Is it important to develop the youth divisions at an elite soccer club? Is there an economic as well as sporting return? Is it an investment or an expense? Is it an image or a concept? Principal or complementary?
An elite soccer club measures it all in athletic, social and consequently financial success. The objective is clear. To be a reference in the world of sports through success, which in turn increases the club’s brand, and in turn means financial returns.
To achieve sporting accomplishments a soccer team needs to have the best players available in the market. You also need a great orchestra director, called a coach, that knows how to adequately combine the individualities. Being the best player means that the signing must yield a return quickly. Hence, the price of acquisition is high.
On the other hand, a youth team player, with a low acquisition cost, needs time to mature, a time which in football is very short. It seems as if it’s impossible to combine both concepts.
I believe that the above is the problem, or the most frequently used excuse that coaches and club executives give.
The youth teams is a concept that goes beyond having a grassroots player debut at pro level after 10 plus years going up the ranks. It’s a strategic development and at the same time a conceptual development of the club’s identity, which is shared between the fans, shareholders, employees, manager, coach, president etc.
The success of a club’s youth program can’t be measured by the debut of a player in the first team. Nor can scoring a goal define the success, or a magnificent dribble which comes as a splash of magic (it isn’t magic, it’s the hard work of the player, professionals surrounding him who have a lot of passion and many times are short in resources).
Is the youth program athletically and financially profitable in an elite club? Yes. Unequivocally, yes. It’s an investment and concept. It’s use and development. It’s implication and future. It is transcending and success.
But to have, one must first start. And so few soccer clubs have or have started. Mine has.