Top 11 best football academies in the world

Here are the 11 best football academies in the world most likely to produce the next Messi or Ronaldo

Football team lineup, formation representing the best football academies in the world

The globe has witnessed a growth in the number of youth academies in recent years, which have become attractive investment options. . So which is the best football academy in the world? Because of how popular football has become and how many parents want their children to become renowned, wealthy international soccer players, ZonalSports has conducted extensive research to compile this comprehensive list of the best youth academies in the world. 

What is the purpose of a football academy?

Unquestionably, appropriate training beginning at a young age is one of the most important factors in the development of world-class football players. This is where the best football academies in the world come in.

Develop new stars

The most essential role of soccer academies is to assist young players concentrate on their talents and learn how to behave and think appropriately in a highly competitive atmosphere.

Meet high demand

Parents are keen to transform their children into football players due to the current influx of money and attention centred around soccer.

Consequently, some of the world's largest teams have opened their own football academies in an effort to get a share of this market. However, this is really a secondary consideration and a sidelong look at the roles of soccer academies.

Spend less on purchases, profit on sales

In recent years, an increasing number of football clubs have opted to utilise academy graduates instead of investing millions on established professional athletes, consequently, almost every professional football club has a football academy. 

In addition, from an economic perspective, one of the primary reasons for the institution of football academies is that they represent a goldmine for clubs that must sell to survive.

What are the benefits of a football academy?

Football academies teach young boys as early as eight years old about the fundamentals of the most popular sport in the world, on their path to one day become stars.

Several football academies throughout the globe have become the pick of the bunch via rigorous selection processes, as a result, each of these academies has its own character, curriculum, and set of goals and objectives.

Experienced coaches of young football players play a crucial role and are highly regarded for their ability to see potential in even the most ungainly of youngsters, a quality that not everyone has.

In the past, major teams preferred to pay for already talented players rather than invest in their own development, but this has altered in recent years.

As a result of the financial constraints brought about by the coronavirus outbreak, many clubs are increasingly emphasising the recruitment and development of young individuals who are ready to work hard to accomplish their objectives. 

This page contains a list of 11 such football academies from across the world with emphasis on their products, methodologies, character, and facilities.

Best football academies in the world

Here are 11 of the best football academies in the world that are most likely to unearth the next global superstar:

1. Ajax football academy

Image credits: Instagram/ajaxyouthacademy

Although Ajax is no longer among the top 10 clubs in the world, its academy is without a doubt the best and most successful in history. It is hard to overstate the significance of this institution to international football.

The Ajax academy, founded on March 18, 1900, is known as "De Toekomst," which is Dutch for "future," and a vast number of world-class footballers began their careers at this top soccer academy, from the legendary Cruyff of years ago to the recently emerging and highly sought-after Antony.

Given the academy's history, admission is exceedingly competitive. Applicants must pass the most rigorous selection procedure, with preference given to Dutch nationals. However, it is definitely worth the trouble.

This method of educating and nurturing young talent is genuinely one-of-a-kind in almost every aspect, and the fantastic living circumstances in Amsterdam only aid in their development.

Cruyff, Marco Van Basten, Dennis Bergkamp, Rijkaard, Edgar Davids, Kluivert, the Boer twins, van der Sar, Seedorf, van der Wart, Sneijder, Luis Suarez, Eriksen, De Jong, and Edwin van der Sar (now the club's chief executive) are among the notable alumni of this illustrious soccer school.

The Ajax academy is the best football academy in the world due to the fact that all of their renowned graduates have achieved success in various clubs with distinct systems and playing styles.

This youth academy is home to around 200 students aged between 7 and 19 years old, and it is dependent on volunteer scouts who search for candidates as young as six years old.

Luis Suárez is one of the most popular products of the Ajax Academy in recent years Image credits Photograph by Давиденко Валерий, distributed under a CC-BY 3.0 license

The Dutch training system is one of the best in Europe, and it is used by other emerging nations. Due to this, the Ajax academy were in a league of their own in the 1980s.

Even if Germany and Spain have made significant strides in recent years, Ajax and other Dutch clubs still have the best young players.

One of the most potent factors that has maintained the Ajax academy ahead of its competition and as the best soccer academy in the world is that they collect talent from all over the globe in order to produce stars and then sell them for profit.

This academy uses the same 4-3-3 configuration as the Ajax professional squad, which was implemented by Dutch coach Rinus Michaels as part of the "total football" school.

The Ajax academy training curriculum is built on the belief that players should be allowed to express themselves freely and without restrictions on the pitch, a belief that Ajax is attempting to propagate around the globe through its schools.

The academy features at least thirteen teams for children of all ages, as well as programmes designed to develop players' speed, skill, tactics, and character that has helped Ajax remain one of Europe's most productive clubs for many years. The Ajax Academy is responsible for the club's recent success, such as their undefeated run in the Champions League group stage in 2021/22.

Also the majority of Ajax's Champions League-winning squad from the mid-1990s sprang from this academy.

Even if the team has struggled in recent years, its star power has never diminished.

Not limited to club football, the success of the Dutch national team over the previous two decades may also be attributed to the Ajax academy, solidifying its position as the best youth academy in the world.

2. Manchester United academy

Image credits: Instagram/mufc.academy._

The most popular club in the world, Manchester United has the best football academy in England.

A consensus exists in the United Kingdom that the best soccer academy is located in Carrington, at the AON training facility, which is surrounded by a two-meter-high fence to conceal young players from rival teams' scouts.

Numerous players, including David Beckham, George Best, Paul Scholes, and Ryan Giggs, honed their abilities at this facility.

Beginning in the 1990s, the United Academy played a crucial role in the growth of the Red Devils, especially when Sir Alex Ferguson assumed the managerial position.

During his time, Ferguson promoted several academy graduates, including Sir Bobby Charlton, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Darren Fletcher, Mark Hughes, the Neville brothers, and Wes Brown, a contingent with whom he shared a great deal of success and championships.

Paul Pogba, another alumnus from this institution, was so outstanding that Manchester United had to re-sign him from Juventus for a then-world record amount. In addition, recent discoveries include Scott Mctominay, Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, and Anthony Elanga, as the club has become a testimony to the significance of tradition.

/Photograph by Светлана Бекетова, distributed under a CC-BY 3.0 license

Since the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century, Arsenal and Chelsea football schools have become well-known, although their players do not have the same historical significance as United's.

Bobby Charlton, one of the best left-footed players in history, and George Best are two exceptional Manchester United graduates who have raised the club's academy to the top of the world.

As one of the best football academies in the world, kids begin practising at the academy at the age of eight and graduate at the age of eighteen.

In the 1950s, Matt Busby enjoyed the academy's full rewards. However, many of these players perished in the 1958 Munich plane tragedy, making it difficult for Manchester United to recover.

The Manchester United academy, having established itself as a credible contender for best football academy in the world, developed a fresh generation of stars who would go on to dominate English and international football.

Since 1937, Manchester United's starting lineup or matchday squad has never been devoid of an academy graduate.

Twenty-four alumni of this school played in Europe's top five leagues in 2012, proving that it is the second-best soccer academy in the world.

3. La Masia

Image credits: Instagram/fcbmasia

In November 2012, Barcelona became the first club in history to have 11 players on the field who all graduated from the same football academy.

La Masia alumni Messi, the best finisher in football, Xavi, and Iniesta were named as the three Ballon d'Or finalists in 2010, placing the Barcelona academy at the pinnacle of the list of the best football academies by FIFA.

The academy's best stars include Carles Puyol, one of the best Spanish footballers of all time, Pep Guardiola, Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Busquets, Pedro, Pique, and Victor Valdes, in addition to this incredible triumvirate.

La Masia exemplifies how a club's traditions and philosophies may be maintained via the usage of an academy. Due in significant part to the academy, Barcelona's success and consistency among the elite teams have been largely sustained throughout the years.

It is hard to keep track of every player who has graduated from the Blaugrana academy. Several young players, like Pedri, Gavi, and Fati, have made substantial progress toward the Spanish national team and portend a bright future.

The school was formed in 1979 by former Barcelona coach Johan Cruyff, who wanted to imitate Dutch club Ajax. Therefore, when players are promoted to the main roster, they are already aware of the expectations placed upon them.

The name 'La Masia' sounds like a farmhouse in Catalan, which is not entirely inaccurate given the original building of the institution was formerly used for farming. It was constructed next to the world-famous Camp Nou stadium, and the club's early offices were at a nearby farmhouse prior to the entrance of young pupils.

"La Masia," which relocated to a new, contemporary structure in San Juan Denis in 2011, is now the third-best football academy in the world, and hundreds of athletes utilise its facilities.

4. Santos Academy

/Photograph by Jimmy Baikovicius, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license

It is no secret that Brazil is the most football-obsessed nation in the world. Before being found by foreign scouts and sent to Europe, the bulk of Brazilians mature in their own country.

The Santos academy is superior to all other Brazilian academies in terms of effectiveness, longevity, and consistency. The institution has contributed to the development of the best football academies across the globe in significant, if not revolutionary, ways.

On our list as the fourth best football academy in the world, the Santos academy was formed on April 14, 1912, 50 kilometres from Sao Paulo, the same day that the famous American vessel Titanic perished.

The club is renowned for exporting more Brazilians to Europe than any other in the nation. Santos has at least 92 academies across the globe, and the Brazilian club is said to have scored over 12,000 goals in its history due to the exceptional players it has produced such as Pele, Neymar, and Robinho.

The main academy, which has many branches, is situated next to the club of the same name. There is a youth training facility including a training room, a gym, a cafeteria area, and a place to stay at the stadium.

The unique position of the Santos Academy in Brazil distinguishes it as one of the best soccer academies in the world. At one time, the institution had organisational and financial difficulties, but it refused to compromise its essence.

Its fundamental idea is to let players express themselves rather than impose stringent restrictions. Consequently, Santos graduates are among the most technically skilled players in the annals of soccer.

The Santos academy, which is the best soccer academy in the world outside of Europe, established the Centro de Desenvolvimento à Performance ao Futebol (Football Achievement Development Centre) to set the benchmark for how young teams should develop their bodies. 

This idea, which started with boys over the age of six and expanded to 270 young players, is now a global model for soccer academies.

5. Sporting Lisbon academy

Image credits: Instagram/sportingacademysg

Sporting leads the Portuguese youth division, while Porto dominates the senior league.

The Dragons like to acquire already brilliant and well-known players and assist them improve, whilst its Lisbon rivals prefer to build stars from the scratch.

The Sporting Lisbon academy delivers an average of seven players each year to the Portuguese national team, making it one of the best football academies in the world. Over the course of its existence, the school has taught hundreds of players, the majority of whom have played for their respective national teams.

Eight of the players from the Portuguese national team at the Euro finals in 2012, were graduates of the Sporting Lisbon academy.

Ronaldo, the greatest Portuguese player of all time, is among the academy's most famous alumni, along with Nani, Figo, Moutinho, Quaresma, and a host of others.

The Portuguese club's recent successes may have been inconsistent, but its football academy is one of the best in the world, not just in Europe. Here, the emphasis is placed on the development of a football player's unique characteristics, an area in which the coaches excel.

This is why the club has the largest youth training facility in Portugal and was the first football academy to be accredited with ISO 9001:2008.

6. Bayern Munich academy

Image credits: /Photograph by Jon Candy, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license

 The Bavarian club has always relied on the potential of its youth rather than overpaying on the transfer market, which has allowed its football academy to become one of the best in the world.

Due to the technical skill of its players and the quality of their academy, it took Bayern Munich till 2017 to crack the 40 million euros threshold for transfers, and they have since purchased just three players for more than that amount during their whole history.

The club preferred to spend more than 70 million euros in 2017 to create a youth academy.  Hummels, Philipp Lahm, Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Muller, Felix Goetze, David Alaba, Rummenigge, Franz Beckenbauer, and Dietmar Hamann are just some of the luminaries who have graduated from Bayern's academy in the previous two decades.

The first squad of the German club comprises more than seven graduates of the Bavarian club academy, which has an annual budget of 3 million euros.

In addition to its 40 personnel and instructors, it manages more than 180 athletes, a phenomenal number that places it as the sixth best soccer academy in the world.

This academy's culture is founded on the blending of physical and cerebral power in its athletes, an integration that has produced success so far.

Every spring, 500 youngsters between the ages of 6 and 11 are welcomed to this academy's sports facility on Sabener Straße. Seven of the most talented candidates are admitted to the programme after participating in a series of street football-based competitions.

In general, the selection process is based on the recommendations of trainers, and applicants come from practically every corner of the globe.

7. Southampton academy

/Photograph by Jon Candy, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license

Alan Shearer and Matt Lotiser were the most well-known alumni of the Southampton academy in the past, but since the school has implemented strong principles, it has produced a large number of English Premier League players, many of whom play for Southampton.

The Guardian reported in 2014 that Southampton invested 30 million pounds on the academy's training framework.

There is a great deal of discontent amongst the club's supporters over the fact that the football academy's rising stars leave for more prestigious clubs. Many believe that the academy's most notable players, such as Gareth Bale of Real Madrid, Alan Shearer, Wayne Bridge, Alex Chamberlain, Matthew Le Tissier, Terry Payne, and Theo Walcott, would have contributed to the club's success had they stayed in Hampshire.

The training technique of the Southampton academy is as follows:

  • The age categories of the players do not always match their birth years. Six-year-olds begin training, which continues until they are 10 or eleven years old.
  • In training games, the resultant teams then practise their technique by playing combinations.

Despite ranking as the seventh best football academy in the world, Southampton's first team does not have much year-end success, but they are constantly at the centre of the English Premier League standings.

But each season, this youth academy provides the club and national team with exciting new players. As one of best soccer academies in the world, the Southampton Academy is especially well-known for its "foster family" mentality, in which the institution provides housing for out-of-town families that need housing while attending lessons.

When it comes to the people and locations where its players reside, Southampton are highly selective. As a consequence of this caring attitude, the academy has a family-like atmosphere, with the staff having organised tea parties, theatre excursions, and other enjoyable events in the past.

50 percent of Southampton's strength is derived from the club's youth system, which is one of the best football academies in the world.

As a consequence of being sponsored by one of the top youth academies, the club has never spent more than 25 million pounds on a single player despite playing in the wealthiest league in the world for eleven straight seasons.

8. Sao Paulo academy

/Photograph by Marcello Casal Jr/ABr, distributed under a CC-BY 3.0 license

Every club in Brazil may claim to have produced a major footballing superstar, but Sao Paulo is the only one that consistently does so.

Sao Paulo is the biggest city in Brazil, with a population of about 12 million, and its football club is renowned for its great work with children.

This school has produced international luminaries such as Cafu, Denilson, Kaka, and Oscar, which contributes to its eighth-place ranking among the best football academies in the world.

Sao Paulo academy stands out among the various soccer academies in the South American nation, with high finances, a diversified coaching staff, and a powerful selection network, making it one of the best youth academies in the world, given that Brazil is a talent hotspot.

The club academy thus draws the best athletes from tiny towns, sports teams, and even favelas.

This institution places a great deal of emphasis on footballing skill, which is why its students are noticeably superior to their peers from other nations. The youth setup of Sao Paulo is currently performing wonderfully and winning various events.

Both Lucas Moura and "Il Profeta" were prominent members of the Brazilian national team while attending this football academy.

9. Schalke 04 academy

/Photograph by Thomas Rodenbücher, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license

Some may be surprised to see a German club academy on our list, but Schalke 04 has produced several world-class players in recent years.

In the next few years, Leroy Sane, a product of the Schalke 04 school who now plays for Bayern Munich, is projected to become one of the best players in the world.

Mesut Ozil, a former Arsenal player, and Manuel Neuer, the goalkeeper for Bayern Munich who has made significant strides with the national team, both attended the Schalke academy. In addition to Leon Goretzka, a staple in Bayern's midfield, there are also Benedikt Höwedes, İlkay Gündoğan, Julian Draxler and Max Mayer.

The Schalke academy is regarded as one of the best soccer academies in the world for how it educates young football players, particularly in comparison to other institutions.

The majority of coaches at the Schalke academy prioritise the development of a player's physical attributes before ball-handling skills. Therefore, a young athlete's small stature or thin physique might instantly result in expulsion.

This German youth school, the ninth-best football academy in the world, is renowned for its creative approach to the development and training of its students.

From a young age, Schalke players spend a great deal of time working with the ball and honing their skill, and youngsters play two-aside from the start.

10. River Plate academy

Not only is Brazilian football recognised for its brilliance, but so is Argentinian football. The academy of River Plate is recognised as one of the world's best soccer academies and the third-best football academy outside of Europe.

Boca may have a case for inclusion on our list of the finest football schools in the world due to Maradona, but River Plate has a multitude of talents from other Latin American nations.

All of Di Stefano, Crespo, Ariel Ortega, Claudio Caniggia, Javier Saviola, Mascherano, Pablo Aimar Higuain, Falcao and most recently Julian Alvarez of Manchester City were recruited here.

The Argentine club is the most successful club in South America and the ninth best club in the world in the 20th century, according to an official ranking. Their renowned academy, which boasts one of the world's top ten youth development programmes, established the foundation for all of these achievements.

The youth squad system used by River Plate's academy has an international reputation, with scouts from the club featuring in all tournaments in Argentina and South America.

11. West Ham academy

/Photograph by Steindy, distributed under a CC-BY 4.0 license

 The West Ham academy is one of the best football academies in the world, not just England. Bobby Moore, Frank Lampard Sr., Frank Lampard Jr., Rio Ferdinand, Paul Ince, Glen Johnson, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, John Terry, Mark Noble, Martin Peters, Geoff Hurst, John Lyall, Ronnie Boyce, John Sissons, Alan Sealey, and Harry Redknapp are among the best players produced by the Hammers. Pele identified Bobby Moore, who went on to captain the national team, as the best defender he had ever faced.

With this abundance of athletes, it would be immoral not to mention the West Ham Academy as one of the best soccer academies in the world. In England, the West Ham academy is simply referred to as "The Academy" as a result of its success. 

Geoff Hurst is the first player in history to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final, doing so in 1966 when England defeated Germany 4-2, while Martin Peters, another West Ham academy alumnus, scored the other goal.

The emergence of Declan Rice, an English international who is regarded as one of the best young players, has helped the West Ham academy regain its status as one of the best soccer academies in the world in recent years.