Clash Of The Academies: Ajax vs Barcelona

The world cup final will kick-off in a matter of hours. When the two teams walk out, they will not only be representing their nations, Spain or Holland, but many of the players will also be representing the football academies that produced them. In Spain, there is the world renowned Barcelona youth academy and in Holland there is the famed Ajax school. Incredibly, 17 of the players that could feature in the final from both Spain and Holland come from one of these youth academies.

For Holland, the Ajax academy can lay claim to producing nine of the squad player, including their talisman Wesley Sneijder along with Ryan Babel, Rafael van der Vaart, Eljero Elia, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Gregory van der Wiel, Maarten Stekelenburg, Johnny Heitinga, Nigel de Jong. The latter four are first team players. For Spain, the team has a strong Catalan presence thanks to the Barcelona youth academy that has produced their captain, Carles Puyol, two of their main protagonists in Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta along with other first team starters like Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique and Victor Valdes. In addition, the young Spanish starlet who impressed many in his semi final appearance, the electric Pedro Gonzalez, is also a product of the Barcelona school and is now widely tipped to start for La Roja. Let us not forget a certain Cesc Fabregas also. The Arsenal captain also is a former Barcelona youth. Amazingly, in testament to the incredible quality of this Spanish side, Cesc will most certainly start from the bench.

The message is clear. Great footballing academies produce great players. For the heavy weight nations that disappointed at this year's world cup and for those other nations with ambitious football aspirations, the message is clear that through great football academies, great players are produced and great teams (club and national) are formed. In a football world where so often money seems the focus, perhaps with Spain and Holland contesting this year's final, with the many amazing talents produced by the two world renowned football schools these two countries boast, the focus may turn to back youth. Not only is this the hope, but a change in the dominant philosophy of how football should be played perhaps may also occur.

There is no question that Spain play a brand of football similar to that of the Total Football first implemented by the famous Dutch side of the 1970's. It is a game that focuses on keeping possession of the ball and that requires a high level of technical ability from all the players across the park. It truly is a positive approach to the game, one that incorporates all the beauty of technical excellence and skill. The Dutch are perhaps a little more pragmatic than their Spanish counterparts this year. However, over the years the Dutch school has continually preached a brand of football that Spain currently extol to perfection. This is no coincidence either, with many Dutch stars over the decades having made a real impact at Barcelona with none more so than Dutch and Barca legends Johann Cruyff and Rinus Michels.

Romantic football has already won the day with Spain and Holland battling it out for football's greatest prize. However, the final will decide as to which school, the Barcelona or the Ajax academy, has produced the better players of the current generation.

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