I was reading the excellent book Thirty-One Nil, and this quote by Edson Taveres, the former Haiti National Team coach caught my eye:
"I have never seen a country with so many talents like here. Players of 14 years old here, if you put them in Manchester United and Barcelona, they would be a great player. The problem is to be a great player you need to have good food, a good environment, good training, good doctors. So here there is nothing."
It got me thinking that Taveres might well have a point. Talent can be found everywhere, but without the infrastructure in place to nurture it, that talent will never be realised. I began to think about it in FM terms. In FM, there is certain infrastructure that you can change. Through building up a club in a nation, you can improve the training facilities, the youth facilities, the level of junior coaching, and the reputation of football in the country (all things that have an impact on the quality of youth player coming through your club). However, certain things are hardcoded, and thus cannot be changed throughout a game. These include:
Nation Youth Level
How Developed the Country is (Developed, Developing or a Third World State)
The Economic Factor
FA Economic Power
I wondered how these hardcoded elements played into the level of quality that a youth intake in a certain country would see. Just how important are each of these factors in determining the quality of players that come through a nation? I decided to run a little experiment to put it to the test.
I've got an affinity to San Marino, so I decided to run the tests in the Sammarinese League structure made by the excellent @claassen. This also meant that the players would be coming from a country with a small population, so we'd also be able to check whether population was a major hindrance on the quality of player coming through.
Just like in any science lesson, we needed a 'control' set to be able to compare our results to. To set up the control, here's what I did:
All 15 clubs in the country were given a reputation of 2000/10000
Every club was given 10 for Training and Youth Facilities, Youth Recruitment, Junior Coaching, and Corporate Facilities
San Marino's Nation Youth Rating was set to 80/200
San Marino was listed as a Third World State
They were given a 1/20 for Economic Factor and FA Financial Power
I took control of all 15 clubs, and decided to run 50 simulations of youth intake day. 15 clubs * 16 players * 50 simulations = 12,000 players per test. Is this enough to draw any foolproof conclusions? Absolutely not. However, it should be enough to showcase any obvious trends.
In the end, I tested 5 different scenarios. They were:
The control test
Bumped the Economic Factor and the FA Financial Power up to 20/20
Set San Marino to be a 'Developed State'
Set the Youth Rating to 163/200 - as this is the highest youth rating in the database (Brazil) it made sense to choose this, rather than a 200/200
Set the Game Importance to 'Very Important'.
Everything else in each test remained the same as the control test - it was important to only change the variables that we were testing for so we could prove a correlation.
Each scenario was ran for 50 simulations, meaning 12,000 players in each test. I decided to track how many times a player with a PA over 120 was generated, as 120 is - to me, at least - the very baseline for a player to become a full international for a decent country. As an example of what I was tracking, here's a barchart for the control test's findings:
Barcharts are nice, but to show how each scenario performed in relation to each other, I made this graph instead:
I knew that Youth Rating would have a major impact on the PA of players coming through, but I didn't expect it to be so conclusively the most important hardcoded factor. In all the tests, we had a similar number of 120-129 PA players, but every single scenario in which the Youth Rating was 80 failed to produce a single player with a PA of 170+ (which we could consider a 'star' player) - except for one solitary player when the Game Importance was set to 'Very Important'. However, looking at the general trend of the Very Important Game Importance, there is no real discernible difference to the other scenarios, and so we can likely chalk this up to a fluke occurrence.
What does this all mean?
Well, I'm not going to say anything has been decisively proven, because there are a myriad of factors that go into the quality of player produced by a nation. Instead, I think that it's safe to say that, out of all the hardcoded factors, the Nation Youth Rating is the major factor when it comes to determining the quality of player that is produced by a nation.
Note - this is not the same as saying Nation Youth Rating is the most important factor entirely! Edson Taveres' argument makes sense - without the infrastructure to develop the players, their quality is irrelevant. Things such as Training and Youth Facilities, Junior Coaching, Youth Recruitment, and Club and Nation Reputation will have a huge impact on the quality of player coming through your club. However...
A very popular type of save over on the FM Career Updates forum has been a 'Youth Only' challenge, in which the player picks a smaller, more obscure nation, and tries to win the Champions League and have international success with players produced purely through your academy. San Marino and Gibraltar are two of the more popular nations to try this challenge in, but are (unsurprisingly) extremely difficult. I wanted to know of some smaller nations that somebody could try this challenge with, but a nation that had the potential to lend itself to great success.
Now that we know that Nation Youth Rating is really the only factor likely to make a monumental difference, what would be a good country to choose and try to carry out a 'road to glory' style save with? Let's take a look continent by continent, starting with the only two continents to ever produce a World Cup Winner....
San Marino and Gibraltar are two of the more popular destinations, but with the two lowest Youth Ratings in the continent are only recommended for the extremely hardcore!
Turkey are surprisingly high on the list, with a Youth Rating at 124/200 - ahead of Holland and England!
Serbia have a Youth Rating of 100, and have a history of producing some very talented players. Croatia are just behind at 98 - maybe you want to see if you can go one better than they did in 2018?
To be honest, there aren't many European nations who aren't suited to this kind of save. Every country would have the potential to make a splash on the international scene if managed correctly - even San Marino, as demonstrated here by @Makoto Nakamura:
Venezuela has to be the choice here. The only South American nation to never qualify for a World Cup, it's a country in turmoil right now. They could really do with a successful football team to unite the country and find something to celebrate.
Honduras, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada and Cuba are the nations with the highest potential behind the 'big two' of America and Mexico. However, there's talent in El Salvador and Haiti, two countries that are maybe slightly less developed away from football.
Almost certainly the weakest continent in football, anybody who could take an Oceanian team to international glory would go down in history. New Zealand are the strongest team in the continent, but the Solomon Islands and Tahiti aren't too bad, either.
When Taveres spoke about the talent not having the infrastructure to develop, he almost certainly could have had Africa in mind. Egypt, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Algeria and DR Congo all have a Youth Rating of over 100. Sudan are probably the most surprising country high on the list, with a Youth Rating of 74. If anybody was interested in taking an African team to international glory, there's an absolute plethora of choices. You just need to sort out the infrastructure
Not a country known for prominence in football, there's nonetheless a lot of talent here. Japan and South Korea unsurprisingly lead the way, but what is surprising is that Jordan, Iraq and Iran are all only just behind them. India and Bahrain are also high up, and who could resist the chance to take Syria to World Cup glory?
The point of this post was first to share my findings from the 'experiment', but also to give an indication of which nations could become real international forces in FM with some development (or an excellent place to scout for players...). If anybody is interested in seeing the full list of every country on FM with their hardcoded features (including Youth Rating), I've included the spreadsheet I created as a file on this post. I'd seriously recommend a save where you try and take one of the countries on the list to international glory - it's a lot of fun! And if you are tempted by such a save, it's worth checking out the FM Career Updates forum, where people often try similar saves.
Copy of FM Youth Ratings(2415).xlsx