Serie A’s best academies: Which Italian clubs have the most successful and profitable youth systems?

Serie A clubs aren't historically known for their successful academies or the development of young players, Atalanta aside. But how do Italian clubs rank when it comes to profits generated from their youth systems?

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Atalanta have made more money by selling academy products over the past decade than any other team in Serie A, with Italian clubs falling behind the rest of Europe when it comes to player production.

It is no secret that Serie A is far from being one of Europe’s best leagues when it comes to bringing academy products into the first team to then become an integral part of the squad or be sold for huge profit, allowing the money to be reinvested.

That has been made clear by a study from the CIES Football Observatory, which has worked out the top 100 most profitable football academies over the past decade, in terms of revenues generated over the last ten years by the transfer of players who spent at least three seasons there between the ages of 15 and 21.

To show what sort of clubs are best at this, Benfica lead the way by a distance as they have generated €516m from selling 30 players, the likes of Joao Felix, Ruben Dias and Goncalo Ramos all contributing heavily to that figure. A player like Enzo Fernandez, whilst still an example of Benfica’s great business model, does not factor in as they signed him from River Plate before then turning a huge profit on him. The now-Chelsea midfielder is not their academy product.

Atalanta’s Zingonia academy ranks as one of the top 10 best in the world

Amad Diallo playing for Atalanta. [@Atalanta_BC]

There are different theories as to what a club’s academy should be for. For clubs like Manchester United and Barcelona, it is to produce players that can be a part of the first team for, ideally, their whole careers. Barcelona didn’t produce Pedri and Gavi to sell them before they reach their peak. For clubs of that level, revenue comes from other places, such as sponsors and winning trophies.

For some clubs, though, the academy is supposed to produce saleable assets as they do not have the same marketability as the elite clubs. Atalanta fall into this bracket. Academy products will get into the first team and be a valuable part of any sporting success achieved, but nobody is surprised when they then move on.

On the Football Observatory’s list, Atalanta come in at tenth, having generated €250m in the last 10 years from selling a massive 34 players. That is the second-highest number of players sold in the top 10, with Ajax having sold 36 for €376m. There is a great consistency to Atalanta‘s production as from 2014-2018, they made €123m, and from 2019-2023 they made €127m.

What players have Atalanta produced and/or made money on?

A young Alessandro Bastoni at Atalanta. [@Atalanta_BC]

What helps Atalanta from a financial perspective is that they do not only make money from their academy graduates, but the club is also very astute at unearthing young players from other clubs and then selling them on for a huge profit. Take the almost €54m profit they made from Rasmus Hojlund‘s move to Manchester United, or the eventual €33m they made from making Cristian Romero a better defender than he was going to become at Juventus and then selling him to Tottenham. Those players don’t count towards academy profit.

The players that do, are ones like Dejan Kulusevski (although he really excelled on loan at Parma), Franck Kessie and Alessandro Bastoni. Kulusevski was eventually sold for €37m, Kessie for €32m, and Bastoni for €31.1m. One of the deals they did which still angers AC Milan fans is the €24m that they got for Andrea Conti, who went on to have an injury-ravaged career.

Dejan Kulusevski playing for Atalanta. [@Atalanta_BC]

Amad Diallo is another player that Atalanta made a very tidy profit on when he joined Manchester United, €20.5m was earned when Roberto Gagliardini joined Inter, and they got €19m from Juventus for Mattia Caldara.

Where do Serie A sides rank for academy profits?

Whilst it is a great achievement for Atalanta to be so high on the list, the rest does not make for great reading from an Italian perspective. You won’t find another Italian side until the 41st place on the list, which is where Inter sit.

The Nerazzurri have sold the joint second-most players from the academy over the last decade, shipping 35 individuals from the academy for €134m. AS Roma are next on the list, they have sold the same number of players for €131m.

If you’ve ever played with a Serie A team on Football Manager, you’ll have finished one season and suddenly seen your wage budget disappear as what feels like 1,000 loanees come back to the club. Inter, Roma and Atalanta make up three of the top four on the list for players sold, only Ajax have sold more.

Clearly, Inter and Roma seem to be operating on a quantity-over-quality basis, as everyone on the list above them, except Ajax, has made more money from fewer players. The most money Roma have made in the past 10 years from an academy graduate is the €25m that they got for Lazio fan and now-Lazio player, Alessio Romagnoli when he moved to Milan.

The next highest is the €22.8m they got from Juventus for Luca Pellegrini, who now plays for Lazio. They also received €8.1m for Matteo Politano who now plays for Napoli.

Juventus find themselves right down in 58th place, although with their Next Gen project starting to produce players for the first-team, they are likely to make more money soon from selling players like Samuel Iling-Junior and Kenan Yildiz.

AC Milan have been doing a good job in recent seasons at bringing young players into the first team, particularly in 2023/24 with players like Jan-Carlo Simic, Francesco Camarda, Davide Bartesaghi and Kevin Zeroli making their senior debuts, so they could raise a lot more money in the coming years.

The best Italian academies: Serie A’s most successful youth systems

Below is where each Italian team ranks on the list of 100 teams, and how much they have made. All figures below are considering deals from 2014-January 2024.

  • 10th – Atalanta (€250m from 34 players)
  • 41st – Inter (€134m from 34 players)
  • 42nd – AS Roma (€131m from 35 players)
  • 44th – Fiorentina (€123m from 14 players)
  • 53rd – Empoli (€104m from 15 players)
  • 58th – Juventus (€94m from 22 players)
  • 63rd – Genoa (€90m from 11 players)
  • 74th – AC Milan (€77m from 18 players)
  • 90th – Cagliari (€57m from 3 players)

The 100 most profitable football academies from 2014-2024

  1. Benfica – €526m from 30 players
  2. Ajax – €376m from 36 players
  3. Lyon – €370m from 32 players
  4. Real Madrid – €364m from 28 players
  5. Chelsea – €347m from 28 players
  6. AS Monaco – €325m from 18 players
  7. Sporting CP – €306m from 31 players
  8. Tottenham – €256m from 23 players
  9. Manchester City – €254m from 27 players
  10. Atalanta – €250m from 34 players
  11. RB Salzburg – €249m from 18 players
  12. PSV Eindhoven – €248m from 22 players
  13. Flamengo – €228m from 27 players
  14. River Plate – €223m from 30 players
  15. FC Porto – €221m from 19 players
  16. Real Sociedad – €218m from six players
  17. Bayer Leverkusen – €214m from 11 players
  18. PSG – €212m from 27 players
  19. Aston Villa – €203m from 11 players
  20. Liverpool – €199m from 19 players
  21. Dinamo Zagreb – €193m from 25 players
  22. Barcelona – €189m from 28 players
  23. Arsenal – €181m from 26 players
  24. Atletico Madrid – €180m from 12 players
  25. Anderlecht – €179m from 25 players
  26. Manchester United – €174m from 27 players
  27. Borussia Dortmund – €172m from 18 players
  28. Palmeiras – €171m from 17 players
  29. Santos – €168m from 19 players
  30. West Ham United – €165m from 8 players
  31. Sao Paulo – €159m from 26 players
  32. Southampton – €158m from 10 players
  33. Schalke 04 – €151m from 17 players
  34. Stade Rennais – €151m from 22 players
  35. Atheltic Club – €149m from 4 players
  36. Fluminense – €143m from 19 players
  37. Feyenoord – €143m from 18 players
  38. Valencia – €142m from 15 players
  39. Saint-Etienne – €141m from 9 players
  40. Gremio – €135m from 16 players
  41. Inter – €134m from 35 players
  42. AS Roma – €131m from 35 players
  43. Shakhtar Donetsk – €130m from 9 players
  44. Fiorentina – €123m from 14 players
  45. Nottingham Forest – €122m from 10 players
  46. Leicester City – €119m from 6 players
  47. Bayern Munich – €118m from 24 players
  48. Everton – €118m from 15 players
  49. Bordeaux – €117m from 15 players
  50. Boca Juniors – €108m from 26 players
  51. Corinthians – €106m from 15 players
  52. Velez Sarsfield – €104m from 17 players
  53. Empoli – €104m from 15 players
  54. Vasco de Gama – €103m from 16 players
  55. SC Braga – €99m from 8 players
  56. AZ Alkmaar – €98m from 15 players
  57. Celta Vigo – €96m from 9 players
  58. Juventus – €94m from 22 players
  59. Leeds United – €93m from 10 players
  60. Toulouse – 92m from 14 players
  61. Villarreal – 91m from 13 players
  62. Brighton and Hove Albion – €91m from 8 players
  63. Genoa – €90m from 11 players
  64. Montpellier – €87m from 12 players
  65. Independiente del Valle – €86m from 22 players
  66. Athletico Paranaense – €85m from 17 players
  67. Wolverhampton Wanderers – €84m from 10 players
  68. Rosario – €82m from 17 players
  69. Racing Club – €82m from 18 players
  70. Dynamo Kyiv – €82m from 10 players
  71. SC Freiburg – €81m from 10 players
  72. FC Kobenhavn – €81m from 13 players
  73. Stade de Reims – €80m from 9 players
  74. AC Milan – €77m from 18 players
  75. Club Estudiantes – €76m from 13 players
  76. Sevilla – €75m from 9 players
  77. Club Brugge – €72m from 15 players
  78. Standard Liege – €72m from 16 players
  79. Fulham – €71m from 11 players
  80. FC Basel – €70m from 11 players
  81. Penarol – €68m from 15 players
  82. Bristol City – €64m from 5 players
  83. Norwich City – €63m from 7 players
  84. VfB Stuttgart – €62m from 17 players
  85. Hajduk Split – €62m from 19 players
  86. FC Nantes – €60m from 8 players
  87. CF Pachuca – €59m from 7 players
  88. Lech Poznan – €59m from 11 players
  89. Real Betis – €59m from 5 players
  90. Cagliari – €57m from 3 players
  91. Argentinos Juniors – €56m from 17 players
  92. Sheffield United – €56m from 4 players
  93. Club Nacional – €56m from 17 players
  94. Espanyol – €56m from 14 players
  95. Crystal Palace – €56m from 1 player
  96. Partizan Belgrade – €55m from 17 players
  97. RB Leipzig – €55m from 5 players
  98. RC Lens – €54m from 14 players
  99. Swansea City – €53m from 5 players
  100. CA Lanus – €52m from 11 players

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