One of the major attractions to Ligue 1 is watching the youth talent. There is a certain excitement in watching the progression and development of players like Zinedine Zidane, Karim Benzema, Ousmane Dembélé, Kylian Mbappé, Eduardo Camavinga, and more recently Malo Gusto before the world gets to know them. While most academies in France have at least one name to hang their hat on, knowing who actually uses that talent is worth taking a deeper look at.
It is no surprise that OL is and has been the star of youth development and utilization in Ligue 1, but according to L’Équipe, Lyon was not only the club that utilized its academy players the most in France but second in a European top 5 league. The OL academy players that made up more than half of Les Gones’ playing time (54.1%) this season in Ligue 1 were: Lacazette, Barcola, Cherki, Riou, Lopes, Lukeba, Tolisso, Caqueret, Gusto, Aouar and Diomandé.
Maxence Caqueret, an up-and-coming academy product spoke about the connection the youth players have to the club explaining, “The link is different: playing for the club of his city, of his region, there is no better feeling. We all feel proud of it. My dream has always been to sign pro in Lyon. If I couldn’t, I would have signed somewhere else, of course, but that’s what I wanted. I went to Gerland with my parents to see the matches, they were OL fans before me.”
Outside of Lyon, Montpellier, who came in fourth in Europe’s top five leagues, and Toulouse who came in seventh, both came in the top ten of clubs who utilized their academy players. This does not always correlate to success. In terms of winning it seems clubs like Chelsea and Barcelona, who were also in the top 10, have more overall success with a mix of academy players with transfers, but you also need the budget to do so.
One club with a similar bank account to the Premier League and La Liga club that is starting to have a better balance of academy players on their roster is PSG. The capital city club managed six club-trained players (Pembélé, Bitshiabu, Gharbi, Kimpembe, Housni and Zaire-Emery). However, while they have all been to find time on the pitch only Zaire-Emery has any real playing time. Since the arrival of Luís Campos PSG has seemed to have more of a focus on retaining its youth products. For good reason, though the Paris-based club has not utilized many of their academy players over the last few years they have produced several top footballers who ended up at other clubs.
On the other side of the spectrum is Marseille. OM are the only Ligue 1 team to have not fielded a homegrown product this season. The Ligue 1 club coming in last in this category is particularly saddening considering the plethora of talent the area has. The lack of academy products has been an issue for quite some time. However, if the club is able to better utilize their academy and get more local players on the field it will not only help with results but create more stability financially.
GFFN | Tony DesRois