To play soccer at the highest level, many young players head to soccer academies all around the world. This is the best way to get world-class training, learn how to play the professional game the right way, and be groomed for overall success.
Not everyone makes it as a true professional after attending the soccer academy, but these 15 do a great job of giving everyone the best chance possible. These are the best soccer academies in the world, chances are, a few of the next greats are training there right now.
1. FC Barcelona Academy
- Players From Academy: Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Carles Puyol
A generation of current stars, headlined by Lionel Messi, thank the FC Barcelona Academy they came through to become a great player in general. The academy owned by FC Barcelona has created a lot of star players, and almost all of them have spent significant time with the top club.
Many academies recruit worldwide, but FC Barcelona has a knack for going anywhere and everywhere to find promising youngsters. They know how much homegrown talent can impact the close matches, as some players literally grew up on the pitch together in the system.
2. Manchester United
- Players From Academy: Marcus Rashford, Paul Pogba, Ryan Giggs, Mason Greenwood
Most people agree that Manchester United has the best soccer academy in the English Premier League. It is a big reason why they have been able to continue having great success with homegrown talent.
A true stand-out comes through the academy every few years, and creating some go-to stars has been extremely beneficial.
- Players From Academy: Frankie De Jong, Matthijs De Ligt, Christian Eriksen, Kasper Dolberg
Ajax does an outstanding job of making the most out of the talent they bring in to play with their developmental coaches. It is a big reason they can compete with teams worldwide, even if they are in a domestic league not considered top-flight.
The academy produces a lot of extremely tactical players, which really helps when other teams around the world purchase their contracts. The transition takes little time.
4. Real Madrid
- Players From Academy: Iker Casillas, Alvaro Morata, Marcos Llorente
Just like there is a rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid at the senior level, they battle it out for prized youth players as well. In the past, Real Madrid was not producing that many homegrown players, but they have changed quite a bit in the last few years.
Florențino Perez is a big reason why there has changed, and some top players have been able to star for Los Blancos and other top-flight clubs as well. As long as they continue to spend money, they will attract many players from Spain and other corners of the globe.
5. Bayern Munich
- Players From Academy: Thomas Müller, Phillip Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, David Alaba
FC Bayern Munich is well known for spending a lot of money on talent at the highest level, but they have also invested heavily in creating a world-class soccer academy.
In fact, their homegrown talents have helped make them a perennial power all across Europe. They take roughly 200 young players at a time, and they invest millions of dollars each year to run their academy.
The academy does everything possible to create strong contributors down the road, and their investment has paid off. Some of the top players currently are graduates of the program, and they are known for having a pretty strong up-and-coming class as well.
6. Boca Juniors
- Players From Academy: Diego Maradona, Carlos Tevez
Back in the day, Diego Maradona became the face of Boca Juniors. They put them on the map, but they have been producing young talent through their soccer academy since then as well.
Many of the stars from Argentina have come through their soccer academy to become worldwide sensations on the pitch. Currently, standouts like Carlos Tevez continue to speak highly of the academy and how it helped shape the type of player he is today.
7. Sporting Lissabon
- Players From Academy: Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Nani, Luis Figo, Ricardo Quaresma
The name that is synonymous with Sporting Lisbon’s soccer academy is Cristiano Ronaldo. While he gets all the headlines, they have produced several other players who have gone on to lustrous careers in the sport.
It is a well-known option in Portugal, and that certainly helps boost the national team. Even if richer teams often come in and swoop up the big stars, their initial training happens here.
8. River Plate
- Players From Academy: Erik Lamela, Javier Mascherano, Alfredo Di Stefano
Just like there is a rivalry between Boca Juniors and River Plate at the senior level, they are also competing with each other to get top-end talent in Argentina. For a while now, players who really take off end up moving to Europe where there is more money.
However, some people will stay with River Plate, and a lot of them have contributed to Argentina at the national level. They keep the academy running smoothly by teaching the basics at an early age and going from there.
9. Lyon FC
- Players From Academy: Alexandre Lacazette, Loic Remy, Hatem Ben Arfa, Nabil Fekir
The success of Lyon at the highest level has not been as great as they would like, but they have one of the best soccer academies in the world for building up younger players.
Some of the best players in recent French history have come through the ranks, and a disciplined approach to training definitely pays off. The French National Team, in particular, is very thankful for how Lyon has made an impact in the last few international competitions.
10. São Paulo
- Players From Academy: Eder Militao, Kaka, Lucas Moura, Oscar
With so many amazing soccer players from Brazil, there should be no surprise that there have at least a few soccer academies worthy of consideration. The São Paulo Academy is arguably the best of the best, with recent stars like Kaka and Eder Militao being just two of many very successful graduates.
Players come from all over the country Brazil to train at the academy. They have everything covered for the players so that even those from impoverished backgrounds can still have every chance possible to succeed at the highest level.
- Players From Academy: Neymar, Rodrygo, Emerson, Felipe Anderson
The São Paulo Academy might be slightly higher in the rankings right now, but Santos has some star players in their own right. Their most successful student was Pele, but Neymar and Robinho started at the academy as well.
There has always been a strong focus on education at the academy, which is great for those who ultimately don’t make a career out of soccer. Santos continues to be one of the best teams in Brazil thanks in large part to their training program at the academy.
12. FK Partizan Belgrade
- Players From Academy: Stevan Jovetic, Stefan Savic, Dusan Vlahovic
Serbian football has relied quite a bit on this academy as it has grown considerably over the decades. For an academy located in a non-traditional soccer hotbed, they have had some pretty impressive graduates in the last few years.
There is a lot of focus on developing the best skills possible to have very refined players overall. Discipline on the pitch is important in being able to play and adjust to any system. The Serbian national team routinely has quite a few players who are academy graduates on the roster.
13. West Ham United FC
- Players From Academy: Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole, Declan Rice
The ups and downs of West Ham at the highest level have been well documented over the last few years. They are not challenging for EPL titles consistently, but they have one of the best academies to produce players.
Some very big names in English football have come through the ranks, including Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick, and Joe Cole. Really good players have become too pricey for West Ham to hold onto, but the rest of European football takes advantage when they can.
- Players From Academy: Romelu Lukaku, Youri Tielemans
This Belgium football Academy seems to have a big focus on defense more than anything. At least, that is the case when looking at some of the best players to come out of the academy overall.
Belgium players have found success in all the top leagues worldwide, and the national team is a matchup no one wants to see.
15. Southampton FC
- Players From Academy: Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Luke Shaw
Just like West Ham, Southampton has not been able to do too much at the top of the EPL. However, their academy speaks for itself when looking at some of the players to come through. Gareth Bale is the biggest name in recent memory, but Theo Walcott and Luke Shaw also spent time with Southampton.
They continue to put millions of pounds into training facilities to keep up with just about any other location around the world. This does pay off in some ways when certain players stay loyal to home, which is always nice to see for a club so focused on the youth.
Why Soccer Academies Matter
Soccer might seem like an easy enough game at first glance, but every player on the pitch must be working collectively to really shine. It is not all about having the fastest or the strongest players. That is where skill and tactics learned at soccer academies come in handy.
Teams investing in soccer academies are seeing huge success years later. It is virtually impossible for a club team to succeed without having the resources to handle the next generation. It continues to be an arm’s race to the top when comparing the best academies in the world.