ECA has today published the "Early International Migration of Youth Players in Europe and their career paths (2011-2022)" - a report which explores the complex realm of underage football player transfers providing invaluable insights into the key dynamics.

ECA’s extensive research takes an in-depth look at the international transfers of underage football players from 2011 to 2022 under the current regulations on the status and transfer of players. 

ECA Football Development Manager, Pouya Yaghoubinia said:

"This report is shedding light on the intricate world of youth player migration in European football. It is a valuable resource for our clubs, enabling them to adapt and thrive in this ever-evolving landscape."

As we publicly unveil this in-depth research, several key elements come to the fore:

  • Geographical Flows of Minors: The study examines the geographical dynamics of international flows of underage players, both before and after the implementation of Brexit. It highlights key countries involved in the global transfer of minor players.
  • Brexit Impact: The study reveals a "replacement effect" following the enactment of the Brexit agreement, leading to British clubs no longer being authorised to recruit underage players from outside the United Kingdom.
  • Career Trajectories: The research delves into the career trajectories of over 1,200 players who went abroad before the age of 18 to teams at higher sporting levels.
  • Return Migration and Success Abroad: A majority of players who left as minors for higher-level teams returned home before the age of 23 to launch or relaunch their professional careers. The study suggests that early departure abroad does not guarantee success in sporting terms for either the recruiting clubs or the recruited players.
  • Numbers and Origins: The research presents numerical data on exceptions granted for international transfers of underage players to clubs who are part of national associations that are part of the EU/EEA.
  • Destinations: English and Italian clubs are highlighted as the major importers of underage players, with Germany following behind. A geographical concentration is observed in the recruitment of underage players, with certain associations being more active than others.
  • Networks and Routes: The study explores migration routes for underage players, with Ireland to England being the main route. Networks of ‘incoming’ associations are discussed, with England and Italy being significant receivers of minors.
  • Clubs and Balances: A higher concentration of incomings compared to outgoings is observed, with only a few associations having a positive balance between arrivals and departures.
  • Sporting Level and Clubs: A sporting perspective is presented, indicating that most underage players join teams of a higher level when they move abroad (almost 3/4 of cases).
  • Assessing Career Success: This part of the research analyses the career trajectories of players who were granted exceptions by FIFA to move abroad as minors between 2011 and 2017. The goal is to assess the level of career success for these players, measuring factors such as their involvement in official games, national team appearances, and the sporting level of their employing clubs.
  • Methodology and Sample Selection: The study selects a sample of 1,223 players who joined a club at a higher sporting level than their club of departure. These players are analysed based on their participation in matches for various club and national teams.
  • Limited Impact on Recruiting Clubs: The analysis reveals that while a significant proportion of players who migrated as minors to higher-level teams played in professional leagues up to the age of 23, the majority did not play extensively for their recruiting clubs' first teams.
  • International Experience: The research examines the percentage of players who gained international experience by playing in European competitions (UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, UEFA Conference League) and for Under-21 or senior national teams.
  • Varied Levels of Success: The study highlights the variability in career success among players who migrated as minors. The proportion of players who played for Under-21 national teams varies across different associations, showing that early migration does not guarantee success in sporting terms.
  • Sporting Level Changes: The research observes changes in the sporting level of clubs employing underage football migrants. While players initially experience a significant increase in the sporting level after migration, there is a subsequent negative rebound.
  • Return Migrants and Difficulties Abroad: The analysis reveals that a majority of footballers who migrated as minors eventually return to clubs in their association of origin. Around 54% of players played in the professional leagues of their home association after migration, and 83.1% of players who didn't have a professional club at age 23 returned to their home association. The study highlights the difficulties players encounter in establishing themselves abroad.


The "Early International Migration of Youth Players in Europe and their career paths (2011-2022)" report will provide clubs with invaluable knowledge and help them to navigate the dynamic world of youth player transfers.