Putting Some Numbaz Around the “Conveyor Belt” Strategy of Building From Within

Ever wondered how people run their squads on Football Manager and focus on development by numbers? Well Joey Numbaz or @joedimino as he's known on Twitter has you covered with this article.

I've seen numerous articles on the web and topics here that focus on building "Academy Only", or "Academy Driven" squads. One of the rules of thumb I've seen is "3 players from the academy to the senior team every 2 two years".

This article from strikerless.com puts some numbers on it for a balanced squad, having enough tutors and youth to keep the "Conveyor-Belt", as he likes to call it, rolling.

He suggests: 965225443_ScreenShot2018-08-08at2_46_29PM.thumb.png.a2b0773437e708009c871377963e1cf7.png

as a guide, while "hardly calling it a rule set in stone", which seems entirely reasonable.

But I got to thinking and had some questions.

How does this translate to an Academy (or transfers) in terms of what do I need every year to maintain this?

How many 4-star newgens do I need each year to keep this thing cranking?

How do I phase out the old guys in a structured way while still having enough tutors?

I wanted to put some rigor around it all. What should I be targeting each year? If I know what I need the academy to produce, then it's pretty easy to spot where it's faltering or exceeding expectations. In the first instance, I can supplement with transfers, before it's too late. In the later, I can sell off some of the excess, realizing I won't be able to fit in all of these guys we are cranking out. I can tell you, especially with a Hard Brexit save, how many times I find myself with either too many really good players in the youth ranks, or not enough. It's hard to pinpoint what you need and all of a sudden, I have five 4-star players in my U23's that I can't even find playing time for at the youth level.

Also, the real driver of this was the Hard Brexit. I can no longer rely on bringing in star EU U18s. British U18s are crazy expensive if they are any good. So I really needed to know - what does my Academy truly need to produce to keep this thing going. If I cannot produce this, then I will need to get transfers, but how many, and at what ages?

Another part of this is squad size. In his amazing thread on the Ajax Academy, Cleon talks about keeping your squads small, developing every player you can to the best of their ability etc.

So realising that not many of the Academy (1.5 per year) will ever make our squad, we need to know how many players we need to keep from our intake, to field a team at the lower levels, realizing most are eligible for the U18s (I play in England) for just two years. You'd say 16-20 would be the squad size, or 8-10 per season should be kept.

But how many get promoted to the U23s, where players are eligible for up to 5 more years (actually 5.67 due to the different 'birthday' eligibility dates - U23 use the age as of January 1, U18 use birthday as of September 1). Again, the idea is to try to maintain a small squad, but one big enough to field a team, and not have to use senior players unless you want to, since that squad should also be small. I want to know how many I should be shooting for, instead of just keeping anyone with a pulse and ending up with too big of a squad there. This is really important for knowing how long of contracts you want to give your players going from U18 -> U23 for example.

I also want stability. Ideally I'd never transfer anyone good enough for the senior team until they are too old to play any more. I realise that's not realistic, as players will want more playing time, etc. But this is the goal.

Some assumptions for math that is about to follow. You can easily change the assumptions and adapt it to your own assumptions. If you think my assumptions are just flat-out flawed, please let me know, I'd love to refine this even more.

I will not loan out my best U23 players, unless I see some terrible development. My squads will be small enough that everyone will play, and with my senior squad only being 22 players, there will be chances for the best U23s to get some first team experience before they actually make the squad outright.

None of this accounts for the players in your academy when you start the game. That being said, the numbers/ages should be similar for a typical team.

All ages are as of September 1 of the year in question.

  • Players who can make the senior squad by the age of 18 have a typical career (at my team) length of age 18-35.
  • Players who can make the senior squad by the age of 19 have a typical career (at my team) length of age 19-33.
  • Players who can make the senior squad by the age of 20 have a typical career (at my team) length of age 20-31.
  • Players who can make the senior squad by the age of 21 have a typical career (at my team) length of age 21-29.

There will be exceptions, of course. Many. But in general players who are good enough to play younger will also be good enough to play longer. And hopefully we sell the aging guys a year early rather than a year late, while allowing the true club legends to play their entire career with us.

I am changing the rule of thumb from 3 players every 2 years (1.5 per year), to 5 every 3 years (1.67 per year). The math works better, and I think it's entirely realistic and reasonable.

You cannot build Rome in a day - without transfers anyway. If you start with the 2017-18 season, your first graduate won't be 18 until the beginning of the 2020-21 season. So there is a going to be a lag on your Academy production.

  • The senior team will have ~22 players.
  • The U23 team will have ~16 players
  • The U18 team will have ~20-21 players. This is more than the Ajax thread recommendation, but it doesn't really hurt anything to keep a few extra guys down here for depth

You will produce one 18-year old ready for the senior team player per youth intake class every 5 years.

You will produce 2.5 19-year old ready for the senior team players per youth intake class every 5 years.

You will produce 3 20-year old ready for the senior team players per youth intake class every 5 years.

You will produce 2 21-year old ready for the senior team players per youth intake class, every 5 years. This is lower than 19-20 year olds because there won't be many. These are late bloomers, but if a guy isn't ready by the time he's 20 for a rotation spot on the senior team he likely won't ever be.

Add those numbers up, and it turns out that you are generating 8.5 players every 5 years. Whaddya know, that's 1.7 per year! So far the maths add up to our goal.

Here is what it looks like in chart form


In 2020, you've got a 4:1 chance at having an 18-year-old ready for prime time, in 2021 you'll have a 50/50 shot at a 19-year-old from the first class, as well as a 4:1 shot an 18-year-old from your second class. And on the conveyor belt goes. Some years you'll get two 19 year olds and no 18 or 20 year olds. But on average this would be what we'd hope for. If you see your squad not meeting these numbers, then you need to go to the transfer market for some youth that can play.

What does this mean for your youth squads? Here are some numbers to target, which account for players moving off of the U23's and up to the seniors through as they gain experience:


So typically of the 10-11 players you keep from each intake, 5 will graduate to the under 23's and 5-6 will be released. I will give the five new U23's 4 years there if possible (or a 3 year deal and then extend them for a year once allowed), once you are in you are in for your age 18-21 seasons. Some years it will be 6 or 7, others it will be 3 or 4, of course. Also, every 5 years on average one will graduate straight to the senior team.

Then slowly, those players will move up. Some will move up after one year, others after two or three. So while you are keeping 5 per year, instead of 20 players at the U23's you'll have your target of 16. Of the five U18's that you keep, eventually 1.7 will make the senior team. The other 3.3 you can sell or release before their age 22 season, or keep them around and have a bigger U23 squad with some depth, etc.

So when will you have an entire squad of 22 academy graduates, if you maintain this 5 every 3 years goal? 2037-38.


What??!! Seriously? Yeah, it takes that long, at 5 every 3 years (which is 10% faster than 3 every 2, remember), to have an entire squad of newgens from your academy.

Don't forget, we'll expect that our 21-year olds who begin to debut in 2023-24 will no longer be good enough for the squad by 2032-33 when they turn 30.

So for example in 2028-29, we'll expect to have 1.7 21-year olds, 22-year olds, etc. but there won't be anyone from our academy age 27 yet. That 18-year-old who debuted in 2020-21 is still only 26 in 2028-29.

This isn't that big of an issue, it's not like you don't start with a squad full of players to begin with. This chart only shows your newgens by expected age. But it takes a long time to build a truly newgen academy only team assuming you get 5 players every 3 years.

Moving back to that strikerless chart from up top:


How well does this line up with what I've put together?

To keep the constant flow of players rising up, while having enough tutors and experience my numbers show a final breakdown of:


The top number is a running total of players at or below each age. So you'd expect to have 9 players age 24 or younger on your senior team, 22 age 35 or younger.

The bottom number rounds them off into groups. So 1 player age 18-19, 5 players age 25-27, etc.

Comparing my numbers directly against those in the initial graphic:

Age range   Strikerless  JoeyNumbaz

14-19               2.5-10%        0.9- 4%

20-23               3.5-15%        6.4-29%      

24-26               6.5-25%        5.15-23.5%

27-29               6.5-25%        5.15-23.5%

30-33               3.5-15%        4.0-18%

34+                  2.5-10%         0.4-2%

Total                   25                22

Pretty close. I've got fewer very young (but more 14-23 total) and very old players. The rest is pretty similar.

So anyway, when looking over your initial squad if you want to strive for some age balance as well as building an eventual academy conveyor belt, these are some numbers to target.

If you are a small club, and really cannot afford to keep your best players past age 24, for example, you can change the number of academy graduates to match, realizing they will leave sooner so you need more.

Tutors? This covers that, you have 14.7 tutors (as of September 1, by the end of the season you'll have one or two more as they age to 24) typically out of the 59 players (21u18-16u23-22senior) in your organization. That's enough to have a tutor going for every 2.5 players on the U23/U18.

But, remember half of the U18s are players you never even expect to make your U23 squad. 2/3 of the U23s will never make your senior squad. If you only count the 26 players at any given time who you consider real prospects (players who are on or will eventually be on the U23 team) 15-16 is more than enough tutors.

I hope this helps with your long-term planning. I've attached the spreadsheet in Mac Numbers format (sorry, I just like using it so much more than Excel for the ease of formatting and making it look pretty). I think you can still open it in Excel though.

If you want to change the assumptions, just change the pink cells on the middle table "Academy Graduates". What you want are the expected number of 18, 19, 20 and 21-year-old (as of September 1 of the season in question remember) Academy graduates each year. If you put in more graduates, of course, your roster will get bigger and you may need to change your assumptions for when you get rid of players. 

Download Link for the Mac Numbers Format

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