Tag: Victor Fischer

Europe focuses on youth: Ajax leads the way

Dear reader, the blog techno geeks have updated the blog software for some reason but as a result I cannot get images to work :-(. I’ve spent three days hassling and trying and calling and what not. But I didn’t want to stop the progress of the posts.

So here is a post without images. Apologies. I will go after the bad guys.

The European top clubs are fed up. They do not want to pay top dollar anymore. They don’t want to pay top dollar to the “agents” and they need to prepare for the Financial Fair Play code coming up. Most clubs spend more on player-agents than their own youth academy. And now, the top clubs suggest a prohibition of under-aged transfers (trade).

One of Michel Platini’s supporters at the UEFA hq to implement the sane measures to make (keep) football healthy is Maarten Fontein. Dutch, former Unilever Asia CEO, former Ajax general manager and currently board member at AZ and UEFA strategy committee member.

Fonteijn presented his Youth Academy Strategic Plan last year to top officials of the major clubs in Europe and got a standing ovation. But not from his former club Ajax. The representative of Ajax left the room prior to Fonteijn ending his presentation.

“They are angry. We had to have some parameters, some place to start and we decided to start the youth CL with the youth teams of the clubs who qualified for the senior CL so to speak. Ajax was not happy, as they do not qualify every season. I understand their position, but Ajax was part of this whole project plan and during earlier meetings they never said anything….”

Ajax’ position is indeed understandable. Hardly any club in Europe spends so much on youth as Ajax does: 6 mio euros every year. More than – say – Bayern Munich or Inter Milan. Today, the youth competition in Europe was organised by NextGen and Ajax did so well in those competitions. Ajax went on a rampage in Europe beating the likes of Barcelona and Liverpool but bravado. This season, led by Danish talent Victor Fischer, Ajax has started where it left off.

The UEFA has executed a studies to compare the youth strategy of the different clubs and Barcelona is seen as the ultimate example. The only club to spend more on youth than Ajax, with 10 Mio euros per year. The authors of the report give kudos to Johan Cruyff as the architect of the Barca Academy. And the same foundations are now put in place in Amsterdam.

It’s remarkable how clubs like Bayern and Arsenal only spend half of Ajax’ spendings on their youth system. IT’s probably less lucrative to do? Although Ajax made 20 mio euros this summer out of the sale of Vertonghen and Anita. Not a bad result. Eclipsed by Inter, though. The Milan club made 74 Mio euros last year, with 24 Mio of that amount for one Balotelli.

Most clubs rather spend money transfer fees and agent commission, apparently. Instead of developing a culture and an academy, some clubs don’t mind their euros leaking away to Monaco or Zurich.

Among the authors of the report are famous names, like Liam Brady ( youth system manager at Arsenal) and Bodo Menze ( Schalke 04). The authors seemed to be infused with Cruyffian wisdoms: scouting needs to be part of the technical heart of the club….

Ajax is mentioned a lot. Any club delivering talents like Cruyff, Van Basten, Keizer, Bergkamp, Rijkaard, Kluivert, Davids, Van der Vaart, Sneijder and now Eriksen would get attention.

Wim Jonk is interviewed for the report and says: “I never pay attention to who won or what the results was. I look at the way a player runs. When he makes the decision to press or in what circumstance he tracks back. The will to go and play. Their creativity… These factors are key for their development. I know at Inter, youth academy is set up to prepare boys to become men very quickly. Pushing iron, running, etc.”

Another factor the report brings up is the borderline slave-trade aspect. Young kids lured to come to European cities for money. Poor families in Brazil, Uruguay, Nigeria or South Africa are highly keen to facilitate. But there are many stories of how these things can go wrong. Leonardo, signed by Feyenoord at a young age, complete got derailed. And Ajax does this too… There are as many foreign kids in Amsterdam as there are in London (Arsenal) or Munich.

Signing young players is a bit like doping in cycling. Everyone does it, no one wants to talk about it. Chelsea was banned from making more transfers when they signed Gael Kakuta some time back. The player got a 800,000 euro fine. Kakuta has seen different clubs in England and France and is now on loan at Vitesse. If you’d like to go and watch a youth game of a good level (say, at Feyenoord, Ajax or Sparta) you will see many expensive cars on the parking lot. Agents, scouts, managers….

And the big clubs spend money like there is no tomorrow. Man City and Chelsea have more than enough players to field 4 senior teams. These four teams would all win the title in Holland, finger in nose.

Clubs like Barca and Real Madrid have extremely debts to pay for their exploits. Debts bigger than the total turnover of the Eredivisie. This has nothing to do with honest sports anymore.

When Anzhi came past in Holland to take care of AZ and Vitesse, these two ambitious midtable Dutch clubs were taken to the cleaners. No chance in the Europa League for those clubs, this year. And Feyenoord failed to qualify for the CL as they simply weren’t able to secure the full squad (Pelle in particular) before the end of August.

This is where Dutch football is, internationally.

But obviously, FFP (Financial Fair Play) will change a lot. Today, clubs like Real Madrid and Man City have what Michael van Praag calls “collectors’ greed”. They have close to 60 players in their squads and simply buy up talents. This is not longer going to be tolerated. Limited number of players per club.

Talents are also obliged to sign their first contract with the club where they are developed and once a player is transferred the new club will need to pay a higher “development fee”. This is all done to motivate clubs to develop their own players.

A cricital note towards Ajax: the Sons of Gods lament all this talent scouting by the big clubs, but reality is, that they do the same thing but on a lower level. Where Ajax fears the power of Man City and Madrid, clubs like Kopenhagen and Malmo get the shivers when an Ajax scout appears.

On average, 3 of the 100 youngsters in the European clubs are foreigners. At Ajax, this percentage is higher than average: 5%. Ajax’ youth is as international as the youth of Barca, Arsenal or Inter. The only two clubs with more foreign talent in the youth are Barca and Sporting Lisbon.

Ajax may have one of the most successful youth academies, they also have the most expensive one. Ajax injects 6 mio euros every year into the youth plan. Barca invests 10 mio euros, as mentioned but as a % of their yearly turnover, it’s actually not that much. Ajax’ % going to youth, is close to 5%, Barca only commits 2,5% to the academy. Arsenal spent twice the amount of their youth academy on players’ agents commission!

Sporting Lisbon is by far the most aggressive club in scouting. They employ 150 scouts across Europe and lead the way. Ajax is number 2 with a mere 55 scouts… Inter Milan is third on the list, with Standard Luik, Barcelona and Bayern Munich right behind, with 37 and 36 scouts respectively.

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