Having won the World Cup at the tailend of 2022, there’s perhaps an argument that Argentina are responsible for producing the best footballers on the planet.
But that would be rather reductive – surely it was the case that that particular set of Argentine players, at that particular time, enjoyed a combination of high skill, tactical discipline and luck to get their hands on the Jules Rimet Trophy.
How else could we measure the success of a country or club when it comes to producing top talent? Perhaps a look at the transfer market is a better source of insight. Think about it: the countries that produce the most in-demand players, and the clubs that make the most profit on their stars (suggesting they have exceptional powers of enhancement), are surely more effective cornerstones for putting together a persuasive argument.
So which countries have produced the most in-demand players? We can answer that question by collating all of the transfers (let’s say over £20 million) that took place during the 2022/23 campaign in Europe’s ‘big five’ leagues.
As for the most club that produces the best players, judged in terms of profit made on academy talent sold, the identity of the most successful outfit might just surprise you….
Which Country Produces the Best Footballers?
Given that the term ‘best’ is rather subjective, looking at all of the transfer deals of £20 million or more concluded by clubs in the biggest and richest leagues on the continent.
It’s not an exact science, and perhaps if there were no limits on the number of ‘foreign’ players allowed we would see Brazil and Argentina even higher in the rankings.
But the data below can be used as a good guide for the most ‘in demand’ players and the countries that they represent.
Remember, these numbers tell us which countries produced the most in-demand (i.e. ‘sellable’) players with a value of £20 million or higher in 2022/23.
Perhaps none of the countries on the list surprise you, and the deep run of many of these sides at the World Cup is an indication of the depth of quality players at their disposal. Perhaps only Ukraine are an outlier – Oleksandr Zinchenko, Ilya Zabarni and Mykhalo Mudryk all making big-money moves to Premier League sides. Is that evidence of their development as a nation in producing quality footballers? And, if so, could they be dangerous contenders at Euro 2024 and beyond?
Brazil and France continue to produce high-class talent, while Portugal’s position on this list perhaps won’t come as a surprise if you read on to the next section of this article.
Another anomaly to consider is just how many of these £20 million plus transfers were concluded by English clubs – a whopping 42 of the 62 in total, or 68%. Does that explain why five Englishmen made sizable moves in 2022/23? The Premier League continues to outspend Europe’s other top divisions by quite some margin, and you wonder what that will mean for their long-term financial sustainability.
The chart above shows only those nations that had three or more players making a £20 million move, and there were plenty with two or fewer. Spain and Germany were among them, and perhaps this relative inability to produce saleable talent has been reflected by their below-par performances in international tournaments.
Which Football Club Has the Best Academy?
Again, the word ‘best’ is subjective in this context, so we can use the money each academy has made through player sales as an indicative guide.
According to the CIES Football Observatory, the top three since 2015 is as follows:
- Benfica – £336 million
- Real Madrid – £293 million
- Monaco – £253 million
- Ajax – £251 million
- Lyon – £293 million
In theory, the sustainability of these clubs should secure them a bright future if they can continue to produce top-notch talent – and use the profits generated to invest wisely in new players of their own.
Benfica’s tale is a curious one. They continue to record positive net spends each season, and in 2022/23 achieved the remarkable feat of ‘flipping’ Enzo Fernandez for a profit of £67 million: signing him for £40 million in the summer of 2022 before selling him to Chelsea, post World Cup exploits, for £107 million barely six months later.
The likes of Ederson, Ruben Dias, Bernardo Silva, Joao Cancelo, Joao Felix and Darwin Nunez have passed through Benfica’s exit door, and it’s thought that Benfica’s academy is the first to record £1 billion worth of player sales.
The irony is that they haven’t won the Portuguese Primeira Liga since 2019, and have only gone past the group stage of the Champions League in one of the past five seasons.
It’s perhaps proof of the old footballing adage that it’s not how much money you make, but how you spend it that really counts….