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The essence of succession planning

The FIFPro World XI was revealed last month, as voted for by over 20,000 professional players. The team was a selection of some of the greatest talent to have played the game, and had fans fantasising about the destruction such a team would cause if they were to play together.

Except it wouldn’t be domination from day one. They may be the world’s best players, but they would perhaps need a little time to gel, to learn each other’s movements, to cover each other’s gaps. Meanwhile, a team with marginally less talented players, who had been playing together since the age of 17, at a club with a long-established philosophy, may well be able to compete with this all-star eleven.

This is the essence of succession planning; the structuring of an organisation to enable success to be sustained over time. This helps save costs, create a culture and build a legacy.

We can take some lessons from international football on this subject. Which senior European teams have had the most players come through the under-17 or under-19 teams? In other words, which countries have been the best at collectively bringing talent through the system?*


The first take-away for clubs is that the bigger you are, the harder it is to succession plan. Picking the right players at 17 or 19 year old from a large pool is much harder than from a small pool, but it is by no means a binding factor if the right talent identification mechanisms are in place; Germany and Spain have certainly shown that.

Elsewhere, smaller nations like Wales and Switzerland, both of whom have considerably increased their FIFA ranking in recent years, have also been particularly adept at spotting, nurturing and rewarding talent. It’s no doubt dangerous to confuse cause and effect – chopping and changing is always going to be associated with weaker talent – but with the right structures in place we can shift the odds of producing great players for our team in our favour.

The equivalent teams at domestic level are clubs such as Schalke, Southampton, Athletic Club and Lyon, all of whom have shown how good succession planning can help you compete with those with bigger resources. Now that the chaos of January has subsided, perhaps it’s time to look at your under-17s and ask: in 10 years time, will succession planning mean that we are greater than the sum of our parts?


*All the data on this chart is courtesy of UEFA, who supplied a database comprising of 40,000 players from under-17 to senior level. To find out more about the research we are doing with this data please email

About Omar Chaudhuri

Omar Chaudhuri has created 147 entries.