Premier League elite milks academy players for £100 million price-tag

19 October 2018 5 min. read
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The top clubs of the English Premier League are milking their academies for huge profits, new figures have revealed. While much is made of the big-spending habits of football’s elites, they are successfully exploiting talented labour produced in their youth set-ups to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds, by selling on players who have rarely, if ever, played first team football, to clubs further down the pecking order.

Since Sheikh Mansour bought Manchester City in 2008, there has been a great deal of fanfare about the new regime’s investment in the future of the club. In 2014, this saw the launch of a state-of-the-art £200 million City Football Academy. The facility featured a bespoke, state-of-the-art training centre that took two years to build, with City’s leadership examining around 70 sites that service differing sports around the world, the club travelling to Europe, America, and Australia and deliberating over 19 designs before green-lighting the finished version.

Since then, it has remained exceedingly rare that a youth player has so much as graced the pitch at the Etihad, with the key exception currently being Philip Foden. The Greater Manchester native first joined the club aged eight, and signed an academy scholarship with the Cityzens in 2016. Now he is being spoken of as the future of the England national team’s midfield set-up, despite having only made eight senior appearances at time of writing.

This lack of opportunity has driven a growing number of young players to seek a path out of the club, with the most notable case coming at the start of the 2017/18 season. Jadon Sancho, who had spent two years with Manchester City’s youth set-up, but never played for the Sky Blues at senior level, was sold to Borussia Dortmund for what, 20 years ago, would have been considered a hefty £8 million price tag. Now, however, amid an inflated transfer market, it is a fee that a growing number of mid-level clubs would see as a bargain, and has since given Dortmund access to a player with elite capabilities and is excelling in the Bundesliga – leading to his debut for the England men’s team against Croatia in October.

Money Premier League clubs earned by selling off academy players (£ million)

In City’s case, meanwhile, it has become clear that the club’s ownership actually viewed its investment in the academy system as a potential source of revenue, rather than players. City’s set-up will quickly pay for itself on this basis, as Sancho is just one example of how Manchester City, and indeed the Premier League’s Big Six as a whole, are cashing in on their youth development facilities, to sell inexperienced academy players for significant fees.

Figures obtained by an investigation into transfers by Mirror Football has revealed that over the past four seasons, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and United, and Tottenham Hotspur have made a combined £114 million from selling 42 academy players with little to no senior experience to their name. More astonishingly, of that figure, the majority, or £64 million, has come from players who never made a single appearance for the club which developed them.

Manchester and Spurs

Not surprisingly, considering both the pouring of cash into its youth production line, and its propensity to bring in top talent during the summer making it difficult to break into the first team, Manchester City leads the way by some distance. Players from City’s academy commanded a price-tag of more than £70 million over the past four years. Of that, a staggering £44 million came from the sale of the likes of Sancho, who had never played a senior game for City.

Surprisingly it was Spurs who were found to have extracted the most value from their academy products. While the North London club is known for being willing to entrust young players with opportunity more often than the incumbent Premier League champions – something which has produced the likes of Harry Kane and Harry Winks – but the reputation for producing quality players has clearly also inflated the demand and pricing of Spurs youth players.

This has changed to such an extent that Spurs players with fewer than 10 appearances under their belt attracted a higher dividend than their local rivals Arsenal. While the Emirates-based club saw slightly less income from the sale of players with under 10 performances for the Gunners, however, Arsenal still brought in a higher yield for academy products who never took to the field for them, raking in £6.8 million compared to Spurs’ £3.03 million for the same calibre of player.

While Manchester United academy players might be a far cry from the famous ‘Class of ‘92’ which would dominate English and European football, the club still brought in more than £9 million through the sale of its unproved talent, meanwhile. Surprisingly, Chelsea and Liverpool saw significantly smaller yields from their players. While in the case of Chelsea, this may partially be because the club favours loaning its younger members over selling them to potential competitors, while Liverpool’s talent premium may grow in the future, if Jurgen Klopp can secure the team’s recent progress to re-establish the club as an ever-present threat among England’s elite clubs.

Related: Premier League remains Europe's highest spending league on transfers.