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Five UEFA clubs who sell young, compete high

Tuesday 7th November 2017
Fans are passionate, owners pragmatic. To survive, most clubs develop and sell young talent. Here are five that thrive by selling young and competing high.

Fans know how important an academy is for a club. Evertonians derived more pleasure when 19-year-old Tom Davies scored against City in January than watching €45 million man Gylfi Sigurdsson open the Toffees Europa League match against Hajduk Split with a 50-yard stunner.
Some clubs retain their youth players, as Barcelona used and Real Madrid now does. Other clubs loan out players to smaller clubs, more often as a test drive for a potential sale than to prepare for the first team. If a Chelsea player is loaned out, he'll probably never play for the parent club again. Sorry, Tammy Abraham. Finally, there are selling clubs. Lacking an obscenely wealthy oil sheikh, Russian oligarch, or, the latest trend, Chinese consortium's backing, these clubs hire eagle-eyed scouts and coaches with the patience to teach. They identify, develop, then sell young talent to richer clubs to finance their competitive ambitions. A few compete surprisingly well.

AS Monaco

Last season's Ligue 1 winners moved to the top of this list after a summer transfer window in which they proved to be both deft exporters and high rollers in the modern-day market. It's just not fair when you have a Russina oligarch in your pocket but still play the market.

Les Monagasques have used chairman Dmitry Rybolovlev's riches to sign Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez, and Joao Moutinho for astronomical sums. Yet, the club's excellent scouting network also signed prodigious talents such as Thomas Lemar and Anthony Martial for a pittance. The principality side is having its cake and eating it too.
The golden generation Leonardo Jardim is leading didn't happen by mistake. Rybolovlev's buy-low-sell-high footballing flea market means places a heavy emphasis on unearthing gems. It's why he pumped £8 million into Monaco's award-winning academy.

Their scouting network is also peerless in France. It is how they spotted Kylian Mbappe, who has been turned into €180 million courtesy nearest Ligue 1 rivals, Paris Saint-Germain. It doesn't end there.

After its first league title in 17 years and a stunning run to the Champions League semi-final, the vultures circled. In addition to Mbappe's creative buy now-pay later deal with PSG, Monaco has sold their social media star, Benjamin Mendy, defensive rock, Tiémoué Bakayoko, and Portuguese Messi, Bernardo Silva, for a combined €132 million.

In 2017, Rybolovlev bought second division Belgian club, Cercle Brugge, then immediately exchanged several hot prospects between the two clubs. AS Monaco's selling machine has become an assembly line.

SL Benfica

For the last four years, the Eagles have dominated Portuguese football. Benfica has secured two doubles during that time while conducting impeccable transfer business. In 2016-17, the club registered a net transfer profit of €70 million but still finished six points clear of second-place Porto, who ended up net spenders. This summer, Benfica outdid themselves with a net profit of €109 million.

Benfica's success is partially down to the club's tendency to scout Eastern Europe, a region massively neglected by the European giants. Victor Lindelof arrived from Sweden, Lazar Markovic from Serbia, and Jan Oblak from Slovenia. All told, the trio brought in €77 million.

Partner this with a knack for picking up players who have slipped through big clubs' nets. Nemanja Matic was bought then sold back to Chelsea for a £16 million profit.

It is a flawless winning formula. Other exports include former Real Madrid and Manchester United man Angel Di Maria and Brazilian center half David Luiz. The Golden Boy of 2016, Renato Sanches, and Ederson Moraes, the new savior of Citizens, are also from the Benfica Youth Academy.
The club doesn't appear to be stopping anytime soon. It has gambled on acquisitions from the Czech Republic's top flight this season, as well as grabbing Chris Willock from Arsenal on a free. For now, Benfica's bank balance remains green and their trophy cabinet full.

Borussia Dortmund

Down the years, the Black and Yellows have been among the top European clubs. After Jurgen Klopp's arrival, also the most exciting. All the big spending clubs eye BvB with designs on their latest talent. That's how football has been and will be at Westfalenstadion. The yellow army still can't forgive Polish talisman Robert Lewandowski's free transfer to arch rivals, Bayern.

The club is still in a transition phase. Dortmund was on the verge of bankruptcy in 2005, when a small interest-free €2 million interest-free loan from Bayern Munich saved them. Nevertheless, the still had debts in the €200 million range.
Joachim Watzke was appointed CEO at the nadir of the club's financial crisis. He came in, made some brilliant signings, hired Jurgen Klopp, and, within five years, pipped the Bundesliga title from Munich in 2011. Die Borussen followed up with a double in 2012, then reached the Champions League final in 2013, where Bayern finally had its revenge. Success on the pitch reduced the club's debt to roughly €140 million. Player sales through the 2015 season left the club debt free.

When the side conceded second place to upstarts RB Leipzig in 2016-17, parted ways with innovative but mercurial coach Thomas Tuchel, then sold their most precious asset to Barcelona for €105 million, the club seemed to be regressing.

Those pushing the panic button ignore bargain signings Julian Weigl, Christian Pulisic, Raphael Guerreiro and Andrey Yarmolenko have lower the problems for them. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Ilkay Gundogan, Mats Hummels, Robert Lewandowski and Ivan Perisic have all been sold to fill the club's coffers. Mario Goetze, Shinji Kagawa, and Nuri Sahin brought returns as well, then returned themselves. Forbes ranks BvB as its 11th richest club in the world. Not bad for a club on bankruptcy's doorstep.

FC Porto

Another Portuguese club that manages to remain competitive despite offloading its best talent year in and year out is Porto. Savvy business strategies, relaxed permit laws, a keen eye for domestic talent, and a series of talented managers have all contributed. One such boss, Jose Mourinho, won the Champions League with the Dragons in 2004.

When Mourinho left, he took two players to Chelsea with him, lightening Roman Abramovich's wallet with what was, at the time, significant fees. Defensive beast Ricardo Carvalho was purchased for £27 million. Right-back Paulo Ferriera joined him for a further €18 million. It represented a 100% return on investment for the club, which has continued to profit from the market for young talent.
You can add Alex Sandro, Danilo, and Eliam Mangala to Zinedine Zidane's list. How the Madrid boss forgot his former defensive linchpin, Pepe, is beyond me. Still, there are other names and surely more to come.


Like Porto, the Dutch giants are former European champions. Unlike the Portuguese club, Ajax dominated Europe when Rinus Michels sat in the dugout and Johan Cruyff commanded the pitch. Since the 1970s, however, Dutch football has been in a terminal decline. This is reflected in UEFA's current standings, where the Eredivisie now ranks behind the Ukrainian and Belgian domestic leagues. It doesn't affect the player factory. The "Godenzonen" now sell their sons of gods.

Production rates haven't suffered in Ajax's decline. The Dutch club continues to be renowned as one of the most successful clubs in the world when it comes to player development.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Christian Eriksen, Luis Suarez, Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart, Daley Blind, Jan Vertonghen, and Toby Alderweireld all came through the Ajax academy. Several have gone to Spurs in the wake of Martin Jol managing both clubs.
Recently, Davidson Sanchez forced a £37 million move to Spurs after just one season. Featuring in the Europa League final helped his cause. As it did manager Peter Bosz, who moved on to another talent factory, Borussia Dortmund. Captain Davy Klaassen also departed for Everton.

Currently, the club holds a strong policy to not let young breakthroughs like Kasper Dolberg, Matthijs de Ligt, and Hakim Ziyech go. Not just yet.

Here's an interesting tidbit to demonstrate the disparity between buyers and sellers: Paris Saint-German spent €222 million alone on Neymar Jr. Since Ajax's inception in 1900, it has only ever spent €232 million on transfers.
Harsh Vardhan

A pilot in the making residing in India, Harsh is also an ardent follower of European football and his heart resides in Manchester, particularly the blues. He has deep passion for writing, with special admiration for combined-elevens, while also contributing to the sports column of a local daily.

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