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Lamine Yamal. EFE
Winning with kids
A look at La Liga

Winning with kids

Barcelona's best player this season has been a 16-year-old and the leading scorer in La Liga is still only 20 years old

Friday, 1 March 2024, 16:14

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Do you remember the "You can't win anything with kids" declaration?

It was the infamous Alan Hansen quote back in 1995, just before Fergie's fledglings went on to become the champions of England. Pep Guardiola repeated it back in 2019 to justify a spending spree.

Spin forward to 2024 and the suggestion seems so dated as Klopp's kids beat the Chelsea children in the Carabao Cup Final. The English press is full of the flower of youth in football.

Liverpool introduced three teenage substitutes to take on a Chelsea whose overall average age was 16 years younger that the Merseysiders. It's a revelation in the Premier League, but over here in Spain it's become the norm.

Barcelona's best player this season has been a 16-year-old. Lamine Yamal is one of five teenagers who have started regularly – Hector Fort (17) Pau Cubarsí (17) Gavi (19) Vitor Roque (19) - with three others on the bench every week. The average age of the Barça team this season has been 24.9 years.

Álex Balde (20) and Pedri (21) are fixtures in the Spain national team; Ferran Torres (23) and Ronald Araujo (24) are classed as veterans at a club that has needed to rely on the academy to supply talent during a financial crisis.

The story is similar at Valencia where they've needed to promote players from the B team to make up the numbers. The average age of 23.9 is even lower than Barcelona's and the gamble on youth has paid huge dividends as they've exceeded all expectations. Last season's reserve side is 9th in La Liga.

It's a similar story at the club in 8th. Las Palmas could easily name a balanced starting XI of players under the age of 25. Their USP is the fact that almost all of them are from the Canary Islands.

Remember the leading scorer in La Liga is still only 20 years old. Jude Bellingham belies his years and is proving to be value for money. Real Madrid are criticised for not promoting academy players, despite having eight teenage players in the matchday squads this season.

The blueprint has been to recruit potential from all corners of the globe and nurture them into top class players. The backbone of the team - Eduardo Camavinga (21) Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo (both 23), Aurelien Tchouameni, Fede Valverde, Andriy Lunin (all 25) arrived as uncut diamonds, but are now polished jewels in the crown.

Next season they break the mould by signing Kylian Mbappé. The superstar Frenchman is still aged only 25 despite all his accomplishments.

Mbappé may not be the most significant signing. Endrick Felipe Moreira de Sousa – stage name Endrick – is the boy to look out for. He's been a YouTube sensation since he was four, trained at a Real Madrid's academy when he was eight, became a regular in the Palmeiras side at 16 and made his Brazil senior debut at 17.

Once he turns 18 in the summer, he can finally join Real Madrid. Just a few years ago, you'd have expected him to be sent to do the hard yards with the development team - but given the current trend he's set to skip straight into the first team squad as it has been clearly proven that you can win things with kids!

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