The Saints - often been derided for not focusing enough on player development – are putting serious resources into their new academy.

And they plan to use the European champions’ much vaunted youth development system for much of their inspiration.

London club West Ham – long known for their top-class development structure – is another club the Saints plan to look at.

St Kilda also plan to unearth more teenage talent on foreign shores through international scholarship schemes.

"In the early stages, it will be to borrow ideas and examples from overseas models,” the club’s head of football Chris Pelchen told The Age newspaper this week.

''That's what it will be from an operational and structural sense. But, certainly, the potential for our players to go over and actually spend time at these academies is something that is very much part of our thinking.”

The link could even be extended to a tactical level, said Pelchen.

Barcelona press teams with stunning effectiveness across the park. The Saints now believe they maybe able to learn from that and take it into their form of football.

"While off-field, sports have tended to concentrate on fitness or a sports science base where we can share ideas,” he said.

“And even tactically where you look at defensive presses and things like that in basketball and soccer - and we have certainly started to branch out into that influence on our game - we believe the next stage of development is really to look at overseas clubs, particularly [football], but all sports, at how they develop their own players from a very early age.”

It’s not the first time AFL clubs have looked to world football to provide a competitive edge.

Legendary former Collingwood coach Mick Malthouse spent a couple of days at Manchester United with one of football’s great man-managers in Sir Alex Ferguson.

The AFL luminary said he learnt more in 48 hours with the Scotsman than in six months of viewing tapes of AFL footy.

"I asked him about the success of the side [Man United] over a period of time and he said: 'If they (your players) haven't won a title for you by 30, they're not going to do it by 31'.

“What he's referring to there is, if you've looked at that player for so many years is he really going to get better? Is he going to add value to your list?" Malthouse told the Herald Sun in 2010.

Malthouse cited Magpie star Alan Didak as an example of football’s importance in certain areas of Aussie Rules.

"Australian rules footballers do take a wide arc with the football (but) he's able to twist and virtually go back in a different direction," said Didak. "And a lot of his background has been built on soccer.

"His father played soccer so he grew up playing soccer. So even that little thing there is a major plus for him."

Malthouse has also spent time with Melbourne Heart coach John van’t Schip (Malthouse’s manager Peter Sidwell is an owner at the A-League club).

The former Premiership winner with the Magpies has also noted aspects such as manipulation of space and emphasis on possession were now important tactical aspects in AFL footy.

"You've got to acknowledge the strengths of all other codes - and I call it cross-pollination - to get the best to make your game the best,” Malthouse said.

"If you don't acknowledge other sports you've got your head in the sand"

Not to be outdone, in 2006, the Sydney Swans medical and conditioning staff made a secret trip to Italy to learn more about AC Milan’s injury prevention techniques – rated some of the best in the world.

At great cost, the Swans visited Milanello at a time when Socceroo keeper Zeljko Kalac was playing for the Italian club.

The information was said to be invaluable in keeping the Swans’ key players fit for a gruelling season of footy.

"The club came to me and asked me about them and they were a little bit skeptical at the beginning," Kalac told The Australian at the time

"They hadn't heard of the Swans and I told them they were in the AFL in Australia, one of the biggest clubs and they had won the championship.

"They don't really like people coming in here and seeing what they do and they probably have their own top secrets. They probably didn't show the boys from the Swans everything, because we have this system and it is our advantage on other clubs."

'Spider' added at the time: "It is great to see the two codes interacting like this and if it can benefit players it is great.”

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