Money is continually proving itself to be the scourge of our game. The rise of ‘Super Managers’, José Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Pep Guadiola, has had at best a mixed effect on youth players at the leading European academies. This is largely driven by the success that money requires. To super-rich European clubs money is no object, so if you can’t do the job, they’ll simply pay your multimillion severance fee and get the next big name.
In recent years we have seen these three managers being passed between elite clubs more times than a Lionel Messi and Dani Alves warm-up. To say this is not to undermine their talents. They have all proven time and again that they are three of the top managers the modern game has seen. This carrousel of elite managers has obviously lined their pockets and filled the trophy cabinets of the clubs they have managed, but what of the effect on the players in their academies?
Of the three, Guardiola has the best record for bringing talent through. On average he gives 3 players their debuts each season, and of those players, 17% go on to play in over half of his league games in charge of that club. What is surprising though is that it is not Mourinho who has the worst record of the three – it is in fact Ancelotti. Of the players he awards a debut (on average 1.5 per season), none of them have gone on to play more than half the league games he manages at a club, and 92% play less than 5% of those games.
This seems surprising, but the stats can be misleading. Although on average Mourinho gives 2 academy products their debuts per season, 71% play less than 5% of the league games he oversees at the club, and only 4% play more than half. At the start of this season he was prepared with his own statistics when asked about his record of bringing (or not bringing) youth through. He claimed he had brought 49 players through from academy level to the first team. What he failed to mention was that this was accounting for young players trained at other academies and those afforded one or two appearances, or maybe just a few minutes. As far as I can see, he has managed to produce seven players ( Nuno Laranjeiro , Davide Santon, Álvaro Morata, Nacho, Jesé, Antonio Adán and Reuben Loftus- Cheek) in his seventeen years of management; a paltry return. (Twenty-three made only one appearance, another ten only made two appearances, and only fourteen have made more than five appearances).
Although his numbers have begun to drop, Pep Guardiola stands in stark contrast. He managed to bring through eight players (Thiago Alcántara, Sergi Roberto, Jonathon Dos Santos, Martin Montoya, Marc Bartra, Sergio Busquets, Cristian Tello and Rafinha) to become regulars in his four years at Barcelona. He gave three more their debuts at Barca that are now regulars in the Premier League (Marc Muniesa, Gerard Deulofeu, Oriol Romeu). Both Mourinho and Guardiola were students of the late Sir Bobby Robson. Between 1969 and 1982, Robson only signed eighteen senior players for his very successful Ipswich side and built his side on a great academy system. Another manager they both admire, Sir Alex Ferguson, gave 59 academy graduates their league debuts in 27 years at Manchester United.
The bottom line is that times have changed and money talks. Billionaire owners are willing to pump extraordinary sums of cash into the clubs they acquire. Consequently, the managers they employ have the pressure heaped on them to produce instant and continual success. This is not an environment in which youth will flourish. West Ham manager Slaven Bilic said of management that, “it’s hard to develop the players, because nobody has the time”. In such a pressurised environment is it likely that top managers will trust young players with capturing the desired success?