With the new season just around the corner, how much do you remember about last season's Premier League. Oh, well then you're going to do badly...
When sacking Roberto Mancini in May, Manchester City inadvertently brought a new term into football's clichéd lexicon. In their statement following the announcement of the Italian's departure, the club's decision was explained by the need to 'develop a holistic approach to all aspects of football and the club'.
After the initial scoffing, it soon became apparent to what exactly Khadoon Al Mubarak was referring. Under Mancini, the club's youth system had largely been ignored, leading to different elements of the club pulling in different directions. To resort back to a more typical cliché, City felt like a club without an all-encompassing philosophy, the manager over-prioritising short-term gains at the expense of long-term progression.
When managers change so frequently and suffer from an inherent lack of patience and job security, it seems harsh to expect them to hold the long-term future of the club at heart. However, with the introduction of FFP regulations, a club owner is now forced to consider sustainability. An investment and display of trust in youth is the most obvious way to achieving stability, and the fact remained that during Mancini's four years at the Etihad, no player had truly progressed from the club's academy. Even Micah Richards, the only man meriting possible inclusion, had fallen out of favour. Instead, £305m had been spent on transfers.
While City's statement seemed bizarre at the time, it merely reflected the behaviour of other clubs around Europe who are catering for the future through two distinct methods - developing their own or buying them early.
When buying players at a younger age (before their peak), and therefore for a lower fee, clubs clearly take on the appropriate risks of a player failing to reach their potential (and therefore justifying outlay), but these fears can be allayed by a reliable and detailed scouting network. Furthermore, as FFP begins to bite, the presence of younger players is crucial given the potential for sell-on value. For those without bottomless pockets, the more players brought through an academy, the fewer that need to be bought.
Across Europe, clubs with intentions to be the biggest and best in a decade's time are all following this blueprint. Both of the players signed by Bayern Munich (Thiago Alcantara and Mario Gotze) this summer are 22 years old, as Pep Guardiola looks to lay expensive foundations. Meanwhile, fellow Champions League finalists Dortmund will start Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan against Napoli on Wednesday evening, both recruited at the age of 24 this summer. The £35million investment on the pair was almost covered by the sale of Gotze to Bayern, whilst three more players graduated into the first team from the reserves in June - all aged 20 or under.
In France too, a similar picture emerges. Paris St Germain may have spent £56m on Edinson Cavani (26), but Lucas Digne and Marquinhos (both 19) were also notable additions, adding to a squad that includes Marco Verratti (20) and Lucas Moura (21) amongst its most valuable members. Monaco may have Russian billions, but eight of the 14 players used in their league fixture on Sunday were aged 22 or under. Experience was brought in to the principality, but the arrivals of James Rodriguez (21) and Geoffrey Kondogbia (20) are the pointers towards a more settled future.
Even at the Santiago Bernabeu, so often home to transfer nonsense and lack of cohesion, a long-term future seems to have been prioritised over short-term individuality. Their entrances may have contained enough guffery and flashing lights to continue the Galactico mindset, but Gareth Bale (24), Isco (21), Daniel Carvajal (21), Asier Illaramendi (23) and Casemiro (21) can all be considered signings for the future as well as the present. Zinedine Zidane, David Beckham, Kaka and Luis Figo were all high-profile signings aged 27 or older - there has been a deliberate shift in ethos in Madrid too. Barcelona may have only bought one player this summer, but in Neymar it is obvious that the principle of future planning still stands up.
If it seems that the biggest clubs competing for the Champions League have altered their approach, those operating slightly lower on the food chain also have a role to play. Here, the savviest clubs plough money into academy structures to create an almost no-lose scenario. Developed talent performs sufficiently well to ensure qualification for Europe's premier trophy before being sold on for a high price, thus enabling further investment on both coaching, the academy and more established players. If some of this academy talent can be persuaded to stay for significant salaries and suitable fan adoration, then all's well.
Take Chelsea's Group E opponents Schalke 04, for example, who have invested significantly in an academy that is consistently raising the revenue for its own improvement. Mesut Ozil, Manuel Neuer and Christopher Metzelder are just three notable graduates, and current darling Julian Draxler has a new €45million minimum release fee that Real Madrid and Arsenal are reportedly prepared to meet, with Max Meyer and Leon Goretzka other notable recent additions to the first-team sqaud. Using such a strategy, Schalke have finished in the top four of the Bundesliga more times than anyone but Bayern Munich since 2000, and yet have only twice ever spent more than £20m in one season on transfers. Having reached the Champions League semi-finals in 2011 and quarters in 2008, that's some achievement.
Also beginning their Champions League campaign tonight are Ajax, for whom the figures are frankly bloody ridiculous. The club's youth system is world famous but the numbers are worth repeating - of the 14 players used during their Eredivisie game at the weekend, 11 were 24 or under. Even more strikingly, of the 47 players in the club's first and reserve teams, just one (former Liverpool midfielder Christian Poulsen) is over 27. That is absurd.
It will probably not cause a great deal of shock, however, to learn that English clubs seem not to have received the memo. Chelsea, who are favourites to qualify with Schalke from Group E, have perhaps come closest to long-term thinking with the purchases of Willian (24), Andre Schurrle (22) and Marco Van Ginkel (20). However, given that Willian and Schurrle operate in similar positions to Eden Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata, chances may be limited, thus negating the opportunity for re-sale at profit. Moreover, excluding the triumvirate of joy from a likely starting side and Chelsea are left with Cech, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Cole, Lampard, Ramires and Torres. Of these eight, six are 29 or above.
For Arsenal, Mesut Ozil was a dreamy purchase (and just 24), but in the two years previously Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski, Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker were all bought for more than £10m, and all aged 26 or above. Arsenal do buy youth products (and are famed for doing so), but these are generally in the hope that they can progress rather than to create a spine of young players that have already reached a high level of performance, as in the case of those clubs above.
And what of Manchester City under Manuel Pellegrini, the man tasked with taking forward the 'holistic approach'? This summer, City spent £102million, of which just under £80m was on Fernandinho, Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo and Martin Demichelis. All were over 26 years of age. Vive la difference, and all that.
So if Premier League clubs aren't buying young, where are the academy graduates? Of the 33 players to start for last season's top three last weekend, only John Terry came through the academy of that club and that was 15 years ago. In Germany, that total stands at nine, with five more as substitutes. Whether it is the fear of risking young players on the biggest stages or a wilful resistance to paying larger fees for mere potential, as opposed to proven talent, England's elite have operated in a different manner to their European counterparts. All begin their Champions League campaigns with squads that rather stand out against the rest of Europe's elite.
Whilst European teams seem to be building for the future, either through academies, buying players young, or both, English teams just aren't. I know far more about English teams than French or German clubs, so how come I know the next big thing in those leagues but not our own? Logically, buying established players only works in the long term if a club is also bringing through youth talent of its own. That such a scenario is so obviously not occurring in the Premier League demonstrates the short-termism of our biggest clubs, certainly in comparison with those abroad. Such a lack of sustainability surely only ends one way?
Daniel Storey - you can follow him on Twitter here