Youth academy

The AC Milan youth academy is considered to be one of the best youth systems in the world. Over the years, the Club’s academy has developed footballers who have gone on to play for the AC Milan first team and many other big Italian and foreign clubs.

There were 13 youth teams in the 2015/2016 season:

  • Pulcini 2007 (U9s)
  • Pulcini 2006 (U10s)
  • Esordienti A 2005 (U11s)
  • Esordienti B 2005 (U11s)
  • Esordienti 2004 (U12s)
  • Giovanissimi regionali 2003 (U13s)
  • Giovanissimi regionali 2002 (U14s)
  • Giovanissimi nazionali (U15s)
  • Allievi regionali (U16s)
  • Allievi nazionali (U17s)
  • Primavera (U19s)

Starting this season, the youth academy also features an Under-9 and Under-10 girls' teams.

Youth-academy sides and their respective coaching teams train at the Vismara training ground in Milan, which is also where they play their home games. The Primavera team also play here, while they train at Milanello.

The AC Milan youth academy is updating its Video Department, which comprises of five coaches whose job it is to analyse footage and data from training sessions and matches of both our competitive and grassroots teams, as well as any other side considered of interest from a tactical and technical point of view. Video analysis is viewed as an important learning tool for players and coaches.

Overview 
Youth academy footballers (male and female) 311
   2014/2015 273
   2013/2014 247
Professional footballers in the youth academy 37
Non-professional footballers in the youth academy 274
Youth academy teams 13
Nationality of youth academy footballers Italy, Albania, Senegal, Bosnia Herzegovina, Brazil, Republic of Mali, Ghana;
Romania; Ivory Coast, Montenegro; Bolivia, Spain, Ukraine;
Great Britain; Guinea; Philippines; Bulgaria; Morocco; India; Republic of Togo

Over the course of the season, the youth academy compiled a five-year plan that will be presented to UEFA, listing the objectives for each area that has a stake in the player's development: Technical and Tactical, Psychological, Fitness, Social Department and Educational. A set of targets is drawn up for each of these areas with the aim of developing the individual player, the squad and the staff.

The objectives differ according to the level and the age of the young footballers. Taking the Pulcini for example, the objectives here concern helping the girl or boy to find their feet at a top club and, at the same time, cope with being away from their parents. They learn to manage the competitive aspect and their emotions, as well as learning values such as sharing and respecting rules. When it comes to the Primavera in particular, one of the objectives is to support the players' transition to the first team, to another senior professional club or, in the majority of cases, to an amateur side.

In a similar fashion, a document has been presented to the Italian F.A., detailing the youth academy development programme for next season, which continues the strategy begun in 2013/2014. This programme consolidates the Milan Methodology approach, which foresees a Coaching Coordination Centre with the aim of getting all the departments and different groups at the youth academy to communicate actively and constructively in order to share lines of work. Dialogue underpins the development of these adults who find time to reflect and take on responsibility, moments which are then shared through interaction. Every meeting is therefore a chance to learn from your peers and teach them as well.

We view young players as individuals within a complex network of relationships and focus on listening to their needs as and when they arise. This leads us to constantly redesign the training plan of each player in order to account for the many complexities contained therein. As part of this, the Technical/Methodological Coordination Department organises meetings for all of the adult figures involved in the players’ development every morning from Tuesday to Thursday and on Fridays before training.

A key part of the Technical/Methodological Coordination Department’s work is to look at the wider context of a situation, be that a particular work group, a team or a location, i.e. the Milanello training ground or the Vismara training ground. The department focuses on identifying specific training needs in order to devise solutions and come up with specific plans of action.

Our efforts to ensure that our approach to coaching is specific and tailored in nature means that we are able to create different paths which are nonetheless all oriented towards the same training objective. Herein lies the added value that the Technical/Methodological Coordination Department has brought to the youth academy. All action taken, including structured coordination sessions and specific meetings for the various teams, has the objective of promoting and bringing about tangible integration between the various areas, thus creating the Integrated Method. This is designed to be the link between the various dimensions of sporting activity: technical/tactical, physical/athletic, health, social/relationships, mental and cognitive. 

The youth academy’s determination to ensure its human capital realises its potential is reflected in the functions and responsibilities of the Educational Psychology Team, with the Agostino Gemelli School of Psychology (ASAG) at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan tasked with managing the service. The university is responsible for identifying personnel for the various roles in the service and also deals with planning, monitoring and verification. Two Educational Psychology teams were set up in order to introduce a more organised approach to the initiative. One team works at the residence which houses youth academy players living away from their families, while the other operates at the Vismara training ground, the main headquarters for the AC Milan youth academy, and Milanello (where the Primavera is based). Currently, the two teams feature 13 permanent members of staff (including psychologists, education specialists, teachers) who cover all of the various training needs present in the AC Milan youth academy.

Generally speaking, the teams’ responsibilities can be summed up as follows:

  • To provide educational and psychological support to the coaching staff (coaches, fitness coaches, goalkeeping coaches, physiotherapists) as they negotiate the delicate task of encouraging and supervising the complex network of relationships involving individual players, the teams as a whole, the coaching staff, the Club, school and the parents.
  • To support and help the team with relationships, communication and collaboration.
  • To support the growth of each individual player in order to ensure the balanced development of the psychological, social and emotional capacities necessary for them to mature. This requires the team to closely analyse young players’ day-to-day activities (school and free time for those living at the residence) while mapping out action to be taken by liaising with the adult figures involved in the players’ lives. Meanwhile, the teams also set aside specific sessions to help welcome players and listen to and analyse personal or family situations, as well as engaging in ongoing dialogue with all relevant parties.
  • To develop talent by identifying methods, criteria and action plans, working in close collaboration with the youth academy’s Technical/Methodological Coordination Centre.
  • To raise the awareness among families of their responsibilities in educating their child about the realities of the highly competitive nature of sport.
  • To act as a bridge between schools and the youth academy by ensuring ongoing dialogue between school leaders, young players and their families (Dual Career).

Team-specific activities

Working in close collaboration with the Technical/Methodological Coordination Department, the educational psychology team has been able to identify and address the specific needs of the various coaching teams and their squads. It has focused on the following areas:

  • Grassroots: respect and exploring emotions
  • Giovanissimi Nazionali: communication and key emotions; managing anxiety
  • Allievi Lega Pro: focus and leadership
  • Allievi Nazionali: team spirit and self-awareness

In terms of grassroots activities, the 2015/2016 season saw the launch of two girls’ teams in the Pulcini category (classes of 2004-05 and 2006-07). With this important new step in mind, initiatives designed to promote respect in all its forms were further developed at grassroots level, in collaboration with the Pepita Association. The aim of this is to inform the children and young people of the importance of respect, with special emphasis placed on respect for women. In general terms, this is a value that will help them mature into young adults and, in an AC Milan-specific context, ensure that the men’s and women’s teams benefit one another as much as possible.

 

Evaluation of action and research projects

The Rossoneri youth academy works closely with the training and residence teams to hone the planning process and ensure players realise their potential. This also helps staff members to improve their self-evaluation skills.

Moreover, we have placed particular emphasis on research and development, working with Milan’s Catholic University of the Sacred Heart. The focus is on themes relating to educational and psychological aspects of particular relevance for our players’ growth as people and footballers.

The most significant initiatives of this kind in the 2015/2016 season include:

  • Research into the suitability of both qualitative (“Performance Profiling”) and quantitative tools and their application through experimentation and study, working with the competitive teams. As regards “Performance Profiling”, the objective of the investigation was to take the idea, which was first created by Richard J. Butler, and apply it to the competitive youth teams, describing the identification process for the various elements which make up the concept, all of which are personalised for the four sections of a football team. This has enabled us to encourage dialogue between the coach and players around different aspects of their performances and to promote a more direct, specific brand of communication in training.

Using these tools, the aim is to continue exploring the way young players perceive elements which help and/or hinder the development of their talent.

  • An investigation into women’s football at the AC Milan youth academy. The objective of this was to evaluate the structure of the women’s football department, which was launched in the 2015/2016 season. We wanted to hear more about the experiences of the young players, their parents and their coaches, while exploring the way women’s football is represented in Italy’s professional football system and identifying differences with the men’s game.

Staff training

In order to produce an integrated solution which meets the training needs of all the various areas of the youth academy, the educational psychology team worked closed with the Technical/Methodological Coordination Department to identify three key areas for further attention:

Adult identity in the youth academy

(setting objectives)

Training logic 

(training methods and styles)

Generating learning

(key learning theories)

Our training method alternates between academic-style sessions and moments of discussion and debate designed to promote the sharing of day-to-day experiences, thus combining theoretical and practical knowledge. This enables us to encourage a participative, shared approach to training rather than lecture-style, teacher-led sessions.

PARENT RELATIONS
It is vital that parents are involved in the process throughout the season, as regards both performances on the pitch and, more importantly, their child’s development. This creates a kind of educational pact between the various adult figures in the children’s lives. In order to achieve this, information and welcome meetings are held at the AC Milan youth academy, starting from grassroots level. End-of-season meetings and/or meetings at the end of the player’s stay with the youth academy are just as important in this process.
SCHOOL RELATIONS
The educational psychology team has worked tirelessly to strengthen ties between schools, families and football in recent years. These relationships have now blossomed into open channels for interaction and communication between all parties, whose common goal it is to provide a comprehensive education to young people. Ongoing relations with school institutions is a vital part of this.


Youth academy and social work

The 2015/2016 season again saw the youth academy’s competitive teams involved in a number of social initiatives. Both the educational psychology team and coaching staff were very keen to ensure the players were exposed to opportunities for development and education outside of the standard training model, in this case by meeting a range of people and integrating with other sections of society.

Giovanissimi Nazionali: The Special Onlus team, made up of 15-20 disabled children, was invited to visit the Vismara. The visitors mixed with the AC Milan players and were put through their paces with a proper training session including a series of exercises out on the pitches, followed by a friendly match and snack to finish. All of the players in the Giovanissimi Nazionali squad took part, tackling the various exercises together and building up strong relationships with the disabled children despite spending just a couple of hours together. The initiative was successful is letting the AC Milan players experience football from “another perspective”.

Allievi Nazionali: The team met around 16 youngsters from the "Lavoro di Squadra" [Team Work] project, organised by the Milan Foundation and ActionAid. After getting to know each other in the conference room, the players then had a joint training session. The aim of the initiative was to help the AC Milan players meet and get to know their peers, emphasising the importance of reciprocation and encouraging them to recognise the different contributions and experiences that every one of us brings to the table.

Allievi Lega Pro: The team and coaching staff met Emanuele Padoan from the Italy Amputee Team. The aim of this was not only to raise awareness and instil a culture of openness, understanding, respect and diversity within the players, but also to expose them to life experiences which will help them to mature as footballers and people.

Overview 
Educational psychology team members 13 + 2 supervisors
Training and residence team split 5 training, 8 residence
Team members by specialism (Psychology/Pedagogy/Foreign Languages) 5 psychology, 7 pedagogy, 1 foreign languages
Total number of meetings with players 450
   2014/2015 400
   2013/2014 660
Total number of meetings with technical staff/coaches 1 per week in each category
Total number of meetings with families Average of 1 per family
Number of university students/interns working with the educational psychology team 4
Number of staff training meetings 4
   2014/2015 5
   2013/2014 3



The Residence

The first floor of Quark Due Residence was refurbished six years ago to accommodate AC Milan’s youth-team players and the tutors that work with them throughout their stay in the academy.

The residence is the place where AC Milan provides accommodation and assistance to the young players aged 14-18 who come from outside Lombardy and other registered players who, for one reason or another, are required to use the facilities. The aim of the residence is to provide the right conditions to foster a young player’s development and support their football commitments. AC Milan is committed to supporting young players throughout their teens, by providing a safe, family-oriented environment, proper role models, and help and support with school work and football commitments. The player’s mental and physical wellbeing is always the priority.

The ability to build relationships is a fundamental part of creating a sense of trust between the coaches, those staying at the Residence and their families.

Forty players were housed in the Residence in the 2015/2016 season: two from the first team, 14 from the Primavera, 17 from the two professional Allievi sides (U17 and U16) and seven from the Under-15s.

Overview 
Players housed in the Residence 40
   2014/2015 42
   2013/2014 40
Interviews with educational staff 207
Hours of evening lessons between 320 and 400

Weeks at the Residence are timetabled to help the young players manage their study and football commitments and free time.

Days are broken down as follows between Monday and Friday:

  • Wake-up
  • School
  • Lunch
  • Training
  • Study/free time
  • Dinner
  • Study/free time

The weekend timetable factors in match commitments, meaning Saturday and Sunday are organised as follows:

  • Wake-up
  • Pre-match/lunch
  • Match
  • Study/free time
  • Dinner
  • Study/free time


 

Interview with Manuel Locatelli

Manuel Locatelli, mitfielder player*
08/01/1998, Lecco
How did your year at the Residence go?

I settled in really well. I met some people that I really bonded with and they were always there to help me. I knew when I moved into the residence that I’d meet people I could talk to, have a laugh with and rely on.

What was it like moving into the residence and what did you struggle with?

The decision to move to Milan and the residence, a long way from my family home, was something I had to do and involved making sacrifices. We all have ambitions in life though, and my dream was to play football, so that meant being willing to make this sacrifice now to avoid having regrets further down the line. I can now say it was the right decision. Had I opted against it, I wouldn’t have managed to achieve the important milestone of my high school diploma whilst being involved in the first-team squad and everything that goes with it.

What advice would you give your team-mates, be they your peers or younger players, to help them deal with this experience?

Listen to the tutors because if they say something it’s for your own good. I’d tell them to relax and not get hung up on what they’re leaving behind at home because you have to focus on training and not going out at night and simply having fun. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself at the residence but you have to strike the right balance. Some things are more important than others if your real aim is to make your dream come true.

What will you take away from this experience?

Greater independence. I’ve also learned how to get around Milan on public transport without getting lost and I’ve grown mentally and matured a great deal thanks to this experience.

* Manuel joined the AC Milan youth academy in 2008, aged 11. He made his first-team debut on 21/02/2016 at home against Carpi FC.

Educational activities for youngsters at the residence

The education and support that the youngsters receive at the residence is bolstered by a series of activities which have been specifically designed for those living at the facility. Listed below are four activities which clearly illustrate the work done in the 2015/2016 season.

 

Alimentare Watson EXPO 2015

On 7 September at EXPO 2015’s Palazzo Italia, a meeting was held which aimed to raise awareness on the importance of specific nutrition as a key component of effective competitive sporting performance. Players from the Primavera, Allievi Under-17s and Allievi Pro took part in Alimentare Watson EXPO 2015, an initiative run by the Bracco and Teatro alla Scala foundations. Besides the AC Milan academy players, there were also youth-team products from Sassuolo and students from the dance academy at La Scala.

After a word from Gianluca Vago, rector of Milan’s Università degli Studi, and Luisa Vinci, the managing director of the Accademia Teatro alla Scala foundation, it was time for the expert speakers. AC Milan’s head of medicine Dr Rodolfo Tavana spoke about the importance of hydration for athletes. Inter’s Dr Volpi, meanwhile, discussed diet for young athletes. Dr Luca Mordazzi from the Mapei Sport Research Centre argued the importance of vitamin D, while Dr Cazzola from the Università degli Studi spoke about essential fatty acids. Dr Benvenuto Cestano, also from the Università degli Studi, gave a speech on performance optimisation and Dr Omar De Bartolomeo discussed nutrition in relation to the performances of professional dancers.

There were also two special guest speakers in the shape of Ivan Ramiro Cordoba, a former Inter player, and Oriella Dorella, a former principal ballerina at La Scala who now serves as the director of the theatre’s Dance School. 

Storie di vita, storie di sport

“Storie di sport, storie di vita” was the name of a meeting held in February 2016 featuring Mediaset journalist Nando Sanvito. Sanvito has been driven by a love of investigative journalism ever since his formative years. He later combined this eagerness to learn with a career as a reporter. He analysed and read several case studies and told the life stories of numerous successful sports stars. The evening featured a handful of video documentaries on athletes and sports with a personal interpretation and commentary from the journalist on each story. The same question kept coming up throughout the evening: “Why is it that if the balance of power on the pitch is before our eyes, the result is not always a given and predictable?” That prompted a dialogue to explain how the life stories of the stars could serve as a lesson in the development of the youngsters at the residence. Thanks to straightforward language – video footage – and the enormity and dramatic nature of the human stories told in great detail, the youngsters reflected on sporting events and what it means to be a sportsman, before looking at whether fate or a higher power comes into it.

Eating like an athlete

Nutrition was a subject which was touched upon numerous times in the youth academy throughout the 2015/2016 season. These occasions included a workshop for the boys entitled “Eating like an athlete”. The players were split into five groups, with each of them focusing on a specific topic:

  • Group 1 – Hydration
    • Why is drinking important?
    • What, when and how much should we drink to hydrate?
  • Group 2 – Macro- and micronutrients
    • What are the main nutrients?
    • Which foods contain them?
    • When should they be consumed and during which meal?
    • What does it mean from a biological perspective?
  • Group 3 – Breakdown of daily meals:
    • Which meals should actually be consumed?
    • When?
    • Which is the most important meal and why?
  • Group 4 – A balanced meal
    • What does that mean?
    • What’s in it?
    • When should it be eaten?
    • Why is it important?
  • Group 5 – Diet in sport
    • How important is it?
    • What and how much should you eat before/during/after a match or training session?

Each group had the chance to consult the team of nutritionists who support the players throughout the season and were provided with slides to work on before answering the questions. At the end of the workshop, the groups came together to talk about the topic of diet in general.

#Care – A project to educate young people on respecting differences

#CARE stands for Conoscere (Get to know), Accogliere (Accommodate), Rispettare (Respect) and Educarsi alle differenze (Learn about differences). The #CARE project was run once again this season, with the focus on respecting women. The initiative took the form of workshops with all of the academy teams. 

GOING FORWARD
We want to get even better at developing new talent and promote the AC Milan model in order to create a virtuous cycle that sees our young players graduate to the Rossoneri first team. We are committed to being a benchmark for our youngsters and their families, supporting them every step of the way as they develop as individuals, on the pitch and in the classroom.