During the COVID-19 crisis, various sporting organisations have suffered both short term and long term financial losses due to the suspension of live-sport. 

Valencia CF is one of the clubs that has had to adapt to the changing landscape, not just from a first-team perspective but also with regards to its whole inner-workings and operations.

Valencia CF Academy Directors Sean Bai and Luis Martinez discussed with Insider Sport about COVID-19’s impact on the club’s youth development system and how the virus will change Spanish football recruitment in the long-term.

Valencia’s youth development system deals with over 15,000 players through its various teams and 13 academies spread all around the world, with players like David Silva and current Valencia stars José Gayà and Ferran Torres coming through the process. In spite of the football club’s success, it has been the community that has helped ensure Valencia’s youth system can be supported financially and maintain its operations during this period of global turbulence. 

The academy directors both said in a joint statement: “During crises we see people from this great family step forward to bear this shared responsibility. We have parents who offered to waive the salary of their children playing for the club, simply because they feel strongly for the club. We have seen fans who are putting in extra effort to support the club, even when there is no football. They are proposing content ideas for the club and academy, and also interacting with us regularly on social media. 

“Our staff and our players have also been working in tandem to brainstorm different ideas of training at home, team building via video conferences, and also creating challenges that we subsequently used as content for the club’s social media accounts. Technical staff have also volunteered to compile information to help fellow colleagues remain active at home.”

Valencia Academy has bases around the world including in the UK, Portugal and the U.S.

COVID-19’s impact on football has effectively halted youth development in Spain, and globally, causing clubs to find new ways of coaching and nurturing future talents. Valencia has stated that it is still coaching its players and academies through online means and providing at-home training schedules, however, both Bai and Martinez agreed that Spanish football as a whole will be impacted in the long-term due to the coronavirus. 

They continued: “Football academies may cease to function in the same manner in the near future. While many may think that the COVID19 crisis would open the door to academies becoming the next pot of gold in the coming seasons, there is an important question that has yet to be answered. Are football clubs equipped to cope with the new normal in football? 

“The reality is that not all clubs have placed sufficient attention on their academies. Academies function like schools, and not factories. It will be difficult to ramp up production overnight and expect to see an entire lineup of wonderkids instantly. There is a natural progression to player development and no shortcut to producing top football players. Prior to the crisis, how many clubs have already put in place an academy that has a proper progressive formative journey from the junior categories that leads to the first team? 

“With the uncertainty over the financial state of football, many clubs are likely to play it safe and court younger talents, especially those closer to the first team in terms of age. This means that many clubs will be vying for a limited supply pool. Instead of spending €50million on a proven player, it might seem reasonable to spend €20million on an untested youngster. With demand, clubs will naturally inflate the price of their young assets. This will blow the academy market out of the water, not that it has not already been inflated.”

Unlike Valencia’s first team, the possibility of its academy or reserve side resuming operations this season are slim. In terms of its youth system, the club has ultimately decided to consider the season is over in order to focus on strategies around how to maintain its academy structure during the virus. However, the club is finding it seemingly difficult to plan ahead for a campaign that they have no official confirmation on when it will begin.  

Valencia’s academy directors explained: “The Spanish Federation has not yet ruled or informed on how and when the competitions of the 2019-2020 season will be resolved in Non-professional football, which corresponds to all competitions from 2nd Division downwards and the grassroots football. 

“We understand and assume that the season is over and we will not be able to return to training until next season, at best, starting the preseason in the most “usual” way possible. In any case, until we have an official resolution on this season, it is complicated to plan deadlines or to create schedules for the start of the next season. 

Its youth development system currently runs 21 teams for all levels of youth football.

For the club’s reserve team, who plays in the 2nd Division B, the Spanish Federation has refused to close the door over a possible play-off for promotion, which could require some clubs to play more matches in July or even August. Nevertheless, Valencia’s focus right now is on the club’s first team and how it plans to prepare for the inevitable La Liga resumption.

Valencia Academy has initiated a variety of programs in order to retain some balance in its operations. These have included reviewing videos from the current season, including players that the club has already scouted. Moreover, the club has continued to analyse its own teams. The scouts will ultimately have a working knowledge about the current level of its teams and players if positions need to be covered during the La Liga campaign, or for other resumed leagues its academy sides participate in.

All of the club’s players, staff and coaches have also been kept in constant communication online to ensure that the club can run as smoothly as it can on a virtual platform. For the club, it is imperative that its youth development system remains intact for the foreseeable future in order to enhance Valencia as a whole. Despite COVID-19 putting financial restrictions on the club, it seems that Valencia’s academy will be able to help drive the club into the future after the virus has passed and beyond.

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