Google+ Blueprint for Football: A supremacy in peril?

Monday, August 1, 2011

A supremacy in peril?

Original text in French by Sylvain Sro, translated by Puchkin

Once again elected the best Academy in France, Stade Rennes is reaping the fruits of years of work, with the massive integration of quality young players into its professional squad. But the award should not let the club forget that behind, the competition is improving.
After 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010, Stade Rennes has won again clinched the title of best academy in France at the end of this season 2010-2011. A reward which certainly isn’t surprising, considering the number of players trained at the club who completed a professional squad heavily rejuvenated by Pierre Dréossi and Frédéric Antonetti last summer.
Mainly focused on the chance offered to young players in Ligue 1, this ranking from the National Technical Direction (DTN) is indeed the reflects of efforts made years earlier. From the most senior (Romain Danzé, Sylvain Marveaux) to the youngest (Abdoulaye Diallo, Dimitri Foulquier), they were all recruited many years ago. In other words, action taken today clearly conditions the results of the future

The Academies, the future of French football

Although Stade Rennes can hope to fly over these rankings for a while longer, the club will also need to consider a reinforcement of the competition. In its communication, Rennes naturally tends to value the quality of its youth training and the trust put by the club in its young players. Some question the viability of this policy, consisting of a perpetual gamble on the future rather than on a clear present project. Without getting into the detail of all the advantages offered by a top-level Academy, it has to be admitted that many clubs are following sensibly the same way.
Because of the financial difficulty faced nowadays by many a Ligue 1 team, youth training remains indeed a safe placement… Even for a club like Marseille, whose reputation certainly isn’t this of an Academy-focused club. “If we are somehow realist about a modifying football economy over the next few years, we will regularly need talented players who will occupy a first eleven position at OM before, possibly, move abroad and bring a consequent amount of money to our club. This is probably the economic model we have to build the club’s future on”, Jean-Claude Dassier explained last January.
Only words ? Possibly. However, the Marseille management has certainly be encouraged by the examples of Samir Nasri and Mathieu Flamini in the past, or by the present emergence of the Ayew brothers. Insisting on the culture of a club spirit (which is always important to the supporters) and giving a positive image, youth training remains a fragile way to follow however, especially for clubs used to big name transfers.
A recent example is the PSG. Often mocked for its inability to retain the many talents growing in the Greater Paris Area [1] The club from the capital seems to have taken a new direction over the last few years, piling up titles and international caps in the youth categories. But the most difficult, yet most important part remains to be achieved: to make space for these young talents within the professional squad. Last year, several players trained at Paris Saint-Germain managed to make a place for themselves in Ligue 1, in the footsteps of an example such as Mamadou Sakho. But in the future, with the arrival of a Qatari investor, which coach would take the responsibility of launching a youngster, rather than give playing time to an element purchased for huge sums of money?
The months and years to come will show whether Paris continues trusting its youngsters, or if the club from the French capital forget about this new policy that early in the process. In the first case, the Parisian club could continue evolving as a heavyweight rival for Stade Rennes, especially when it comes to the recruitment of players from the Île-de-France region.

Nantes survives, Brest patients, Lorient rises

Even among its close neighbours, Stade Rennes experiences a rise of the competition. The former example, having gone through times of distress, FC Nantes has now started to revive its tradition in terms of youth training. This season, Landry Chauvin will be able to rely on a squad majorly coming from la Jonelière. But the FCN has been heavily hit, and the club will struggle to prove attractive again for as long as it will remain in Ligue 2, as the recent departures of Lionel Carole and Loïc Négo illustrate.
With the Nantes example collapsing, Rennes’ success in the field of youth training has become the model to follow for its neighbours and rivals, which Lorient president Loïc Féry admits without a problem. Despite the announced objective of a more regional team, Brest or Lorient have very few players trained at the club among their regular starters. Last year, Jérémy Morel was the only one for Lorient, while Brest didn’t even field a single player trained at the club. The task is huge for these clubs, far from the results of Stade Rennes, and its squad 50% trained on the grounds of the ETP Odorico.
In Brest, the club doesn’t even have its own academy. Disappeared with the bankruptcy of the Brest Armorique at the beginning of the 1990s, it was never to be reopened. But finally, the return of youth training in the Finistère is a project that should become reality in 2012. An absolute necessity for Brest, who were forced to let go a player like Mathias Autret to Lorient without having a say, simply for not having the youth training infrastructures and the semi-professional contracts these can deliver [2]
In Lorient, the development of the Academy enters in the logic of making the presence of the club in Ligue 1 durable. In the top flight for the sixth consecutive season, the club from the Morbihan has earned most of its success this far in the managing ability of Christian Gourcuff, and also in its good recruitment. Satisfying, naturally, but not necessarily viable on the long-term.
Highly competitive, the Stade Rennais academy allows the club to constantly feed the professional squad, and rapidly cover for poor recruitments if needed, brushing away the perspectives of relegation in the same time. To achieve the same thing and make up for their delay, Lorient are going through the necessary step of modernising their infrastructures, as Stade Rennes did at the beginning of the 2000s. Alongside the renovation of the Stade du Moustoir, the “Merlus” will soon witness the erection of the “l’Espace FCL”, a complex which will become the training centre and Academy of the Morbihan’s club.

«We are not playing in the same category, but we are growing up»

Of course, the « Merlus » are not planning a mere duplicate of the Rennes project. They are rather taking inspiration, adding a playing touch proper to FC Lorient. On target, the perspective of setting up a common playing project from the youngest categories to the professional, as it is done at FC Barcelona, the reference for Christian Gourcuff. Work is also done on the process of recruiting youngsters, in order to compete directly with the Stade Rennais. “We are not playing in the same category, but we are growing up”, Hervé Guégan, the head of the Lorient Academy affirmed to L’Équipe affirmed in April. I position myself on the recruitment of players also chased by Rennes, which I wouldn’t have imagined doing just two years ago”.
Admired for its playing style, the FC Lorient benefits of a positive image, this of a family-minded club, the ideal environment for the blossoming of young talents. Although the “Merlus” are not yet a true Academy-based club, they are already managing to recruit young players desired by Patrick Rampillon and his team. And this, even for youngsters from the Parisian region. “We want to regionalise the recruitment, as per the advice of the DTN, Christian Gourcuff précises. But we don’t plan to be like the Athletic Bilbao, who only accept Basque players”. So far, few Breton players in L1 have avoided the Stade Rennais.
Directly involved in the recruitment of the youngsters, Gourcuff knows that his club’s ability to train youngsters will be a major issue for the future of FC Lorient. At the moment, the club from Morbihan should prove its ability in the domain, and show that it is capable of turning its youngsters into good Ligue 1 players.
Despite the growing competition, even among clubs that haven’t got an history of young players training, Stade Rennes remains the undisputed reference up to this day, starting in Brittany. But a reference with no time to rest on its laurels over the coming years, or it could fall from its throne.


[1] Amongst other examples in Rennes, Yacine Brahimi and Yassine Jebbour played for the PSG’s youth teams before choosing to continue their training in Brittany.
[2] Without youth training infrastructures authorised by the federation, a club is not allowed to offer aspirant or trainee contracts to its player, which would protect them from external interests. Also, no professional contract can be offered to a player under the age of twenty.

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