Following a study by the CIES Football Observatory, Manchester United’s academy can now be confirmed as the best in the country.
The Swiss-based research group have revealed that more current first-team players received their footballing education at United’s academy than any other English club.
According to this research, to qualify as a graduate of any club’s academy a player must have spent at least three seasons with that club between the ages of 15 and 21. The research also includes current first-team squad members as of the 1st October 2016.
Manchester United have always believed in youth. Since October 1937, United have selected an academy graduate in every single matchday squad, whether in the starting line-up or on the bench. That is a run of 3,821 consecutive first team matches.
— The MUFC Academy (@mrmujac) November 6, 2016
The CIES study places Manchester United third in Europe, behind only Real Madrid and Barcelona, when it comes to producing players at clubs in the five biggest European leagues. United have produced 34 players currently plying their trade in the top divisions in England, Spain, France, Germany and Italy. Of those 34, six are still with Manchester United and regularly feature in either the starting XI or in the matchday squad. Sam Johnstone, Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard all came through the ranks together, winning the FA Youth Cup in 2011, while Axel Tuanzebe, Tim Fosu-Mensah and Marcus Rashford are part of the next generation of talent to pass through Old Trafford’s famed academy.
What separates Manchester United’s academy from most around the world is their ability to produce excellent teams. On several occasions, United have produced groups of players who don’t just excel at youth level or progress individually, but players who graduate together and break into the first team alongside one another. The most famous example would of course be the ‘Class of 92’; a phenomenon which saw Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Phil Neville and Nicky Butt all progress to the United first team and successfully conquer Europe in Sir Alex Ferguson’s famous treble winning side.
The class of 2011 emulated their FA Youth Cup winning achievements but are yet to create a similar legacy with the first team. Nevertheless, while Johnstone, Lingard and Pogba are at United, several of their teammates continue to play at a high level. Michael Keane is a Premier League player with Burnley, Will Keane is at Hull and Ravel Morrison is in Serie A with Lazio. Even Adnan Januzaj, a former academy teammate of Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard, continues to feature in the Premier League on loan at Sunderland.
Manchester United remain pioneers of English football when it comes to working with and nurturing young talent. While they top the CIES list for English clubs with 34 players, the next best is Tottenham, who have managed to produce just 17 players. With only half of United’s total, Spurs sit joint-23rd on the list. Looking further down the list again, the next English representation is from Southampton and Chelsea, who occupy joint-37th in the Football Observatory findings.
Even when this research is widened to include all of the leading top divisions in Europe, Manchester United were still the highest-placed Premier League team. They took joint-13th on the list, with Ajax out in front with the best record in Europe. Unsurprisingly, United were way out in front of the other English clubs when it came to the number of youth products playing at other clubs across Europe. Arsenal and Manchester City were the only other English clubs in the top 50. Arsenal were 25th on the list, whereas Manchester City could only manage joint-46th, despite the incredible investment and highly commended academy set-up that has been created on the Etihad Campus.
When Manchester United’s first team shows weakness or fails to achieve the ‘correct’ set of results, fans and media alike are quick to explain why they must sign Player X for £40million or Player Y for £50million. What these findings show, alongside Manchester United’s rich and vibrant history, is that they will always have young players who can bridge the gap and provide a solution at the highest level.
In the fifties it was the Busby Babes, in the nineties it was Ferguson’s ‘Class of 92’, last season it was Marcus Rashford. Next time it could be Angel Gomes, DJ Buffonge and Axel Tuanzebe. Manchester United have always believed in youth and time and time again those young players have repaid the faith. There’s absolutely no doubt about it, they have the best academy in the land.