The Football Factory | Part 1

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When people talk about the best youth academies in World Football, they often throw up names like Ajax, Barcelona, Real Madrid (for the ones who move elsewhere), Santos and of course, Manchester United. For many Football Manager players looking to develop their own youth, these clubs are often the first port of call, but I always find that so often the draw of the massive resources at those clubs mean that I abandon the youth experiment and turn back into a powerhouse of wheeling and dealing.

This year, we’re going back to basics, and taking a long, hard look at the concept of Youth Development in Football Manager, and how a (hopefully) successful youth academy can propel a club to new heights both on and off the pitch.

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For inspiration, we are headed 30 miles south-west of French capital Paris, to Clairefontaine. The beating heart of France’s academy system, Clairefontaine houses 23 boys aged 13-15 each season and has played a massive part in the development of players like Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka, Blaise Matuidi and Kylian Mbappe. The system at Clairefontaine revolves mostly around technicality and decision-making, and director Jean-Claude Lafargue argues that “football is about being ahead of everyone else” – “To be ahead, you have to use the correct foot and you have to move at the correct time.”

It seems simple, but it is a system which has worked consistently at the 13-15 age group which Clairefontaine targets each year. From Clairefontaine, players then move to academies all around the country, while the academy takes in its next cohort of youngsters.

Clairefontaine is the first source of Inspiration for a ‘Football Factory’ of my own. The second is an Academy which has been voted as the best in France, and which has produced superstars such as Mbappe, Benjamin Mendy and Thomas Lemar in recent years.

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Monaco have built a reputation over the last few years as a place for youngsters to hone their talent, and that success is predicated on one fact and one fact alone – the best players in each age group are challenged to play an age group above their own; that added challenge and physicality really hones the talent at the club.

Many will argue that Monaco’s focus on youth development is a reaction to the FFP rules which threatened the club in 2013, but it is a strategy which is proving lucrative, with Mbappe moving for an astronomical sum which almost made up the deficit in one stroke.

So what does this mean for FM19? What does all of this mean for my own Youth Development attempt? Well, we’re heading to the hotbed of French footballing talent, Paris!

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No, not with PSG, not with Paris FC, but with Red Star F.C, the second-oldest club in France (behind Le Harve). Newly promoted to Ligue 2, the club was formed in 1897 by none other than Jules Rimet (yes, the World Cup guy), and was a founding member of Ligue 1.

Red Star is not only a historically significant club, but it is also a club with its own history of youth development. Players such as Alex Young, Moussa Sissoko and Abou Diaby all came through the youth system, and we’re looking to drive that youth development forward this year, and return the club to Ligue 1 for the first time since 1975.

In order to do so, I’m going to take a two-step approach. The first step will be to implement a philosophy which runs through every age-group at the club, from youth teams right up to the senior squad. Obviously, I’ve not seen the tactics screens on FM19 yet but all being well, we will focus on quick, incisive build up play, and making good decisions in the final third when playing the final ball.

The other aspect of the approach will be how we develop our players. Predominantly, I want to build the future of the club through the youth system, and this is going to mean that a lot of the club’s financial power will be diverted away from buying players, and into developing the facilities. This in turn means that a large proportion of our new players will have to come from our Youth Intake, or from free agents or loan signings. Players joining the club will be put onto training regimes which fit their eventual role in our system, with additional training focuses on their decision-making, physicality and technique, in an attempt to mirror what Clairefontaine teaches youngsters.

Overall, the aim is to develop as much of our own young talent as we can, cherry-picking the very best to step into the first team, and selling the rest to other clubs, and re-investing that money back into the facilities at the club. I’m not going to set specific performance goals, because I’m very aware that this is a long-term project and it’s not one that I want to put the added pressure of timescales onto. I’ll settle for playing good football, developing good youngsters, and investing the proceeds well.


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