Ligue 1 - French academy traditions count now more than ever

The leading French clubs have relied on their youth academies for decades and in these troubled economic times that policy is more important now than ever.

Ligue 1 - Nice striker Maupay out for rest of the season

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Nice's Neal Maupay (L) celebrates his goal against Lille with coach Claude Puel

New young faces have surfaced almost every week this season in Ligue 1, among them 16-year-old forward Neal Maupay at Nice and 17-year-old striker Corentin Jean at Troyes.

Lyon, who had to curtail a lavish transfer policy after losing 28 million euros last season, ended a Europa League group stage game at Sparta Prague this term with nine players in the side from their academy.

The oldest of 33 licensed school of excellence facilities were created in the early 1970s by Nantes and St Etienne.

"There is less and less money for transfers these days," Marseille president Vincent Labrune said recently.

"We therefore have to put more resources into our academies to reach a target of 25 per cent home-grown professionals."

The task is harder for Marseille who are not used to counting on their developing prospects in Ligue 1 having previously groomed the likes of Samir Nasri and Mathieu Flamini only to see them join English team Arsenal early in their careers.

Sochaux, who have spent more time (65 years) in the top division than any other club, launched their school of excellence in 1974 and were ranked first in the French Football Federation's list of academies last year.

"The club could not live without the academy. This is what makes us breathe," director Jean-Luc Ruty told Reuters.

Sochaux dedicate 10 per cent of their annual budget of 33 million euros to the school of excellence and it paid dividends in February when they beat Paris St Germain in the league with eight home-grown players among the 14 involved.

"In the past three years we have sold Marvin Martin (to Lille) and Mevlut Erding (to PSG) for a total of 19 million euros," Ruty said.

Lille, who have 20 scouts and four video specialists searching Europe for players, are another good example of the way a well-run academy can function.

French internationals Mathieu Debuchy and Yohan Cabaye (both Newcastle United) and Belgium's Eden Hazard (Chelsea) came through the ranks at Lille, winning the league title in 2011 before moving to English teams.

The success of the academy network has kept France on the radar even when their clubs have had poor campaigns in Europe.

This season 24 former youth-team players from Stade Rennes have taken part in the Champions League, according to a CIES (International Centre for Sports Studies) Football Observatory study.

Only Barcelona (38), Lyon (31) and Real Madrid (29) did better.

One of the reasons the academy system flourishes throughout France is because of a well-organised structure laid down by the FFF and the League.

The clubs must have played in the top two leagues for three successive years in order to get a licensed academy and must also meet high-standards for accommodation, staff and playing conditions.

In addition, they cannot have more than 80 players on their books aged from 15 to 18 at any one time or sign more than eight "no request agreements" a year, the deals they offer an Under-15 to make sure he does not join a different team.

Rennes, who topped the FFF academy rankings from 2005-11 and recently groomed players like Lyon playmaker Yoann Gourcuff, Queens Park Rangers defender Stephane Mbia and Rubin Kazan midfielder Yann M'Vila, are another good example of how the system works.

They target teenagers within a 300-km radius thanks to close partnerships with amateur sides.

Sochaux and Lille work the same way, the former operating alongside 40 clubs within a 50-km radius in order not to miss a young talent.

Rennes never have more than three dozen youngsters aged between 15 and 18 at any one time and make a strong effort to educate them.

"There are 11 classrooms and 26 teachers for the academic studies which account for 75 per cent of their time. In 2012 all the candidates passed their final high-school exam," director Patrick Rampillon said.

"We don't regard a kid who has not turned professional as a failure. He can bounce back and make it somewhere else."

Rennes share this philosophy with most of the French academies, knowing that only around 80 deals are offered each year to roughly 800 players in the same age range.

"Our goal is to nurse players and men," said Patrick Battiston, director of the academy at Bordeaux.

The issue became even more sensitive after the 2010 World Cup scandal when France players refused to train in protest at Nicolas Anelka's dismissal from the squad and there were other disciplinary problems.

"The most difficult thing is to get used to the new generation. We used to spend 30 per cent of our time educating them and 70 per cent teaching football - now it's the opposite," said Lille academy director Jean-Michel Vandamme.

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