Some teams have a reputation as being a selling club. Looking back over the past few seasons you can see why. It’s the way the globalized game has gone, smaller, or should we say ‘smaller’ teams given the achievements of some on this list, bring players through their academy’s or poach players of even smaller teams and turn them into top talent. Then when they are on the brink of being a star, a big club looking to build a team of Galacticos swoops in. It’s not entirely fair as some teams have a ridiculous financial capacity, and essentially never have to bring players through their academy’s to the first team, but it’s part of the modern game.
I’ve spoken before about how I would like to see a rule brought in, that teams have to have a certain number of players from the academy in their squad, or a certain number of players who are from the area of the club. You could cap teams at 34 players (11 more than international sides get for tournaments) and say 20 have to be from the academy (regardless of nationality), or from the area of the club (with the word area being defined by the leagues association). There could possibly be adjustments made for lower leagues, but this would certainly be welcome in Europes top 5 leagues (English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A, French Ligue 1, and German Bundesliga).
Imagine the landscape of football if the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, and Juventus could only splash out on 14 players. They may seem a lot, but that goes for the big names, squad players, young talent, everybody. There’d be no more snapping up all the lesser sides best prospects just to fill the squad, a lot of focus would have to be put on academy’s.
That’s a discussion for another article at another time. For now, let’s take a look at some European clubs who would be greatly improved had they held on to some of their better players. It should be said this is a hypothetical, naturally the teams below received money for the players they sold and therefore were able to buy other players, nonetheless we’ll take a look at some of them for fun. One rule, the players listed have to still be playing at the time of writing.
Let’s get going, here are 8 XI’s of teams if they hadn’t sold star players.
Probably the strongest XI on the list, for one of the teams that have had the most success of these 8 clubs. Just look at that attack, imagine having Griezmann and Aguero in the same team with the exciting young Felix alongside them. A solid midfield anchored by Rodi and the all arounder Niguez with Koke and Lemar providing width. Atletico currently have one of the best goalkeepers in the world and behind that defense they would have no problem keeping their reputation of a notoriously difficult side to break down. Considering Atletico have come close to lifting the European Cup in recent years, this side surely would have got the job done.
This side is all about attacking talent. A solid midfield of Witself and Gundogan would have to work their legs of defensively to provide this front 5 with enough ball to work their magic. Lewandowski has been outstanding this season and would make a fantastic partner for Aubameyang. The young sensation Haaland behind them would sweep up 2nd balls, with Reus and Sancho working magic outwide. This could well turn into a more conventional 4-3-3 with Reus dropping into midfield and Aubameyang and Sancho out wide, but I like a Bielsa formation variant. It may well be a bit of a “you score 3 we’ll score 4” team, but they would have no problem scoring 4.
Possibly a surprising inclusion considering they have remained successful recently, winning the Europa League last season. However, the fact that they were under a transfer ban to start the season, it’s interesting to see how strong their team could have been. With a solid defense, the attacking quality in this side would tear the Premier League apart. Adding possibly the best all-around midfielder in the world in Kevin De Bruyne to one of the best defensive midfielders in the world N’Golo Kante would lead to dominance in the middle of the park, with Jorginho adding an additional play-maker. And then you bring back two incredible wingers in Salah and Hazard to flank Lukaku, who has had a great season over in Italy. This is a powerful team with plenty of skill to go along with it that could dominate England.
A less high-profile English side who have had a habit of molding quality players and selling them on. Van Dijk is currently the best defender in the world, and Mane is one of the reasons Liverpool are so far clear at the top of their league. This would be a useful side that would likely contend for a European place,
Lyon are a team that is great at bringing through young talent. Since winning 7 Ligue 1 titles in a row (their only 7) they have become more of a selling club. The elephant in the room here is Benzema, but I stuck with Dembele up front, prioritizing youth rightly or wrongly. Benzema could come off the bench with 30 minutes left to take advantage of tired opposing defenses. Karim Benzema was actually the player to score the winner for Real Madrid to beat Shamrock Rovers 0 – 1 in Tallaght Stadium, in a came remembered for Ronaldo making his debut. Tolisso in a skillful midfielder who doesn’t always get the credit he deserves, with Lacazette playing that second striker role. Umtiti and Ferland Mendy add solidity behind them. Some would call for Lloris in net, but Lopes is the better option on current form.
Took Europe by storm in 2016/17 making it to the Champions League with a young team. Bernardo Silva, Mbappe, and Fabinho alone make this a team to watch. Only 3 of these players remain with the side; Glik, Badiashille, and Subasic. This midfield is exciting with a lot of youth. This could transition easily from a 3-5-2, to a 3-2-3-2, to a 3-3-4 when needed. That front two of Martial and Mbappe has pace that would absolutely terrify any defender. Monaco are on of those sides that we will always wonder if they could have built a dynasty if they had kept their best players, having reached a European Cup semi-final and ripped the Ligue 1 title from PSG’s hands. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see more of Silva and Mbappe in the same side.
Slightly taking liberties here because there are only 4 players that have been sold here. I picked Bilbao because they are my Spanish club (probably more well known for being the oldest Spanish club), and famously they only use players who are from or trained in the Basque Region. Laporte and Kepa were two high-profile departees who went to the Premier League for massive fees. Adding to that Herrera and the experienced Javi Martinez this would be a well-organized team that is hard to break down. Bilbao always seem to bring somebody through, and thus have never been relegated.
How could we make this list without a team that has long been the best at bringing through players. If European sides could only play players they had brought through the youth system, Ajax would never stop winning European Cups. I thought about putting in Suarez, but with is future career in doubt due to injury, I went with the reliable Tadic up front. Ziyech (who is on his way to Chelsea) and Neres are top quality wide players. That midfield is one of the most creative around, with De Jong a solid presence to hold things up. There would be an argument to stick Vertonghen and Alderweireld in as the center backs, but to show the quality they have brought through recently I put in De Ligt and Sanchez. Onana, who was actually bought from Barcelona, is a great young goalkeeper, and Nest is a right back with great potential alongside the experienced Blind on the other flank. Ajax seem to just keep producing talent.
Let us know what ‘hadn’t sold XI’s’ you would have liked to see.