Spanish clubs’ trust in youth: FC Barcelona lead the top five European leagues for minutes played by teenagers

Image Credit (LaLiga Content Hub Images)

A report from the CIES Football Observatory revealed that U20 players accounted for 15 per cent of Barça’s minutes in league matches over the past year, while other LALIGA EA SPORTS clubs also rank highly.

Image Credit (LaLiga Content Hub Images)

The academies of LALIGA EA SPORTS clubs have long been renowned for producing world-class talents, and a new report from the CIES Football Observatory has underlined that Spanish clubs’ youth development remains as strong as ever.

The report, titled “Youth employment: World rankings”, ordered clubs based on the percentage of minutes in their domestic league matches which have gone to young players over the past year, from April 2023 to April 2024. When looking at U20s – that is to say, teenager players – it’s FC Barcelona who comes out on top for all clubs in Europe’s five major leagues, as 15 per cent of the LALIGA EA SPORTS minutes given out by Xavi have been to teenage talents, such as Lamine Yamal, Gavi and Pau Cubarsí.

Image Credit (LaLiga Content Hub Images)

As Xavi explained earlier this season in a press conference: “We must trust the young players, the homegrown players. I think they’re ready, as I see their faces and they’re hungry. I’m excited about this because it’s a solid and brave decision.”

It wasn’t only U20s that the CIES Football Observatory analysed. The report also detailed the percentages for other age categories, and FC Barcelona came second in Europe’s top five leagues for the fielding of U19s. 9.0 per cent of the Catalan club’s minutes in the past year were for players who hadn’t yet celebrated their 19th birthday, and only Ligue 1’s Toulouse FC had a higher percentage, at 9.1 per cent.

Image Credit (LaLiga Content Hub Images)

In terms of U21s, FC Barcelona is third with 22.0 per cent, only behind the French sides RC Strasbourg (26.8 per cent) and Lyon (23.2 per cent). And, Barça is joined near the top of this ranking by other LALIGA EA SPORTS sides, as Valencia CF are fifth for minutes played by U21s, with 15.6 per cent, while Girona FC is sixth in the ranking, with 14.2 per cent.

It’s Valencia CF who is the top-rated Spanish club in the report’s rankings for U22s and U23s, sitting second for use of U22s in Europe’s major leagues, with 28.1 per cent of Rúben Baraja’s minutes going to players in this age category, and fourth on the continent for U23s, with 37.6 per cent.

Image Credit (LaLiga Content Hub Images)

When looking at the top 20 clubs for use of U23s in Europe’s five major leagues, only France’s Ligue 1 has more representatives than LALIGA EA SPORTS, with Valencia CF, Girona FC, Villarreal CF and FC Barcelona all featuring highly in this ranking.

LALIGA EA SPORTS’ use of homegrown players
This latest CIES Football Observatory looked strictly at age, but another report from the same institution earlier this season similarly studied the use of homegrown players by clubs in the top European leagues. In that study, they counted the players who’d spent at least three seasons at a training club between the ages of 15 and 21.

Image Credit (LaLiga Content Hub Images)

Five of the top six in the standings for clubs with academy alumni in their current squads were LALIGA EA SPORTS clubs: Athletic Club were first (16 players), Real Sociedad were second (12 players), Valencia CF were third (11 players) and then CA Osasuna, UD Las Palmas and Bundesliga side SC Freiburg were joint-fourth, with nine academy graduates each.

It’s clear to see, then, that Spanish clubs are developing many quality players in their academies and then placing trust in these talents in important LALIGA EA SPORTS fixtures. That’s a brave approach, as Xavi outlined, but one which can lead to very bright futures for these teams.