MLS, Belgium, France? Which are the best leagues for scouts?

Laurens sees an incredibly bright future for PSG's Zaire-Emery (2:08)

Julien Laurens discusses 17-year-old Warren Zaire-Emery's importance for Paris Saint-Germain, comparing him to Jude Bellingham at that age. (2:08)

There are so many soccer leagues around the world and so many games to watch, which prompts the question: how do the top clubs find the next generation of players to sign? You can't be everywhere at once, so here's a shortlist of some of the best countries for scouting young talent.

*All valuations and league data from Transfermarkt

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Top league: Jupiler Pro League
Teams: 16
Average age: 24.6
Foreign players: 58.7%
Market value: €943m

Five U21 players to watch

Arthur Vermeeren, 18, CM, (Antwerp, €25m)
Gift Orban, 21, ST, (Gent, €20m)
Antonio Nusa, 18, FW, (Club Brugge, €20m)
Bilal El Khannouss, 19, AM, (Genk, €18m)
Zeno Debast, 20, CB, (Anderlecht, €13m)

The Belgian league has positioned itself as a hub for transfer activity as, with the majority of professional clubs already owned (fully or partly) by foreign investors whose main interest is to benefit financially, young players tend to get more playing time.

Belgium's move towards becoming a showcase arena for up-and-coming talents has not been without controversy. Traditional top clubs such as Anderlecht and Club Brugge are still owned by locals and have outstanding academies. Yet, as a country that habitually develops players that are moved on for transfer profit, it's a vibrant destination for players of any nationality.


Top league: Superliga
Teams: 12
Average age: 25.1
Foreign players: 44.5%
Market value: €269m

Five U21 players to watch

Andreas Schjelderup, 19, FW, (FC Nordsjaelland, loan, €9m)
Adamo Nagalo, 21, CB, (FC Nordsjaelland, €5m)
Roony Bardghji, 18, FW (FC Copenhagen, €4m)
Elias Jelert, 20, RB, (FC Copenhagen, €3m)
Mathias Kvistgaarden, 21, ST, (Brondby, €3m)

Traditionally the strongest league of the Nordic countries, Denmark has seen a significant increase in interest from scouts over recent seasons. Germán teams have traditionally recruited well from Danish clubs, but while the country has long been respected for their excellent work at youth level, a large number of African players have also found their way to success via the Superliga.

This summer FC Nordsjaelland received a record €25m transfer fee as Ghana winger Ernest Nuamah moved to Lyon and there's plenty of interest in promising Burkina Faso centre-back Adamo Nagalo too. Elsewhere, Copenhagen's Sweden U21 sensation Roony Bardghji is attracting attention after he scored the winner against Manchester United in their recent Champions League group stage game.

Denmark's compact geography makes the country straightforward for travelling scouts and over the course of a weekend, most teams can be covered with no additional flights required.


Top league: Ligue 1
Teams: 18
Average age: 25.3
Foreign players: 58.8%
Market value: €3.7bn

Five U21 players to watch

Nuno Mendes, 21, LB, (PSG, €65m)
Warren Zaïre-Emery, 18, CM, (PSG, €50m)
Elye Wahi, 20, ST, (Lens, €40m)
Bradley Barcola, 21, FW, (PSG, €35m)
Rayan Cherki, 20, AM, (Lyon, €30m)

After it was mined by Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, among others, in the 1990s, France has arguably been the No. 1 destination for Premier League clubs over the past 20 years and is a source of talent that seemingly never dries up. Unlike other major European countries, there are also intriguing prospects to be found at the second and third-tier level (N'Golo Kanté and Riyad Mahrez to name two success stories.) Indeed, the gap in quality between the lower-half teams of Ligue 1 and the top sides of Ligue 2 isn't particularly wide.

The fast and furious nature of the French game means that a scout can be safe in the knowledge that a player who holds their own can thrive in other European leagues too. Similar to England, the sheer volume of well-schooled footballers that graduate from French academies also means that late bloomers or prematurely written off prospects can be unearthed at smaller sides or at the semi-professional level. All of that helps create opportunities for foreign clubs with less of a transfer budget.

Musiala reflects on 'crazy' development alongside Bellingham

Jamal Musiala speaks about the development of himself and Jude Bellingham since starring for England's youth teams.


Top league: Bundesliga
Teams: 18 | Average age: 25.9
Foreign players: 48.5% | Market value: €4.3bn

Five U21 players to watch

Jamal Musiala, 20, FW, (Bayern Munich, €110m)
Florian Wirtz, 20, AM, (Bayer Leverkusen, €85m)
Xavi Simons, 20, FW, (RB Leipzig, loan, €70m)
Mathys Tel, 18, ST, (Bayern Munich, €50m)
Piero Hincapié, 21, CB, (Bayer Leverkusen, €35m)

Some scouts may complain that the free-flowing style of football favours attacking players, which means they could struggle to make a similar impact elsewhere. But the quality of young talent on show is clear and a product of clever transfer acquisitions and good academy development. A number of world-class stars have made their names before moving on, such as Erling Haaland and Jude Bellingham.

The German Bundesliga certainly offers the best experience for a travelling scout. Getting to the matches is straightforward, even by public transport, and some clubs even prepare dedicated areas for guests, including pre- and postmatch meals, and parking if required. German clubs tend to treat scouts with professionalism, but such a warm welcome is not always to be taken for granted elsewhere in Europe.


Top league: Liga Portugal
Teams: 18
Average age: 25.8
Foreign players: 59.8%
Market value: €1.3bn

Five U21 players to watch

António Silva, 20, CB, (Benfica, €45m)
Ousmane Diomande, 19, CB, (Sporting CP, €35m)
João Neves, 19, CM, (Benfica, €20m)
Iván Fresneda, 19, RB, (Sporting CP, €15m)
Gabriel Veron, 21, FW, (FC Porto, €11m)

An established exporter of world-class talent, Portugal is a veritable haven for scouting. The best young players from the academies of Benfica, FC Porto and Sporting CP usually end up at the powerhouses of European football (such as João Félix, Fabio Vieira and Cristiano Ronaldo) and they are also adept at signing youngsters from afar and moving them on for huge profit (such as Enzo Fernández, Luiz Diaz and Manuel Ugarte.)

But you have to go deeper than the traditional top clubs and, right now, the tremendous influx of Brazilian players -- with usually more than 200 playing at professional level due to similarities in language and culture -- may present interesting opportunities. Indeed, for the 15 other current clubs in Portugal, six have broken their transfer record to sign a player from Brazil.

But it doesn't stop with Brazilians: Bayer Leverkusen's brilliant Burkina Faso centre-back Edmond Tapsoba made his entry into European football through a small Portuguese club, as did PSG midfielder Ugarte. It's arguably the best place to find a bargain.


Top league: Primera División
Teams: 28
Average age: 26.8
Foreign players: 15.9%
Market value: €897m

Five U21 players to watch

Valentín Barco, 20, LB, (Boca Juniors, €10m)
Cristian Medina, 21, CM, (Boca Juniors, €8.5m)
Agustín Giay, 19, RB, (San Lorenzo, €8m)
Federico Redondo, 20, CM, (Argentinos Juniors, €8m)
Ezequiel Fernández, 21, CM, (Boca Juniors, €8m)

With 18 professional clubs across the various tiers, Argentina's capital Buenos Aires is a much-loved destination for fans and scouts alike. And, once there, the impression is that there's a football match on all the time. The rivalry of Boca Juniors vs. River Plate is legendary for its passion, while the clubs' academies have brought through the likes of Carlos Tevez, Juan Román Riquelme, Javier Mascherano and Pablo Aimar in recent years.

Proud of their culture, Argentina's league has more local talent than most and not many foreign stars. A scout's visit to the training ground can turn into a tour of the whole club -- don't be surprised if the head coach appears at the end of the session to offer an explanatory talk on tactics, working practices or life itself.

Argentina's top-tier games make for an intriguing spectacle as most teams tend to attack in waves, while individual actions are encouraged to a larger extent than in Europe. There is also an U20 game played between the two sides beforehand at the same stadium, as a prelude to the main fixture, making it the perfect "double header" for scouts.

Has Endrick's Brazil call-up come too early?

Gab Marcotti & Julien Laurens discuss Brazilian youngster Endrick's selection for his national team ahead of their game against Columbia.


Top league: Campeonato Brasileiro Série A
Teams: 20
Average age: 27
Foreign players: 18%
Market value: €1.4bn

Five U21 players to watch

Endrick, 17, ST, (Palmeiras, €72m)
Vitor Roque, 17, ST, (Athletico Paranaense, €40m)
Marcos Leonardo, 20, FW, (Santos, €17m)
Pablo Maia, CM, (Sao Paulo, €7m)
John Kennedy, 21, ST, (Fluminense, €4m)

A visit to the world's fifth-largest country (by size) requires significant preparation. With high-performing clubs and academies located from Recife in the north, to Porto Alegre in the south -- a five-hour flight -- and Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in the middle, the most sensible way to embark on a scouting mission is to pinpoint a specific region and leave any specifics to local stringers.

But the potential rewards from dedicating time and resources to Brazil is not to be underestimated. The depth of talent is arguably unparalleled and there are plenty of options whether you stick with recognised clubs and academies, or look through lower division sides, state championships or privately run academies outside the official FA ladder.

Brazil is a fertile place that cultivates plenty of teenage talent -- even in places where technology, analytics and video streams have yet to provide much assistance -- and Portuguese and Spanish clubs in particular have taken advantage in recent years.

Endrick (€72m, Real Madrid) and Vitor Roque (€40m, Barcelona) are two youngsters who will be leaving when they turn 18 next year, after world-class players like Neymar, Vinícius Júnior, Casemiro and Rodrygo trod a well-worn path before them.


Top league: Major League Soccer
Teams: 29
Average age: 26.3
Foreign players: 57.7%
Market value: €1.3bn

Five U21 players to watch

Talles Magno, 21, FW, (NYCFC, €12m)
Alan Velasco, 21, FW, (FC Dallas, €7m)
Stipe Biuk, 20, FW, (LAFC, €6.5m)
Cade Cowell, 20, FW, (San Jose Earthquakes, €5m)
Facundo Farías, 20, AM, (Inter Miami, €5m)

With outstanding facilities, seats and hospitality, the MLS scouting experience can be likened to that of Germany. On the footballing side, the open style of play gets the best out of MLS' attacking flair players, while defenders can show their skills in numerous one-vs.-one situations.

MLS has recently beaten European clubs to the signing of some top South American talent, especially from Argentina and Colombia, such as Facundo Farías, Fernando Álvarez and Julián Fernández. The 36-year-old Lionel Messi's arrival has given the league a sparkle, but for scouts it's predominantly the American (Tyler Adams, NY Red Bulls to RB Leipzig) and Canadian (Alphonso Davies, Vancouver to Bayern) prospects that make the league a fruitful destination.