Ajax is Europe’s most successful footballing academy again, study finds

Ajax before a Champions League game against Dynamo Kyiv in 2018. Frenkie de Jong (bottom left) and Matthijs de LIgt (bottom right) moved to top European clubs a year later. Photo: Alex Ishchenko/Depositphotos
Ajax at a Champions League game in 2018. Frenkie de Jong (bottom left) and Matthijs de Ligt (top left) moved to top European clubs a year later. Photo: Alex Ishchenko/Depositphotos

Ajax has the most successful youth academy in European football, according to a study of clubs by Swiss research bureau CIES Football Observatory.

There are currently 85 players in Europe’s top 31 leagues who spent time in Amsterdam as teenagers, the annual survey found. Last year Ajax also topped the poll with 81 players.

Players had to have spent at least three years at the club between the ages of 15 and 21 to be included in the survey. They also had to be under contract with a professional club in Europe and have played at least once for the first team in the previous two years.

High-profile exports in recent years include Frenkie de Jong, who moved to Barcelona in 2019 for €75 million, Matthijs de Ligt, who signed for Juventus at the same time and now plays for Bayern Munich, and his team-mate in Germany, Ryan Gravenberch.

Brazilian winger, Antony, who moved to Manchester United in August for €95 million, is not included because he only spent two and a half years in Amsterdam.

Portuguese side Benfica took second place on the list with 73 graduates still playing in Europe, with Dynamo Kyiv third on 72.

Eight former youth team players are still at Ajax or, like defender Daley Blind, have returned after playing elsewhere. Ajax were by far the most successful Eredivisie club, followed by Feyenoord with 42 currently active players, PSV EIndhoven with 35 and AZ Alkmaar on 34.

A separate ranking of players in Europe’s ‘big five’ leagues – England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France – was topped by Real Madrid with 43 players, while Ajax could claim 19. Of the clubs outside the major leagues, only Sporting Lisbon had more with 24, while River Plate from Argentina supplied 14.

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