Bayern Munich is synonymous with the German national team, contributing seven of its current players to Die Mannschaft. The Spanish squad had eight players that came through Barcelona’s famed youth academy, La Masia. Juventus, the Italian giants, contributed six players to Italy. And five Liverpool players came to the World Cup with England.
Each of these clubs are among the biggest in the world, but there is a smaller club in a country with a smaller league that has helped its country’s national team make some very loud noise in this tournament. It is usually overshadowed by boldface perennial Champions League contenders, but Feyenoord is holding its own in one category: fielding more than a usual share of international players this summer.
Feyenoord is the Eredivisie’s second biggest club, but it is dwarfed by four-time European champion and 33-time league champion Ajax. Unless you are intimately familiar with Dutch football, it will likely come as a surprise, therefore, to learn that it is Feyenoord, not Ajax, that has contributed the most players to the Netherlands’ World Cup squad.
There are five current Feyenoord players on Dutch squad, and none of them is older than 24: Jordie Clasie, Bruno Martins Indi, Terence Kongolo, Daryl Janmaat, and Stefan de Vrij. Four more Dutch national team members came up through the Feyenoord academy, played with the first team, and have since moved on to other clubs: Norwich City’s Leroy Fer, PSV captain Georginio Wijnaldum (who, at age 16, became the youngest player to feature for the Feyenoord first team), Villarreal’s Jonathan de Guzmán (who is on loan with Swansea City), and Oranje captain and Manchester United striker Robin van Persie. Another two, Ron Vlaar (Aston Villa’s captain) and Dirk Kuyt, also spent time with Feyenoord early in their careers.
All told, eleven members, nearly half of the 23 members of the Netherlands’ World Cup squad, either came up through Feyenoord’s youth academy or spent a significant amount of time at the club in the early stages of their professional careers. Ajax, on the other hand, can count only six. Ajax has an edge over Feyenoord in terms of total World Cup participants—three Belgian players, two Uruguayans (including Luis Suárez), and a Cameroonian who played for the Amsterdam club at one point—but Feyenoord currently rules supreme among Dutch players.
What is it about Feyenoord that enables it to produce so many talented young Dutch players? Quite simply, its youth academy is a talent factory. Feyenoord’s academy was just voted the best in the Netherlands for the fifth consecutive year by the Coaches Betaald Voetbal (Dutch football coach’s association). It appears that much of the credit is owed to Stanley Brard, the former head of the academy who left in April 2013. Brard left an excellent foundation in place for Damien Hertog (the head of youth development) and Rob Kurvers (academy manager) to continue developing elite young players.
Of all the clubs that compete in the top eight UEFA ranked domestic leagues, Feyenoord’s youth academy has the fifth-most players playing professionally in Europe (behind Ajax, Barcelona, Sporting Lisbon, and Real Madrid).
In fact, of the 13 clubs whose youth academies have trained the most players currently playing professionally in Europe, five are Eredivisie clubs. In addition to Feyenoord and Ajax, players who come through the academies at Twente, PSV, and Heerenveen are all extremely well prepared to make a career in football.