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Feyenoord have one of the best youth programs in Europe, but don't get to enjoy their best talents as big clubs poach their jewels at young age due, in part, to Uefa regulations

COMMENT
By Stefan Coerts

A quick glance at the roster of Netherlands squad for the friendly against England last Wednesday - which was eventually called off due to the riots in London - confirms what many followers of the Eredivisie already knew; Feyenoord are no longer one of Holland's top teams and no longer have any players among the country's elite.

Nevertheless, Feyenoord seem to have a bright future ahead of them. Seven of the 18 players in the Netherlands Under-21 squad for the game against Sweden in midweek (a 3-0 loss) are under contract. This positive feeling is further strengthened by looking at Feyenoord's match squad for their Eredivisie opener against Excelsior last week. 12 of the 17 players listed for the encounter were younger than 23.

The figures above perfectly illustrate that Feyenoord have one of the best youth academies around in Europe and the good work at Varkenoord has, unfortunately for the Dutch club, not gone unnoticed in England, Italy and Spain in recent years.

CAREER STATISTICS | ROBIN VAN PERSIE

Age: 28

Contract: 2014
Position: Forward

Value: €30 million

 Clubs:
Feyenoord, Arsenal

League Games Goals Goals per game
Caps
Goals
 217
80 0.37 56 21

One of the most renowned products of the academy is Robin van Persie, who has become a bonafide star of the English Premier League. However, whereas the Arsenal ace spent three seasons in the first team before leaving Feyenoord for a reasonable transfer fee, things have changed in the past few years.

Feyenoord had little complaints about the departure of Royston Drenthe in 2007, who left De Kuip for Real Madrid for a fee of €13 million after only one season of first team football but they were far less amused about the transfer of then 15-year-old Jeffrey Bruma to Chelsea that same year. The Rotterdam giants had high expectations of Bruma (currently on loan at Hamburg), but the centre-back moved abroad before the club could offer him a professional deal.

Sadly enough, the exit of Bruma turned out to be the start of a trend as only one year later young winger Rajiv van La Parra left the club's U17 team and snubbed Chelsea and Liverpool for Caen. The exodus continued in 2010 when holding midfielder Kyle Ebecilio, now 17, followed his former team-mate to London and signed a contract with Arsenal, much to the dismay of then sporting director Leo Beenhakker. 

FEYENOORD STARLETS WHO LEFT FOR ENGLAND
Jeffrey Bruma Kyle Ebecilio
Karim Rekik

Chelsea
Arsenal Manchester City

"We did what we could do by offering the kid a contract on time. But he wanted to wait, as there was foreign interest. That he now goes to Arsenal means that we only get a training allowance. This is the story of Bruma all over again. He was also a great talent who unfortunately never played for us. I rate Ebecilio highly," Beenhakker lamented.

Things went from bad to worse this summer when Feyenoord had to say farewell to two more talented youngsters before they even made their first team debut. Chelsea secured the services of defender-cum-midfielder Nathan Ake at the tender age of 15, while 16-year-old centre-back Karim Rekik moved to Manchester City. As if that wasn't enough, the club were also forced to sell first team players - and local heroes - Luc Castaignos (Inter) and Georginio Wijnaldum (PSV) for modest fees due to contract disputes.

Feyenoord have every reason to be proud of their excellent youth academy as they continue to produce some of the most exciting talents around in Europe. However, they get remarkably little in return due to the ongoing poaching of their most promising starlets.

The Kuip outfit are plagued by financial problems and could really do with a few outgoing big money transfers. It's therefore easy to understand that the exodus of top talents is starting to cause frustration in Rotterdam. Unfortunately, Uefa seems to think the current situation isn't a problem as they are in no rush to change their rules on the matter.

"Feyenoord have every reason to be proud of their excellent youth academy as they continue to produce some of the most exciting talents around in Europe. Nevertheless, they get remarkably little in return following the ongoing poaching of the club's most promising starlets."

Since 2008-09, clubs in the Champions League and Europa League require a minimum of eight homegrown players in a squad limited to 25. Uefa defines 'homegrown' players as those who, regardless of their nationality, have been trained by their club or by another club in the same national association for at least three years between the age of 15 and 21. Up to half of the locally trained players must be from the club itself, with the others being either from the club itself or from other clubs in the same association.

Uefa's rule aimed to encourage the local training of young players and increase the openness and fairness of European competitions. It also aimed to counter the trend for hoarding players and to try to re-establish a 'local' identity at clubs. Little did Uefa know that they would only further stimulate clubs to sign as many youngsters as possible from all over the world at an age where they would be better off close to their family and friends.

Feyenoord can only hope that European football's governing body will recognize the existing problem in the near future. Until then, they can only take pride in their outstanding work, but will have to accept that other clubs are reaping the rewards.

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