What we learned from those who didn’t make the Top 20 U21 Report
Like last year's, the report is a barometer of youth talent and their values in addition to reviewing the market as a whole. What's most noticeable is the quite frankly unbelievable rise in transfer sums paid, coupled with a lack of playing time resulting in a decrease in value and ranking for some of the World's top starlets. Here I've taken a look at those who didn't make the top 20, the ones who just missed out placing between 21 and 70, to see what else this can tell us about youth talent and the transfer market.
The transfer fees involved in today's market are greatly increased compared to a decade ago due to the increased TV rights deals and Commercial revenues, with the recent figures being thrown around for top players touching £100m. This market inflation means that in the space of one year we've seen player values rise enormously and this is reflected in the report when you look at number 21 this year, Christian Pulisic who is valued at just over €22m, the same amount as last year's number 7 Marcus Rashford. It's not just Pulisic however, as another 18 players would have made it into last year's top 20, showing how much revenue has increased in just one year.
This big increase in revenue means that clubs are willing to buy at an increased price in order to capture their targets. With regards to the Premier League where the TV rights money has had more of a noticeable effect, it means that it's not just the top 6 that can spend big but even the smaller clubs now spend multi-millions on multiple signings with Bournemouth paying Chelsea £20m for Nathan Ake as well as £10 for Asmir Begovic and Everton buying Jordan Pickford for £30m in addition to paying over £30m for Michael Keane. A potential loss from player sell on fees is not the problem it once was, with clubs making this money back yearly from commercial deals and TV rights.
When these younger players are playing and the world can get a glimpse of their talent henceforth their price will rise but with some players not playing their price has gone down. This is evident when looking at the ranking of players such as Breel Embolo and Kelechi Iheanacho, both two excellent strikers with bags of potential but, with limited playing time last season, it has really affected their value with both dropping out the top 20. However with Iheanacho on the verge of moving this summer - at the time of writing, he is strongly rumoured to be joining Leicester City - it will be interesting to see how much they will pay for his still yet un-yielded potential.
What's also noticeable from looking at the players that didn't make the top 20 is that no player currently plays for a team outside Europe. This at first seems surprising when you consider the talent that often comes from the South American leagues, in particular. Thinking about why this is, at first it may be that talent is being bought at a younger age and joining European club academies. Globalisation means that it's not as difficult or as uncommon for younger players to up sticks and leave the family home. Also when you think about how much money leagues in Europe get through commercial deals and TV income, it's no surprise that players who start out in the leagues outside Europe be that Brazil or Mexico or even Japan, want to follow the money and go to Europe as early as possible even though it may mean less playing time. This process can hinder their development and we've seen it time and time again players who make the step up too early often ruin their potential. In recent years you had Real Madrid sign Martin Ødegaard, at 16 he was the most wanted teenager in world football and whilst still under contract at Madrid he spends all his time on loan and has yet to make the break through.
Due to the highly pressurised nature of football in the modern era and continued expectancy from fans to do well, a sustainable squad with a mix of youth and experience is vital. Therefore you see a lot of teams nowadays hoarding young talent in a bid to save money on paying full price for an international superstar. This has led teams such as Chelsea and Real Madrid investing heavily in youth and proceeding to loan out those younger players. It was well documented last year that Chelsea had over 35 players out on loan in 9 countries across the globe. Again in this upcoming season, they've continued the policy with Tammy Abraham, who had a very successful loan at Bristol City last year, now being loaned out again to Swansea. Abraham currently features at number 31 but with another prolific season he could feature in the top 20 next year and if Chelsea wanted to sell, it would be another successful loan player to bring in profit. This highly profitable system that Chelsea have adopted has led to £127m transfer revenue in 2017 alone. Players such as Bertrand Traore and Nathan Ake who were bought for nothing have been sold for a combined £28.8m. It may seem immoral or not in the spirit of the game but it's working. This system involves investing young talent as a business model rather than purely acquiring playing assets.
With clubs buying younger and younger and premiums only increasing it begs the question; how much will clubs be paying in the future? Only this year Real Madrid paid £45m for a 16 year old who has barely played in the Brazilian league let alone a top European one. Who knows how much youth players will cost in years to come but with increasing profit from ever expanding rights and commercial deals, clubs will only spend in accordance to what they are earning leading to bigger and bigger transfer fees.
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