Scouting for Talent: The Way Soccer Teams Do It

June 10, 2019 by Staff

College sports are in many ways similar to a plant nursery - this is where the players who have shown promise in high school get to strengthen and grow before being thrown into the highly competitive world of professional athletes. And it's not only their sports performance college athletes get to cultivate either: they get a glimpse of what life will be like when they finally get to play with the "big boys" - they have a strict training regimen, a bunch of dedicated fans, and all the celebration they can get - all this while still being in college. Then talent scouts select the best of the players and try to sign them for their teams, transforming their dreams of true grandeur into reality. This system may sound overly complicated for some but, as time has shown, it works. European teams employ a different way of discovering talent - here is a glimpse on how the most valuable association football clubs do it.

Youth academies

The major soccer teams in Europe and beyond rely on so-called "youth academies" to replenish their teams' roster of players. The structure of these clubs is different from what we all know - they have a "first team" and a "reserve team", and often youth teams of different age groups. The latter compete in youth leagues similar in structure to the "proper" competition. Soccer even has its international competitions for youth teams - FIFA, the highest governing body of soccer, has a U-17 World Cup in its roster, reserved for teams consisting of players under the age of 17, with countries delegating their best - U-17 national teams - to the competition, similar in nature to their proper national teams.

The bigger football clubs usually sign their players at a very young age, making it their goal to teach them the skills and play style necessary to play in their own first and reserve teams. Many larger European clubs, like FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, English Premier League teams like West Ham United and Manchester United, and Brazilian teams like São Paulo and Grêmio have famous youth academies producing talented players. The players are formed to match the playing style of the club so they can be sent in the field as soon as they "graduate".

One of the biggest differences between college sports in the US and youth academies in Europe and beyond is that in the latter, players joining a youth academy get paid. These clubs invest millions into developing their youth teams and infrastructure, and this covers revenues for the players themselves, too. Depending on their age, talent, and interest by other teams, players can get paid more or less. It is a bit similar to apprenticeship (where the apprentice gets paid a smaller salary before becoming a professional) as opposed to an internship (where the intern's only payment is the experience accumulated while working at a company).

Soccer clubs grow their own talent as opposed to letting them grow "in the wild" before trying to sign them for their teams - this way, their teams are sure to have the first option to sign the best players that graduate their own training grounds.