Roma v Feyenoord: Battle of the academies
Roma and Feyenoord both have a distinguished history of producing their own young players, as both clash in a showcase of their respective football factory.
However, the future importance of their youth academies seems to be heading in opposing directions ahead of a first ever meeting in European club competition.
With the economic realities in the Eredivisie meaning that it is increasingly more difficult to hold onto players and maintain squad cohesion, youth development has been essential for sustaining clubs in the Netherlands.
Feyenoord are no exception with crippling debts meaning that they have been reliant on their Varkenoord academy and its commitment to the education and development of young footballers in recent years.
It produced eight of the players that Louis van Gaal took to the World Cup last summer, while their current first-team squad consists of 14 academy graduates that came from the cramped scattering of pitches across from the De Kuip stadium.
Varkenoord is more than a production line though, as supporters of the close-knit club take a source of pride in seeing locals such as Jean-Paul Boetius and Tonny Vilhena rise to prominence.
This sense of pride in Rotterdam is similar to what Roma supporters feel when they see Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi pull on the Giallorossi shirt.
Romanisti like to think of their club as the Eternal City’s true and only team calling it La Roma de noantri (“the Roma that belongs to us”) because so many of the Giallorossi’s past players were born and bred in the capital.
From Amedeo Amadei to Agostino Di Bartolomei and Totti and De Rossi today, there has always been homegrown talent starring at the Stadio Olimpico.
However, an ability to buy players from all over the world and indifferent attitudes towards youth academy products has harmed the number of prospects that have emerged from Trigoria.
According to a study released by the CIES Football Observatory last October, Roma have produced 17 footballers currently playing Europe’s top five leagues with only four still remaining at the club.
This may be reflective of the high ambitions at Roma and the quality of the players required, although the study also confirmed a worrying general trend across Italy with Serie A squads containing the lowest proportion of homegrown players.
Academy graduate Alessio Romagnoli surely could have surpassed the performances of new arrivals such as Ashley Cole and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa had he not been allowed to join Sampdoria on-loan with an option to buy last August.
The excitement surrounding the recent inclusion of primavera prospect Daniele Verde has exemplified the importance of including youth players, although the Neapolitan was only afforded an opportunity after a lengthening list of injuries and suspensions.
Roma may be more concerned about asserting local identity than other leading clubs, but the way in which their former forward Mattia Destro described how Serie A clubs and the Italian media still treat their youth perhaps sums up the situation.
“The media always appoint me as ‘youngster’ and that annoys me because I’m 23, I shouldn’t be considered a youngster any more,” the on-loan AC Milan striker told Rivista Undici in January.
“That’s why so many prospects choose to move abroad.”
The Eredivisie has long become used to its most promising prospects being exported abroad, however the league that is often seen as being at the forefront of youth development has recently made an interesting import from the Italian capital.
As Roma wonderkid Gianluca Scamacca signed for PSV Eindhoven in January, citing better prospects for career progression, Giallorossi supporters could have missed out on another local following in the footsteps of previous greats.