you consider their youth (I can’t blame Carlo, I WON’T blame Carlo). But whereas Barca had a large quantity of youth, PSG is really pushing for quality. Did you know Marquinhos only had 36 professional appearances before PSG snapped him up? Kudos to PSG for getting him after his breakout season and even more so to Roma (6 appearances when they bought him). And just like Bayern, PSG have been very good at buying quality youth who have already made a significant number of professional appearances. The difference being, Bayern generally got their youth from much better teams than PSG. So PSG has got some excellent scouts apparently. Also, Laurent Blanc has shown a lot of faith in the youth to get so many youth into the squad since he took over. And the surge they’ve had this season? That’s what happens when you’re able to run away with the league with 6,702 games to spare.
2012/2013: Paul Pogba (23 starts, 2252’)
2013/2014: Paul Pogba (45 starts, 4192’)
2014/2015: Kingsley Coman (7 starts, 640’), Paul Pogba (38 starts, 3336’), Stefano Sturaro (10 starts, 866’)
2015/2016: Mario Lemina (6 starts, 690’), Paul Pogba (43 starts, 3984’), Stefano Sturaro (17 starts, 1662’)
I’m not gonna lie, the reason I went back to 2011/2012 for my study wasn’t due to wanting a large sample size. It was almost entirely because I wanted to see how Conte did at Juventus with youth integration. So how did he do? Season one he suffered from what most first season managers suffer from; a wariness to risk immediate success on using youth. Season two and three, he took a chance on some kid named Pogba. That worked out ok I guess. But what do we as Chelsea fans look to? That only one player under the age of 23 got a debut and integration under Conte. So somehow I doubt we’ll be seeing our FA youth cup winning team playing against Pep’s City team (with Messi and Lewandowski and Neymar and The Terminator). After Conte’s departure to the scary world of international management, Massimiliano Allegri seems to have put some trust into the youth, though not a great deal. He also seems to like that kid Pogba too, so maybe that kid is sorta good at football?
Let’s start with my thesis. Was I right? Sort of, but sort of isn’t right, so no, I was wrong. It is possible to integrate more than two youth players per season. We did it! This season. Our worst season in years. Probably the worst season of most of our player’s careers. So that’s…something. Though one of those youth is T-Bo, who as I mentioned is an outlier. His 45 appearances for Genk allowed him to be a part of this data, but obviously his time at ATM was almost like being at another club, and the fact that he is genuinely world-class makes him the odd ball here.
How about the other teams? We totally pale in comparison to Barca and Bayern, right? RIGHT? No not really. Whereas they are not so fantastic at bringing unproven youth through, they are very good at recognizing which proven youth are worth buying. PSG are able to blend academy players, unproven youth players, and proven youth players into their team better than all the others I researched. As hard as it is for me to say, PSG are a team to idolize for their youth integration.
And unfortunately, it looks like we’re about to face a drought for youth. Conte has a hell of an example of successful youth integration (this Pogba guy), but that’s the only one he has. Maybe we can take heart in the fact that SAF didn’t see the player Pogba could become, whereas Conte did. Maybe he’ll do the same to RLC or some other youth. But what it looks like he won’t do is create a wave of youth not seen since the Class of '92. So don’t expect to see Baker, MVG, Bamford, Solanke, Todd Kane, Boga, and Musonda back at Chelsea earning significant minutes. At the absolute most, we might see three youth players get decent game time next season. And as victims of our own success, we’re likely to see many more "Lukaku’s" and "De Bruyne’s" leave Chelsea for lack of playing time and opportunities.
A very common trend I also noticed was that changing managers essentially puts youth integration on ice for that manager’s first season. Even teams with relatively peaceful managerial transitions, like Bayern and Barca, have this problem. And no, Jose did not really bring youth through (I know somebody is thinking it). So constantly changing managers does in fact seem to be detrimental to youth players.
But if you take anything from this, let it be this; no champion in Europe can really integrate youth as well as we think they can. Barca focus on quantity over quality, with some occasionally making it. Bayern focus on buying youth that are already known qualities. PSG take risks on quality youth from teams of lesser quality, and reap the rewards while also using their academy. Juventus have Pogba to hang their hat on, but Pogba’s only one player. Chelsea, with our massive loan army and the best youth academy in the world, are doing well in comparison to everybody else.
I’m going to refrain from making any more inferences before I research the second part of this FanPost (which will use BPL teams). All of what you just read may be true only for Europe, or it may be universal. So I ask you to go check out part 2 after reading this one, which will be up sometime on May 1st, 2016.
All stats are taken from transfermarkt.co.uk
I would like to give a special thanks to Erland_Johnsen, Chronus Ess, simongabriel, Nevil, and Haz Mat for helping me determine the parameters/sources/basis of my experiment.