Why Atletico Madrid's youth policy gives them a Champions League edge

Why Atletico Madrid’s youth policy gives them a Champions League edge

When the city of Madrid takes its footballing rivalry to Milan for the Champions League final, it’ll be billed as Real’s flair against Atletico’s workmanlike organisation.

A lavishly assembled and widely-recognised squad, playing in white will take on a group of relatively unheralded players in red stripes, who cost far less and are ready to leave every last drop of sweat on the field in order to win.

According to the bookmakers at bwin, it’s the glitz and glamour of Real Madrid that is most likely to prevail in the rematch of the 2014 final, at 6/4.

However, the increasing relevance of development your own players means it’ll be 2/1-hopes Atletico that earn revenge for their defeat at the hands of Los Blancos in the 2014 decider.

Champions League odds

Since the first edition of the competition in the 1992/93 season, winning starting XIs have seen a sustained increase in the average number of  players developed in house selected, jumping from 2.1 in the 90s to 3.0 today.

That bodes extremely well for Diego Simeone’s band of brothers, who stand to have as many as four locally-sourced stars on the San Siro pitch at kickoff.

Koke, skipper Gabi, semi-final hero Saul Niguez and resurgent striker Fernando Torres have all come through the Colchoneros’ youth system. Should they all start, it’ll hand the Vicente Calderon club a significant advantage.

Four of the last seven Champions League victors have had at least that many youth-team graduates in their starting XI, last year’s Barcelona side and the victorious Bayern Munich vintage of among them.

By comparison, Real Madrid stand to have just one academy player in their side. They would be only the third winners since 2003 with that small a representation. Chelsea and Inter are the other two clubs to have managed the feat.

A further string to Atletico’s bow lies in the fact that a lot of Real Madrid’s academy products often win the Champions League away from the Bernabeu.

Of all the clubs to have won the competition since 1993, the Merengues have the worst conversion rate in terms of youth retention.

Only four of the seven individual medallists the club has produced have won the Champions League with Real, making the presence of La Fabrica graduate Juanfran in the Ateltico Madrid side an extremely good omen.