The 13 most profitable youth academies in the world since 2015

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Ruben Dias and Joao Felix in action for Benfica against Frankfurt, Estadio De Luz, April 2019

Youth academies are a fundamental part of any football club as they help young players develop and potentially become good enough to command a big fee – which these 13 clubs have done successfully since 2015.

Some clubs are insistent that players in the academy are given a fair chance alongside their expensive recruits, whilst others loan and often sell their biggest talents in favour of a huge signing.

Clubs such as Ajax and Benfica focus heavily on their academy for both reasons, as they proudly introduce graduates into their team and accept that they could make a move to one of Europe’s biggest clubs for a fee which would help them fund their entire transfer window.

We’ve listed the 13 most profitable youth academies worldwide since 2015 based on the transfer profit they’ve made from their star graduates leaving, with data from CIES Football Observatory.

13. Flamengo

The Brazilian club have had a number of talents come through that made big moves to Europe and the biggest recent success is that of Real Madrid star Vinicius Junior, who departed for a massive €45million as a teenager.

With a €152million profit over the last seven years, Flamengo have prospered thanks to Real Madrid paying big money for Vinicius and also Reinier Jesus. Current Lyon star Lucas Paqueta first moved to Europe with AC Milan in 2019 for around €40million.

Flamengo are the only South American side to make this list and there is an acceptance on the continent that the very best talents will end up moving to Europe at a young age.

12. Barcelona

Barcelona are famed for the success of their La Masia academy producing world-class talents such as Carlos Puyol, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, and right now graduates such as Gavi and Nico Gonzalez are thriving in the first team.

A €161million profit can be attributed to sales of players such as Pedro, Denis Suarez and Marc Cucurella and this is despite the likes of Lionel Messi and Iniesta leaving for free during that time.

Barcelona found themselves in a financial mess, but the quality of their academy assets means that they’ll always be able to generate funds.

11. Atletico Madrid

A £167million profit is a very decent return for Diego Simeone’s side, but the figure is skewed by a few big transfers as opposed to being a clear strategy.

Lucas Hernandez joined Bayern Munich for around €80million in 2019, whilst his brother Theo moved to Real Madrid for around €22million two years earlier.

10. Liverpool

Liverpool have funded their current success through big sales, most notably a record departure of Philippe Coutinho, but some of their academy graduates also commanded large fees with Raheem Sterling’s €55million move to Manchester City in 2015 helping them collect €171million in profit.

A lot of talent has come through at the Liverpool academy, and Trent Alexander-Arnold remains one of their most successful graduates ever.

A fair few of those who departed are dotted all around Europe.

READ: The 10 Liverpool academy grads playing elsewhere in major leagues

9. Sporting Club De Portugal

The Lisbon based side have enjoyed domestic success in recent years, winning the league title for the first time since 2002 in 2020-21

This is in spite of Sporting losing talents such as Joao Mario for €45million, whilst Europe’s top clubs still eye up their best players to contribute to their €209million profit on academy graduates.

Joao Palhinha could be the next to depart as the 26-year-old Portuguese international has caught the attention of a number of clubs for his performances at the heart of midfield.

8. Chelsea

Chelsea are notorious for producing top-quality players out of their Cobham academy, but loaning out and eventually selling most of them.

The likes of Tammy Abraham and Fikayo Tomori departed for big fees to contribute to a €210million profit, with other impressive players such as Marc Guehi are performing well elsewhere.

A healthy profit overall, but they must regret a few of these sales.

7. Atalanta

Atalanta are a very well run club that play attractive football and successfully bring a lot of youth players through, and they’ve made a healthy €211million profit from their academy.

Youngster Amad Diallo moved to Manchester United for a fee that could rise to €40million after just five senior games for Atalanta, whilst the likes of Dejan Kulusevski and Franck Kessie moved within Serie A for huge fees.

Diallo’s record departure represents just 19% of the profit Atalanta made on youth sales, the lowest on the list, showing their strategy is targeted and successful.

6. Bayer Leverkusen

Bayer Leverkusen have produced some top players over the years, and made an astonishing €213million profit, but unlike Atalanta this was boosted by a few significant departures.

Kai Havertz made a record €75million move to Chelsea, whilst Kevin Kampl made a £20million move to RB Leipzig a few years earlier.

Florian Wirtz could be the next to follow suit as the 18-year-old midfielder has been attracting a lot of attention with his stunning performances.

5. Lyon

Lyon’s academy is one of the most successful in Europe and the likes of Houssem Aouar are now first-team regulars.

The French side have made €270million on their youth products, with Alexandre Lacazette’s €55million move to Arsenal in 2017 the biggest of the lot.

Lacazette has had his moments at Arsenal but overall hasn’t lived up to his price tag, and the 30-year-old could be set to return to Lyon when his contract expires at the end of the 2021-22 season.

“I have never cut off contact with Olympique de Lyon since I left. I try to return to the club once or twice a year to see the medical team because we have a close relationship,” Lacazette recently stated.

“Lyon knows that I am free, they have come to find out.”

Samuel Umtiti was another big name to come out of the Lyon academy but, while his €25million move to Barcelona started well, injuries have ravaged his career and his time at the club looks all but over.

4. Ajax

€283million profit, a Champions League semi-final and plenty of domestic success for Ajax since 2015.

Frenkie De Jong and Matthijs De Ligt cover a significant amount of the profit, but Ajax’s selling strategy has been a hallmark of the club for a long time.

They’re just amazing at developing players.

Erik Ten Hag and Dusan Tadic during Ajax's Europa League match against Lille, Johan Cruyff Arena, February 2021

READ: An amazing XI of players Ten Hag got the best out of: Tadic, Van de Beek…

3. Monaco

Monaco were once one of the highest spending teams in Europe when they attempted to copy PSG, signing Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez in a ‘Galactico’ project which ultimately failed.

Since 2015 however, they’ve made a €285million profit on their youth stars, but around €180million of this was simply from the sale of teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe to PSG.

Their run to the Champions League semi-finals in 2017 meant that their stars were all bought by clubs across Europe, and Mbappe led a big exodus of players who were sold for large profits.

2. Real Madrid

Los Blancos have one of the best academies in the world, with some world-class players coming out of La Fabrica.

Alvaro Morata’s €67million move to Chelsea in 2017 was their biggest sale, contributing to their profit of €330million, and the sale of Marcos Llorente to Atletico Madrid also helped.

With three Champions Leagues since the start of 2015-16, it’s safe to say that the sales came without too much regret.

1. Benfica

An astonishing €379million profit has been made at Benfica since 2015 and while Joao Felix’s €120million move to Atletico Madrid covers a lot of that, the sales of Bernardo Silva, Ederson and Ruben Dias have boosted their finances.

If Benfica kept said players though, they might have been more successful in that time…

Bernardo SIlva and Joao Cancelo celebrate a Manchester City goal, Kassam Stadium, December 2019

READ: A remarkable XI of players sold by Benfica since 2010: Dias, Silva, Felix…

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