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Serie A clubs blamed for Italian youth crisis

Italy's top-flight clubs have been hit by a damning youth development report commissioned by FIFA. The fourth Annual Review of the Professional Football Players' Observatory (PFPO), commissioned by FIFA, rates Italy bottom of the pile of Europe's big football nations in developing their own talent. It was found just 12.8 per cent of players that came through the youth systems of Serie A clubs graduated to the first team.

The most successful was Reggina, with 19.2 per cent - and they were relegated last season!

Behind now Serie B Reggina were Juventus (18.7%), Atalanta (18.4%), Roma (16.1%) and AC Milan (14%), with results that are in stark contrast to last season's Champions League finalists Barcelona and Manchester United.

Indeed, for all their spending power, both Barca and United have based their success on locally produced talent.

According to the PFPO report, Athletic Bilbao, Nancy, Barcelona, Toulouse and Espanyol were found to have 40 per cent or more senior players which had been produced by their own youth setups. Other clubs found to have above-average percentages included Arsenal (39.6%), Real Madrid (37.3%), Manchester United (37.3%), and Bayern Munich (28.9%).

Italy's youth coaching identities have been highlighting the problem for years - and welcome FIFA's report for bringing the situation to the sporting public's attention.

Former Italy U19 coach Paolo Berrettini told Gazzetta dello Sport: "I wasn't surprised to read what they said about Italy in the FIFA study: when I was coach, up to the U21's, I had to follow and scout the championship's youth teams because they weren't allowed to play in Serie A teams."

So what's the solution?

"There's no point in quotas and it wouldn't do much good if they were introduced," continued Berrettini. "What we really need is for a massive change of mindset from our elite: they need to realize that young players are a resource.

"Let me explain. When I won the European Championships with the U19's (in 2003), I discovered Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Giampaolo Pazzini (Sampdoria), Alberto Aquilani (Liverpool), and Andrea Mantovani (Chievo).

"They had been left to languish in their youth teams without ever getting a chance to see what they'd be like in a Serie A team.

"Then they were called up for the national squad, played some great football, won the European title, and loads of people suddenly realized we had some talented players in Italy.

"There are now very few young players in Serie A and our national youth teams haven't won anything since my European U19 squad: I see a connection there, don't you?"

The FIFA report also highlights the number of foreign players in the five big European leagues - which has slightly increased over the last year from 45 per cent to 45.2 per cent.

There has been a massive increase in England (65.2%, compared to the previous 48.09%), followed by the Bundesliga (53.1%, where for the first time ever, foreign players outnumbered German players, the figure the previous year was 36.7%), Serie A (39.6%, compared to 24.3%) and Ligue 1 (33.8% and 23.2% the previous year).

The foreign talent has arrived primarily from Brazil (163 players, +5%), Argentina (103, +5%) and France (100, +3%) in the last year.

But for Italian authorities, it is the growing issue of a lack of homegrown players which is causing concern - and how they can convince Serie A clubs to make it easier for Italian talent to come through the system.

Chris Beattie
About the author

Chris Beattie

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