The Academy of a football club could be described as the club's long term planning sportswise. Its main objective is essentially to serve the club with football players, while using the optimal amount of financial resources.
When we think of successful Academies, our mind immediately points to Ajax, Barcelona, Santos or Portuguese clubs. The question is, are these the most successful cases for every club to follow?
At 4NFC, we address an Academy business consultancy project by taking an holistic view on the clubs' resources, being them:
Available human resources;
Cultural, political, economical, social, legal and sport's context;
Club and academy's prestige.
By doing this, we are able to understand and compare the current objectives with its underlying potential.
After having a clear picture of the case, we look at the strategies being applied. The main points of strategy to consider are the ones which relate the most to the value creation:
Quantity vs quality: It relates to the club's policy on the amount of players being developed at the same time. Some federations impose a limit to the amount of players per age group, while others do not regulate on the matter;
Age of recruitment: It would seem that the most logical thing to do as an Academy is to recruit players as young as possible and nurture them until as late as possible. However, it is the case for many clubs that this strategy is not the most effective given its capability of offering youth contracts and/or retaining the best players. This matter could also be influenced by federations's imposements;
Range of recruitment: Recruiting further from the Academy's infrastructure requires a certain amount of resources and originates complex challenges in return for a potential greater amount of talent in-house, while a more local approach could potentially be associated with a higher effectiveness but a limited number of successful players. An interesting solution for a club with a high prestige and brand value could also be the creation and development of strategically located Academy centres to develop local players up until a certain age, when the most promising ones would be relocated to the main Academy.
Finally, when analysing the ROI of an Academy, we use two main metrics:
Sum of financial surplus through academy graduated players' trading;
Usage of academy graduated players on the first team as a way to create financial savings through the sporting use.
Then, we compare the results of both metrics with the amount of investment made over the same period analysed. It is also important to consider the consistency of the operation over the years in terms of the number of players promoted and the valuation achieved by these players.
As an example of how an academy strategy switch can influence the overall result, let's have a look at Brentford FC. Given the extremely competitive area of London, where some of the best and most powerful clubs of London are based, and also given Premier League's ruling (Elite Player Performance Plan) which conditions the range of recruitment and the ability to retain players by setting a fixed fee for the transfer of a young player, the club was operating an unprofitable business under the traditional model, where they lost their most promising talents to the biggest clubs.
In 2016, the English club switched its strategy by abandoning the traditional Academy structure, keeping only a single team of U23-U17 players. With this change, the club was able to expand its recruitment range, recruiting dismissed players of the best english teams, and focusing its resources on fewer selected players. During the last seasons, the club has been able to promote, on average, between two or three Academy graduates per year. This model had a substantial impact on the recent path of the club, which achieved the Premier League in 2021-22 after 74 years.
At 4NFC we can set the club for a consistent and optimised model for the Academy, including guidelines on how to link this department with the first team, which is also one of the most fundamental bases for the project's success.