Major European club on brink of closing academy, reports suggest

It is decidedly no secret that football is a money game. At its core, it is a way of making the rich richer, at the expense of the fan and the talent. Nothing exposes this than Michele Kang’s desire to eradicate Olympique Lyonnais’ successful academy structure in favour of the so-called American model.

Reports earlier this week from Olympique Et Lyonnais suggest that Kang, the Korean-American owner of the club’s women’s team, London City Lionesses and the NWSL’s Washington Spirit, wishes to switch from the traditional European youth approach in academies. 

Academies across Europe allow for talents of all backgrounds to have equal opportunities into the professional game. If these early reports hold any weight, it is understood that Kang intends to switch to the model used in America, which sees parents pay small fortunes for their children to play, in the hope that they will be one day get scholarships to universities or make it pro.

In such, the financial burden would be placed on the parents outright, instead of coming from Kang’s purse. “For her [Kang], an academy must have a return on investment, and today, it doesn’t make money, it costs money,” Olympique et Lyonnais were told.

OET also stated that “according to federal regulations, D1 participants must have [at least] one U19 formation at national level, or a U19, U18 or U15 group at regional or district level. In theory, therefore, OL can do without all but one of its squads, which it would enter in the desired competition.”

Essentially, all D1 teams in the league must have at least one youth team – hinting that Olympique Lyonnais would work with just an U19 squad funded by Kang, with anything below that funded by the parents.

How does the American model differ from academy systems?

Academies are an institution, and the foundations of football across Europe. They are directly responsible for the talents across the leagues in the continent. Some of OL’s most recognisable talents in both its own squad, and the French National Team, worked their way through the academy ranks into the first team. Talent like Selma Bacha came through the ranks at the French giants, and are now the direct cogs of their operation. There are flaws in the academy structure – namely the need for parents’ ability to be available to transport the child to and from training – but the benefits of consistent training from a young age can not be underestimated.

The US model directly relies on the wealth of the family. The Pay-to-Play scheme means the monetary funds are directly from the parents of the young children. Simply put, the parents pump money into the youth teams – not the clubs themselves – so that the children can play and be taught. The most obvious flaw to this scheme is that many families, especially in a post COVID-19 world and with the state of the economy, simply will not be able to pay for this. It is no longer just the transport that parents’ would have to consider, but the running of the teams from a monetary point of view too. 

Why is this an issue?

It is no secret that talent in the game slips through the cracks, no matter the format of the youth sides. However, in a country where some of it’s greatest talents – especially in men’s football – comes from the poorest areas, Kang’s want to make money now instead of investing for the future leaves an bitter taste in the mouth.

Clubs may be a business, but with the state of the world as it is, should the rich really be thinking so selfishly without consideration for those they are directly impacting?

For a woman who has pledged to change women’s football in France, including building Olympique Lyonnais Féminin their own stadium, Michele Kang’s proposed changes to youth football at the French club is a stark reminder that to owners of teams and clubs, football is just a money-making game. It is rarely about those below them.

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