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The Secret Behind Football’s Most Successful Academies

Instead of relying on intuition and guesswork, progressive clubs have adopted an approach that allows players to progress from academy to first team in a strategic and calculated way using data analytics.


Michael Bridges


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Analytics can also identify longer-term opportunities when planning out player pathways so academies can focus on talent development—as opposed to recruitment, which is an easy trap to fall into given players’ short contracts.

A key priority for youth academies is the ability to consistently produce players who are first team capable. Not only because it provides a steady stream of talent and progression for players within the pathway, but producing players can also generate considerable commercial returns that can then be invested in priority areas.

Yet the chances of a talented player making it to first team professional football with their origin club or through a sale are unpredictable and left to chance.

So, how are clubs like Benfica, Bayer Leverkusen, Chelsea and these ten others so successfully producing talent, who, according to Planet Football have made over €2.9 Billion in profit between 2015 and 2022.

Key questions to be asking

  • How can we improve and scale player development at all levels?
  • How can we enhance the development of the whole athlete?
  • How can we standardize player evaluation, benchmarking, and planning?

Bringing Talent Development into the Modern Day

A recent FIFA study of the global talent development ecosystem shows that professionalization of talent development structures is the key to success for domestic leagues and international teams, and data and analysis is the key to that professionalization.

Access to key technology is crucial to supporting the identification and development of players…knowing how to use the latest technology allows users to gain further insight into the game. 

FIFA Talent Development Project

The key to achieving this? Systematic academy processes that deliver a consistent approach to individualized, holistic player development supported by data-driven systems. This approach allows players to progress from academy to first team in a strategic and calculated way, while also increasing the rate of homegrown players.

But what is the most effective approach? Instead of relying on intuition or guesswork and hoping for the best, we look at a few of the factors that contribute to success:

Create a Systemized, Holistic Development Process

  • What is the impact of the program on the player’s holistic development (academics, psycho-social, tech-tac, and physical)
  • How can we accurately and objectively assess performance against club standards?
  • Is Player X progressing? If not, why not?

Create a repeatable process that focuses on the holistic development of young athletes, i.e., build a comprehensive model of player performance, health, and well-being that encompasses technical talent, academics, physical and mental health, maturity, pathway, and more.

“Talent development is development as a human being and not just as a football player.”

FIFA’s Chief of Global Football Development Arsène Wenger

This holistic view of each player can be used to share and connect information and collaborate across departments to optimize individual development while achieving the goals of the organization. Having the ability to measure and track this data over time provides a more accurate and objective way to determine if and how staff is developing talent. 

Help Everyone Achieve Success

Every academy needs a competitive squad to bring the best to the top and help players advance to the first team. A strong team and competitive fixtures allow players to learn from teammates and opposition so they can improve their own game and teaches valuable lessons about grit, adversity, and competition.It’s about academies supporting players on the pitch and helping them thrive as individuals off the pitch. By capturing and benchmarking key information—match minutes, training minutes, competitive training, competitive match minutes, performance, profiling and progression data—academies can view comparisons and create customized training programs for each athlete. And over time, they can also identify potential markers for talent moving forward.

Establish a Pathway Using Objective Markers

The challenge with the academy system is that it’s based on short-term contracts, making it easy to be short-sighted and slip into the mode of recruitment versus development. 

Analytics can help plan out player pathways (or transitions) and identify longer term opportunities based on objective inputs:

  • Can Player X progress to the first team? Or not?
  • Does Player X require a loan move?

Fortunately, new tools can help academies optimize their data collection practices, remove data silos, and unite all stakeholders around a single platform to support collaborative, real-time decision-making.

By adopting a more calculated, less random approach to talent development, academies can more objectively identify and develop young athletes and safeguard against potential superstars slipping through the cracks. Past markers can be used to determine what a talented athlete looks like allowing academies to focus on improving the overall efficiency of the players’ development processes—not just at the level of technical performance, but their physical and mental health, maturity, and more.

Learn More

This blog is part of an ongoing series where we share valuable insights from our team of Performance Experts who have backgrounds in coaching, medical, sports science, and data science, in addition to extensive experience working with hundreds of elite teams around the world. To learn more about how analytics can assist with recruitment, contact at




  • Coaching & Development
  • Performance Experts
  • Soccer
  • Sports Data Analytics
  • Sports Science

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  • Michael Bridges

    Michael Bridges has 15+ years experience working in various environments across the football landscape including the Premier League, Brighton and Hove Albion, and Chelsea holding different roles in coaching, administration, and leadership.

    Performance Strategist


Kitman Labs Joins ‘More than Equal’ Quest To Develop First Female Formula 1 Champion

More than Equal’s mission is to close the gender gap in motor sports and find and develop the first female Formula 1 world champion. They will now have an advanced operating system to centralize data for female drivers participating in More than Equal’s pioneering Development Programme.