Ajax’s Soccer Academy Beats Barcelona as Club Training Dwindles

Ajax’s academy, which trained former Netherlands stars Johan Cruyff and Dennis Bergkamp, developed more of today’s elite players in Europe than any other soccer team, beating Barcelona and Arsenal, according to research group Football Observatory.

There are 69 former Ajax trainees with first-division clubs, with 12 of them on the Dutch team’s roster, according to the Neuchatel, Switzerland-based organization’s annual report on soccer demographics. Partizan of Serbia and Barcelona have the next-most prolific schools with 66 and 61 former graduates still active across Europe, respectively.

Publicly traded Ajax, which had net income of 17.7 million euros ($24 million) before extraordinary items in the year through June 2013, invests about 6 million euros a year on its academy at a time when other clubs are scaling back youth training and relying on hiring, according to Raffaele Poli, one of the study’s authors along with Roger Besson and Loic Ravenel.

The average number of players trained by the club they played for last season fell to a record low of 21.2 percent, a fourth straight annual decline, the study found.

“Less money is being spent on youth training by bad-managed clubs,” especially in the east and south of Europe, Poli said in an e-mail.

Ajax trainees often move onto bigger clubs, and the club has retained fewer trainees than Spanish champion Barcelona. Even so, Ajax continues to focus on its academy, and only turns to the transfer market when “a certain position can’t be covered” by the school’s players, Ajax spokesman Miel Brinkhuis said in an email.

Hajduk Split of Croatia and Sporting Lisbon, whose former players include Cristiano Ronaldo, each trained 52 active first-division players, the study found. Real Madrid developed 46, although only seven of them are still at the biggest club by sales, which is among the largest spenders in the transfer market.

London’s Arsenal had 36 academy graduates active in elite European soccer, the most of any Premier League team and the same as continental champion Bayern Munich.

European soccer’s best-performing academies by players active in elite soccer; the number still at original club is in brackets.

Ajax              69 (12)
Partizan          66 (7)
Barcelona         61 (16)
Hajduk Split      52 (13)
Sporting          52 (8)
Crvena Zvezda     50 (5)
Sparta Prague     46 (6)
Real Madrid       46 (7)
Dinamo Zagreb     45 (7)
Feyenoord         44 (13)
Dynamo Kiev       44 (5)
MTK               43 (15)
Shakhtar Donetsk  43 (4)
Dinamo Minsk      41 (8)
Osijek            41 (24)
Slavia Prague     39 (11)
Levski Sofia      37 (4)
Porto             37 (1)
Arsenal           36 (10)
Bayern Munich     36 (7)
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