The captains carrying the Basque flag before the game Real Sociedad-Athletic Club

The captains carrying the Basque flag before the game Real Sociedad-Athletic Club.

Back in November 2007, Liverpool FC player and captain Steven Gerrard pronounced the following words: “I think there’s a risk that there are too many foreign players coming over, and that will affect our national team –if it isn’t already–. I’m all for getting good young English players through –it happened to myself– and it’s important we keep producing. It’s pointless having the best league if our national team’s gonna suffer in the long run. We want as many home-grown players playing in The Premier League as possible; as an England player we want top players in the squad and I’m sure that would help.”

Fortunately, two Basque teams like Real Sociedad and Athletic Club Bilbao have historically made good use of their own academies, either because of financial needs or due to a club philosophy, and this strategy has always helped them to achieve their best results.

This season, Real Sociedad is the first division club with the highest number of own players in its first squad, as sixteen of them have reached the first team coming from the second team, and almost all of those players belong to the club since they were in the junior ranks. A similar situation can be observed at Athletic Club, which has in its first squad fifteen players developed in the Lezama club academy.

Such a reliance on academy players is not exclusive to these two Basque clubs, as the first division La Liga is at the moment dominated by teams that show a special interest in providing opportunities to their academy players. Indeed, Villarreal has eleven own players in the squad, Barcelona ten, and Espanyol and Sevilla nine each. The six teams that have been named here are at the moment in the top eleven of one of the World’s most competitive league championships, reinforcing the idea that having an identity and your own playing style developed from the grassroots help to compete in modern football. Some other clubs, however, continue to opt for models based on purchasing foreign players, which in my opinion contribute to a loss of identity and are often financially unsustainable, in addition to failing to ensure sporting success.

From my point of view, based on my past experience as director of research and development at Athletic Club Bilbao’s academy, the keys to building a plan that culminates with academy players’ maximal performance are as follows:

  • Understanding player evolution over time
  • Understanding the demands of the game
  • Understanding performance determining factors
  • Quantifying training loads to ensure progression
  • Optimising training time through relative individualisation
  • Keeping the players free of injury
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  1. A nice post Senor.

    I agree. It is much smarter and cheaper to “grow” talent that it is to buy it.

    It is ok for the big four in the Premier League to spend millions on players and try to buy excellence, but for the other 99% of football teams around the world, they have to find another way to win.

    To me it makes great sense to find emerging talent, provide the players with outstanding support, coaching and development opportunities and to take a broad (i.e. not just physical skill) approach to their training.

    Wayne Goldsmith

    December 13, 2010
  2. Thank you Wayne, glad you liked the post, and it is clear that we are in the same wavelength regarding player development strategies.

    December 17, 2010
  3. Garrison

    Very interesting ideas.

    How can you reccomend quantifying training loads in a sport such as soccer? There are programs which have monitors which can do that through formulas, but what about in the field without such equipment?

    Look forward to hearing from you!

    March 13, 2011
  4. There are several options to quantify training loads in team sports, including time-motion analysis, physiological monitoring, questionnaires and diaries, indices of training stress… I would recommend you to read Borresen and Lambert, Sports Med, 39: 779-795, 2009; and Lambert and Borresen, Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 5: 406-411, 2010

    March 13, 2011