Ajax beat Barcelona in shock win - So who has the greatest academy in Europe?

Players such as Johan Cruyff and Cesc Fabregas have emerged from the renowned Ajax and Barca academies, and homegrown players again caught the eye on Tuesday night.

Dutch Champions Ajax shocked Spanish title holders Barcelona in a 2-1 win in Amsterdam on Tuesday night, and the two clubs intrinsically linked by Dutch legend Johan Cruyff displayed groups of homegrown players that showed just why they are famous for their youth production.

In stark contrast to most other Champions League contenders, Ajax started the match with seven academy graduates in their starting line-up, while Barcelona, many people's tips to win Europe's premier competition, amazingly also had seven.

The difference between the two teams is that Ajax consistently have to sell their brightest young players every season or two, with players such as Spurs stars Jan Vertonghen and Christian Eriksen leaving to test themselves in a stronger league. Barca on the other hand have the occasional star slip away to get first team football, only to return once they have improved, while on the whole the club manage to retain the players that go on to become greats.

Given that Ajax are a smaller club, with less money and in a weaker league, the fact they produce such excellent players is impressive. As the Netherlands is a third the size of Spain, Ajax have to cast their net to nearby countries such as Belgium and Denmark in order to keep that factory line of youth talent going, something that has worked to great effect in recent years. 

But Barcelona have a vast pool of talent to choose from. They astonishingly brought on a further three academy graduates, compared to Ajax's one, to really highlight the strength in depth of the reserve and youth team.

In last night's game, it was surprisingly two non-Ajax graduates that scored for the hosts, with Thulani Serero (an Ajax Cape Town graduate) opening the scoring before ex-Fulham youngster Danny Hoesen doubled the lead. Barca legend Xavi netted from the penalty spot after Joel Veltman chopped down Neymar, earning a red card in the process. A spirited defensive performance saw the Dutch team hang on for a famous victory.

Both teams can be proud of the performances of their homegrown players, and it makes one wonder how long we have to wait for an English team to start with seven of their academy graduates in a Champions League game.



image: © Ines11thiago

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