So far, my Emulating La Masia series has looked at various factors that help you in developing your youngsters. However for all the promise of youth development and improved standards, the development of players is the ‘easy part’, it is integrating them into the first team which matters most. Teams like Manchester City, Chelsea, Real Madrid and ironically enough in recent times Barcelona snap up top talents on a global scale and excel in various youth competitions, but in my eyes youth development is not about winning competitions, it’s about preparing players for professional football and I cannot remember too many academy players breaking into the first team in recent years at any of these sides.
Although the academy teams of these clubs can be regarded as being amongst Europe’s best and in terms of facilities and coaching they most certainly are, what is the point of having a youth academy if you do not attempt to produce players for your first team? If their youth development efforts are so impressive then it begs the question as to why there are so few youth academy prospects breaking into the first team.
Clubs need to find a way to bleed more youngsters into their team, to bridge the gap between youth and senior football much more effectively and as sides like Chelsea and Man City are showing, for all the money spent on facilities, coaching, and wages if they cannot integrate these young players into the first team squad then what really is the point? In terms of this article, we will look at the influence of first team football on the development of our youth players.
In order to research the influence of first team action, I created five equal newgens in an FM16 save with the help of FMRTE. All five have similar positions and age. All of their attributes, including hidden, are set to 10. One of these players will feature every week in first team, one of these players will be placed in the U21/reserve squad, two of these players will feature in the U19/youth squad and one player will be sent to a feeder club. Every player will be on a senior contract, save for one of the players in the U19 squad.
As before, I will holiday the save for half a season and see how the players have developed. I will note their development in four areas:
- Current ability;
These are the five newgens.
These are the five newgens after six months of playing.
Their progress looks like this, number-wise.
In a graphic, the numbers look like this.
One would expect that player 1 would have shown the most progression. That is true in terms of his CA, but attribute-wise, the others have developed just as well or even better in some cases. With the various other driving factors behind development all being equal, this must mean first team action is not that important at all. The player active for the U21/reserves has developed just as well, whilst there is a bit of a difference between the development of the U19/youth players. The player really developing worse than the rest is the player I sent away on loan. With significantly worse facilities at his new club, it makes sense that his development has stalled somewhat. The conclusions are definitely inconclusive, as they do not account for some of the differences.
Clearly, I need to look at another factor in the equation to try and make sense of the outcome of this simulation. The most logical factor to look at would be the amount of games played and the level at which the newgens saw action. The numbers look like this when you factor in the games everyone played at their respective levels.
In a graphic, the numbers look like this.
After taking this extra factor into account, we can draw a few careful conclusions. First team action is a driving factor behind CA development. The players with more first team action (players 1, 2 and 4) have developped much better. The results from player 5 are indicative that the club’s facilities do have a major impact, as this player has played the most first team games and has developped the least.
On the other hand, we can see that the level of football is not that important, as the youth players have developped almost as good as the first teamer lads in terms of their attributes, provided they play regularly. The most steady progress was made by players who played for the youth side, reserve side and first team side in alternating shifts. Since players loaned away to other clubs lose precious time counting towards club home-grown status, you may want to reconsider actually loaning them away to other clubs.
So where should we loan our players to? If I do loan away players, it will be to domestic clubs with good facilities and a decent chance of playing time in either first team or the reserve squads. If your team has a B-squad which plays in a competitive league, like FC Bayern Amateure or Barça B, it might even be better to keep the better talents at your own club.