Football is becoming more and more youthful and the money to attract young talent is flying. Kylian Mbappe for 142 million euros or Ousmane Dembele for more than 100 million euros are the most extreme examples. On the other hand players such as Toni Kroos or Leonardo Bonucci leave for less than 50 million euros.
This difference can be explained by the fact that buying a young player is a long-term investment. But it is still a very big price difference when we see what a mature player can bring to a squad. Looking at big clubs such as Real Madrid, Juventus Turin or Chelsea demonstrate that young players are not really the key to win important trophies.
Here we will try to measure the importance and influence of players age and strategies behind on team performances in Premier League.
Before going deep, first let see how clubs handle with age distribution
The figure above show that there are no outlying teams, with a fair distribution between young and old players. Nevertheless, top clubs (first part of leaderboard) have much more young player than second part table teams. On the contrary, clubs in bottom of leaderboard have in overall more older players.
It’s not a surprising fact: big clubs such as Chelsea, Manchester United or Tottenham are well known for their academy which enrols a lot of young players thanks to their high level structure development (and thanks to money).
What is more difficult to see here is the difference between big clubs and other teams : top clubs have fewer players – 25 in average – when other clubs have more than 30 players. We already saw this fact in this piece: best clubs (all around the Europe) used to have a low rotation squad rate.
Using young players
If we look more deeper we can find good insight. Here is a figure showing minutes played for each age range.
It’s interesting to looking at minuted played by age instead of just counting players in each age range. First thing here is Chelsea who give fewer minutes for young players. In the same way, The Blues don’t use so much older, experienced players. If we compare them with other top clubs, we can see that it was maybe a key for Chelsea Premier League 2016-17 title.
Another interesting thing is the kind of correlation in first part of the table between minutes played by young players and leaderboard position (from Liverpool to Southampton). Lacking of good players in some part of these teams don’t let the choice to play with young talent, who are sometimes near the high level and so who claim to be part of first team (Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial are good examples).
Fact that teams in second part of table don’t use their young players could be explain by the quality of their youth academy: young talents stolen by other big clubs or not able to have the level required to play in first team.
Figure below show the average number of goals per 90 minutes for each age range. Manchester City have really good young players, Gabriel Jesus the prime example, confirming the good management from Pep Guardiola in term of recruitment and youth development.
We can see that Arsenal and Everton are good in this one because their young players are more attacking than defensive ones.
The last figure below is a kind of statistical liar, so take it for what it’s worth.
Indeed, we showed above that Chelsea don’t use their young players, but if we calculate the average number of assists per 90 minutes we see that is about 0.31 (which is the best rate of the league) for Chelsea young players. In fact – looking at data – Nathaniel Chalobah (159 minutes), Kurt Zouma (247 minutes), Nathan Ake (98 minutes), who are more defensive player delivered one assists each.
It’s the same case in West Bromwich: for example, Jonathan Leko has 0.81 assist per 90 because he played 111 minutes and delivered only one assist. For an 18 year old man it is a good thing but it doesn’t show that West Bromwich have terrific young players.
There is even some good insights here: looking at Viktor Fischer for Middlesbrough with 3 assist in 439 minutes (0,62 assists per 90) show that there are some teams are able to attract talent, it’s another question if they can do keep them.
While teams have a good balance in terms of age distribution, there are a lot of different strategies build on it. Top clubs which attract the best talents reach to deal with them and to gain from their skills. In the other hand, lower level squads have some difficulties to play with young players, too concentrate to keep a stable level during all the season or not able to have enough good young players able to play in first team.
Looking at the Premier League last champion show that young player are not necessarily a key for win the title. It’s all about development strategies, putting in opposition clubs like Manchester City, with a focus on youth development and so long term strategy against club like Chelsea with young players leave in loan or on the bench, buying confirmed players instead.
This piece focused on the Premier League, but the conclusions we came up with might be different for other leagues, maybe one for a future article.
The data used here are from WhoScored.