Sevilla FC are achieving ever greater results on the pitch and this can be traced back to the work being done in their academy, where they develop top footballers and the next generation of coaches and professionals too.
When analysts discuss the success of Sevilla FC, something they are doing more and more frequently given the club’s six Europa League titles and their back-to-back Champions League qualifications across 2019/20 and 2020/21, many point to the transfer market dealings of sporting director Monchi. It’s true that Monchi is a transfer market guru, able to detect talent and bring promising players in at bargain prices, but another key to the Andalusian club’s continued growth is the emergence of so many excellent players from their academy.
Several stars have come through Sevilla FC’s football school over the years, such as current first-team captain Jesús Navas and Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos, as well as players who enjoyed success on the continent like Luis Alberto or José Antonio Reyes. Up-and-coming stars like Ansu Fati and Bryan Gil have also developed their skills at Sevilla FC, with the former now on FC Barcelona’s books and enjoying a great start to 2020/21 before injury struck and with the latter having caught the eye this term while on loan at SD Eibar.
The great work of Sevilla FC’s academy isn’t only seen through the performances of certain high-profile individuals who have gone on to make a name for themselves elsewhere. The club’s B team, called Sevilla Atlético, has consistently been one of the best in the country and is the most recent B team to have made it all the way to LaLiga SmartBank, Spain’s second tier. This B team was promoted into LaLiga Smartbank in 2016 and then finished 13th in 2016/17 under the coaching of Diego Martínez and with current LaLiga Santander players like Diego González, Yan Brice Eteki and Carlos Fernández. In 2017/18, Sevilla Atlético were relegated back down, but they remain the most recent B team to have played at that level and they have already earned their place in the new Primera RFEF (Spanish third division) for next year.
The keys to the success of Sevilla FC’s academy
Sevilla FC have enjoyed so much more success in the 21st century, compared to the 20th century. Looking solely at first-team trophies, they have won 14 major trophies in total and 10 of these have come since the year 2000, since the year that Monchi took over as sporting director. This isn’t a coincidence, as Monchi has brought a very professional ethos to every level of the club’s sporting department. As a Sevilla FC academy graduate himself, the former goalkeeper has always put resources towards the academy.
José María Cruz is the Head of R&D&i at Sevilla FC and is a key leader of Sevilla FC’s academy project. For him, hiring professionals and establishing a professional attitude is key. As Cruz explained: “Right now, the main hires we make for the academy are coaches and physical trainers, etc. We’re even doing this for the lowest levels of the academy, the Under 12 levels. We want to hire people with very developed and professional profiles. Including also engineers, data analyst, etc.”
Two other key people in the Sevilla FC academy are Pablo Blanco, Academy Director, and Agustín López, Academy General Coordinator. Their extensive experience of many years and their roots in the club -Pablo was even distinguished as one of just eleven Sevilla ‘Dorsales de Leyenda’ (Legendary Players) after 13 seasons as a player- make them two pillars of the academy, responsible for the strategic plan of the youth teams, and in permanent coordination with both Monchi and José María Cruz’s departments.
When it comes to women’s football, for example, that philosophy of hiring the best and most experienced is also clear to see. As Cruz added: “Our director of women’s football is Amparo Gutiérrez, who has been at the club for a lifetime, first as a player and then within the club’s structures. I think it’s a good bet on women’s football.”
By hiring the best, therefore, Sevilla FC are capable of producing the best, such as Jesús Navas. For Cruz, the current first-team captain, who won the 2010 World Cup with Spain and even played a part in the winning goal, is a perfect example of what the academy aspires to be. On the veteran, the director said: “It’s very easy to define Navas and you do so with the word ‘example’. He is an example in many ways, professionally and personally. He unites hard work and success, which don’t always go together. He represents the saying of ‘never give up’. The main stadium of our training complex is called the Estadio Jesús Navas and that says it all. He is an inspiration for all.”
The creation of the R&D&i department
Sevilla FC understand the value of role models and inspiration. At the same time, those in charge at the academy know that there’s a need to work with science and cold hard facts, in addition to harnessing the power of romantic and motivational tales like that of Navas.
This is why Monchi was determined to develop a R&D&i department when he returned to the club in 2019 following a two-year stint at AS Roma. This was one of his key goals and this department has been fully up and running since around October 2020, with a team of eight, as well as three well-respected doctors, led by Cruz. “We like to evangelise our work and it feels like we’re a team of 68, not just eight,” he jokes.
Monchi is already using Big Data for scouting around 15,000 players from the elite football leagues, and recognises just how useful it is – even though he maintains that it will never replace the role of the scouts. It’s also used to analyse the performances of all the teams within the club. But there’s much more. Cruz continues: “One of our functions is to enhance and develop all the research related to medicine and sports science, from investigation to promotion to training and so on. This involves the entire academy, not just the first team. In fact, one of the functions of the R&D&i department is to try to coordinate all the departments so that they’re all using the same tools. Another important topic, which helps with the medical side of the academy, is to support the Data Center of the academy. We need to datify everything.”
By converting all this wisdom that has always been a part of the academy into data, Sevilla FC’s entire sporting structure becomes more efficient. This means that directors can easily access whatever kind of information they need, while they are also putting the finishing touches on a Big Data platform for scouting youth categories, which will further benefit the club.
As Cruz explains, having all aspects of the academy datafied can help shine a light on potential issues that might otherwise have been left unsolved. Providing a specific example, he says: “You might wonder: Why does this team have such a high number of injuries in a specific part of the body or of a certain type, when this other team doesn’t? If this player can run 12 kilometres, why he is not doing that? How could we value if this player is really prepared for playing with the first team: if he gets X percent of successful dribbling, or if he blocks X number of attacks, or if he gives X number of successful passes under pressure? Today we have five professionals within the academy unifying all these criteria related to the qualitative aspects of the game, not only the quantitative…”
Such approaches ensure that every level of the academy process is optimised, which ultimately means more time for players to train and improve. Right now, they’re not placing any limitations on themselves, either. The ideal future for Big Data would be to predict things. For example, the chances of a certain player reaching the first team, because that would help you to decide whether he should be in the starting eleven, or renewing his contract… “Just imagine!,” says Cruz.
Training coaches and professionals, not just players
The work being done at Sevilla FC’s academy is about so much more than just producing footballers. That they have a knowledge sharing partnership with the Universidad Pablo de Olavide and UCAM University makes this clear, as does the fact that so many quality coaches, scouts, psychologists, doctors, sports medicine specialists, directors and other professionals have Sevilla FC’s academy somewhere on their CV. “We aspire to be an academy of professionals,” Cruz stated.
There are some very high-profile examples. Real Valladolid’s sporting director Miguel Ángel Gómez and Leeds United’s sporting director Víctor Orta are former Sevilla FC employees. Meanwhile, Doctor Alejandro Álvarez has moved on from Sevilla FC to continue his career with Qatar Federation ahead the World Cup. Then there’s also the aforementioned example of Diego Martínez, the former B team coach who is currently one of the most in-demand coaches in Europe given all he has achieved with Granada CF.
When it comes to the youngsters, Sevilla FC are also keen to ensure they have a good academic education as well as a football one. Cruz explained this, saying: “Not every player can make it to the top level. Even for those who do make it, there is another life after football. Football doesn’t last long, so we have to prepare the players for tomorrow. With that in mind, within the R&D&i department we have a section for continued personal development, which is a concept that I don’t think all football clubs consider.”
To manage this vital function, Sevilla FC have even hired a professional from Airbus España who performed a similar role there in continued personal development. Now, there is collaboration with Sevilla FC’s human resources department to provide support to any academy player or any employee who needs it.
Future plans for the academy
All of LaLiga’s clubs regularly meet at what is called the ‘Encuentro de Canteras’, a meeting for academy professionals to share ideas and to establish what the future of Spanish youth football should look like. Sevilla FC provide a well-respected voice in such meetings and Cruz welcomes the chance to compare notes.
As he said: “It is a super interesting instructional supplement. You go over things and some of the conclusions that we might already know or be working on. Then there are projects being offered like LaLiga Training Hub or LaLiga’s software offerings such as the Academy Management one, which are very interesting for Sevilla FC because they are the order of the day.”
In addition, Sevilla FC have, like other clubs involved in the Encuentro de Canteras programme, requested to help develop ways of improving the system for the transfer of minors, keen to protect players from unnecessarily being uprooted to another city and keen to ensure there is fair compensation for the clubs who put the work in to develop the talents of tomorrow.
With Sevilla FC always on top of the latest developments, it’s a guarantee that the Andalusian club will continue to develop and promote promising youngsters to their first team and that other academy graduates will populate the squads of various LaLiga Santander clubs. The next Jesús Navas could be in their academy in this very moment.