Why Youth Academies Will Be Football’s Top Assets Post-COVID-19
After COVID-19, football will never be the same again.
Now, you can say the same about most industries in the world, for both good and bad reasons. But considering that less than six months ago football seemed like an unshakeable force that would keep pumping out games regardless of what else was going on in the world, it’s pretty jarring to see it in this state.
Most of all, COVID-19 has exposed football’s financial instability. We may have games back, but the wealth of clubs will not return to normal any time soon.
The financial saviours of football clubs might just be sitting right under their noses though: youth academies. Football’s future stars may just be able to save the future of the game, in more ways than one.
An awkward transfer market
Right now we should be in the throes of another exciting summer transfer market.
We should be debating whether Paul Pogba will remain at Manchester United, which foreign import will have the best impact at their new club and which team has “won” the transfer market. Instead, we’re watching top teams trying to catch up with a bloated schedule in an effort to fulfil broadcasting contracts and get ready for next season.
If there is a summer 2020 transfer market, it will be an awkward one. Although football has never been known for spending conservatively, it’s hard to view clubs splashing multi-million-pound sums on new players as anything but distasteful in the wake of the pandemic and the financial instability it has brought to so many people.
Will this stop clubs from buying new players? Probably not. But a general lack of money in the game could lead to player value being reduced. If anything is going to stop major transfers from happening it will be clubs resisting offers for their players and holding off until next year, when their value will presumably be closer to normal.
Clubs need cash now, and yet their own lack of cash could lead to more incremental deals. It will be an awkward transfer market to negotiate in, and one we don’t see many deals getting done in.
Should this be the future of the transfer market, youth players will become important assets for teams looking to add something new to their side, rather than splashing out on a fancy new expensive player. The loan system could be rolled back, with teams preferring to hang onto their best young assets.
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Out of contract players
Clubs across the world face a huge problem right now, one of expiring contracts.
The mass delay of football has left many top clubs and their players in flux, with contracts set to expire at the usual time of the end of June. This has lead to many players signing short term extensions or sitting out behind closed doors games in hopes of being fit to make pre-agreed major moves.
For the teams that aren’t playing behind closed doors or haven’t been able to tie players down to new deals beyond this summer, youth academies may present a haven for bringing in new talent, much like with transfers.
With no money coming in for these departing players there will be significantly less cash to invest in new ones, even out of contract options. Youth players are a cheaper and more fan-friendly method of refreshing the squad, with behind closed doors games acting as a great opportunity to integrate these talents into the first-team and give them vital exposure to high-pressure games.
Generating profit streams
COVID-19 will force some football clubs into creative thinking when looking for alternative revenue streams.
A good portion of clubs will be up to their eyes in debt; either to their chairmen or the bank in some high profile cases. To recuperate the significant losses over this period players will have to be let go, but, as discussed, player value will be significantly lower for a couple of years.
This is where youth academies come in as a significantly profitable asset for clubs who have spent time developing them. By the time many of the players sitting in academies are old enough to regularly start in first teams they will have risen in value significantly, perhaps overtaking the price of notable players now. Considering the premium on English talent right now, a club might be able to finance itself for years off the back of selling one talented academy player.
There is gold sitting in academies across the world right now — teams just have to be patient and wait for it to shine.
Football finds itself in a new financial reality. Youth academies present a way for teams to dig themselves out of this hole while building stronger bonds with their local area. With TV money likely to take a hit (or at least include second wave clauses), it would not be surprising to see even the world’s biggest clubs turn to their local youth to help them on the pitch.