Dortmund Europe’s best club for young players; Spurs, Inter among worst

Borussia Dortmund have emerged as the best club in Europe for young players to earn their stripes, according to the latest study from the CIES Football Observatory.

The CIES has formulated its data by examining the percentage of domestic league minutes afforded to young players this season by every club across all 71 top-flight divisions running at the moment worldwide.

By their definition, “young players” means players who had not yet turned 21 by the time of kick-off in the matches recorded — which is all league games that place this season up to and including April 6, 2021.

A total of 999 clubs were therefore evaluated across the globe, with the highest overall percentage recorded by Danish side FC Nordsjaelland, who gave 48.9% of their total first-team minutes to players under the age of 21.

At the very top level (i.e. within Europe’s “Big Five” leagues), Borussia Dortmund emerged on top with the Bundesliga club affording 28.5% of their minutes to their under-21 talent during the 2020-21 campaign. Here are some of the key findings and talking points from the CIES report.

Stream ESPN FC Daily on ESPN+ (U.S. only)
ESPN+ viewer’s guide: Bundesliga, Serie A, MLS, FA Cup and more

Dortmund letting kids rule the roost

With an average squad age of 25.3 years in the Bundesliga this season, Dortmund have built their team around young stars such as Erling Haaland (20), Jude Bellingham (17) and Jadon Sancho (who only turned 21 in March). Over the course of their 27 league outings up to the April 6, the German side have given well over a quarter of their total game time to their prodigious stable of U21 players. With more opportunities on offer than anywhere else in the world, no wonder so many aspiring wunderkinds are choosing to pursue their budding careers at the Westfalenstadion these days.

French evolution dominates Top 10

Of all the 98 clubs in Europe’s top five leagues, the Top 10 is completely dominated by seven French sides. Nice lead the way, with the Eagles just behind Dortmund in second place having given almost a quarter (24.3%) of their league game time to their young players. The likes of Kylian Mbappe‘s former club Monaco, Rennes (where Eduardo Camavinga has become one of Europe’s most coveted young stars) and Ligue 1 leaders Lille also fare well. France has been a hotbed of young talent for the past 25 years, and with most of the country’s clubs operating under tighter financial constraints than their counterparts in other top leagues, it’s no wonder so many young players are getting their chance.

Wolves lead the Premier League pack

Wolverhampton Wanderers are the only Premier League representatives to crack the Top 10, with Nuno Espirito Santo’s side nestled in ninth place. With an average matchday squad age of 26.1 years this season, Wolves have given significant game time to the likes of Pedro Neto (21), Vitinha (21), Rayan Ait Nouri (19), Ki-Jana Hoever (18) and and record signing Fabio Silva (18).

Barca still Spain’s best finishing school

While sitting one place outside the Top 10, Barcelona have offered a greater proportion of minutes (15%) to players under 21 than any other side in La Liga. While the team is still underpinned by veteran stalwarts such as Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets, the Catalans have benefitted from a fresh influx of youth in Ansu Fati (18), Pedri (18) and Sergino Dest (20) among others that served to bring the average age of their squad down to 26.2 years. Barca are 11th overall, six places above Valencia and way above rivals Real Madrid (29th), with Zinedine Zidane having given just 7.6% of league minutes to his young players this season.

Best of the rest

Paris Saint-Germain (11.4%) and Arsenal (11.3%) are the two other big names to earn themselves a spot in the Top 20 in terms of minutes given to young players, finishing 15th and 18th respectively. AC Milan (7.8%), Manchester City (7.8%) and Real Madrid (7.6%) were just about able to sneak inside the Top 30, while Bayern Munich (7.3%) have to make do with 32nd spot in the rundown. Liverpool (6.7%) and Chelsea (5.9%) occupy the 35th and 37th spots respectively while 39th-placed Juventus, led by veteran Cristiano Ronaldo, live up to their “Old Lady” moniker with an average squad age of 27.3 years and just 5.7% of minutes offered to players under 21 this campaign.

Greenwood keeping Man United honest

Incredibly, Manchester United can boast the fact that have fielded at least one youth product in every single senior match they have played since 1937, a run of more than 4,000 games. United’s average matchday squad age is 26.1 years this season, the fourth youngest in the entire Premier League, but the only player actually under 21 years of age to enjoy significant game time this campaign has been 19-year-old Mason Greenwood. Therefore, they are in 48th place in the CIES report due to manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer entrusting just 4.7% of league action to his youth talent this season.

Tottenham, Inter bottom of the class

At the other end of the scale, Tottenham Hotspur and Inter Milan are the two most high-profile names in the bottom 10 of the CIES table.

Spurs, who have an average matchday squad age of 27.5 years, gave 17-year-old youth product Dane Scarlett an 89th-minute cameo in the 2-0 win over West Brom on Feb. 7. That was the only Premier League game time given to an under-21 player this season, just 0.003% of the period covered.

Inter, are one of seven clubs to have not given a single minute to a U21 player this term, with Crystal Palace and Fulham (England), Lazio (Italy), Real Valladolid and Cadiz (Spain) and Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany) following suit.

Despite that, and their average squad age of 28.6 years, Inter look to be romping toward their first Serie A title in 11 years.