The 24th edition of the CIES Football Observatory Monthly Report studies the demographic evolution of the big-5 European leagues since the 2009/10 season. The analysis focuses on the percentages of domestic league minutes played by four categories of players: club-trained, under 21s, expatriates and recent arrivals.
Club-trained players are footballers who have been for at least three seasons between the ages of 15 and 21 in their employer club. The category of players under 21 years of age includes footballers who have not yet celebrated their 22nd birthday when the matches were played. Expatriates are footballers playing in a club situated outside the association where they grew up. Recent arrivals comprise the footballers present for less than one year in the first team of their employer club.
The data presented refers to the six months preceding the date of reference. For example, the values for the 1st January 2010 refer to the domestic league matches played between the 1st July and the 31st December 2009.
Since the 2009/10 season, the fielding of club-trained players in the five major European leagues has remained relatively stable at around 15% of minutes. The highest percentage of minutes played by this category of footballers was measured between February and August 2011: 17.5%. At the other end of the scale, the lowest value was recorded between June and December 2015: 12.9%. For the most recent data gathered (13 March 2017), the percentage was 14.0%.
At the start of the period analysed, the championship in which teams were the most reticent to field club-trained players was the Italian Serie A (5.5% of minutes). At present, it is in the English Premier League where this category of footballers has the least amount of playing time (6.1%). On the other hand, the Spanish Liga (21.6%) and the French Ligue 1 (20.6%) account for the highest values.
In terms of change, the biggest drop was observed in England. After having reached its maximum in August 2011 (13.6%), the percentage of minutes played by club-trained footballers in the Premier League has decreased steadily up until the present time (6.1%). Among the other championships studied, the only one where the current level is significantly above that measured at the start of the period taken into account is the Italian Serie A.
Figure 1: % of minutes played by club-trained footballers (January 2010-March 2017)
The analysis of maximum and minimum values per club illustrates the variety of possible cases. At Real Sociedad, between May and November 2012, club-trained footballers played 71.5% of domestic league minutes. The same value was measured about two years previously in another Basque club, Athletic Club Bilbao. Several other well performing teams rank among the clubs who have had the most confidence in players from their youth academy: notably Lyon, Barcelona, Arsenal and Bayern Munich.
None of the teams in the top ten were relegated at the end of the season during which the maximum value was observed. On the other hand, several teams among those who were least inclined to use their academy players were relegated during the season analysed. This result shows that neglecting player training represents a considerable danger from a sporting perspective. This also applies to clubs in the world’s wealthiest competitions.
Figure 2: % of minutes by club-trained players, maximum and minimum values per team* At the end of the season
3. Youth employment
The analysis of the fielding of players under 21 years of age also illustrates the existence of very different approaches. At big-5 league level, the percentage of U21 minutes has slightly increased during the period taken into account: from 9.9 to 11.0%. The lowest value was measured in November 2012 (9.1%), while the maximum level was reached in December 2013 (11.9%).
The employment level of young players varies considerably according to league. Similarly, developments sometimes take different courses. During the period studied, the French Ligue 1 overtook the German Bundesliga to become the competition where teams have the most confidence in U21 players. At the other extreme, the English Premier League overtook the Italian Serie A as the league in which U21 footballers have the least amount of playing time. The percentage in the Spanish Liga has remained stable at around 10% of minutes.
During the last six months, the percentage of domestic league minutes played by U21 footballers was 5.2% for the Premier League, 10.1% for the Serie A, 11.1% in the Liga, 13.3% in the Bundesliga and 15.7% in Ligue 1. In England, the current value is very close to the record low measured in August 2013. In Italy, however, the record measured in January 2017 could be beaten again by the end of the season.
Figure 3: % of minutes by U21 players (January 2010-March 2017)
German and French clubs dominate the top 10 for teams where U21 footballers have played the greatest percentage of minutes. Generally speaking, the rank obtained by these teams during the season when the record was measured was clearly better than that of clubs who did not field U21 players. Fourteen of the 17 teams in the latter case were relegated at the end of the season. This finding shows that the use of youth players is anything but a handicap.
Figure 4: % of minutes by U21 players, maximum and minimum values per team* At the end of the season
At the level of the big-5 European leagues, between the beginning and the end of the period taken into account, the percentage of minutes played by expatriate footballers increased from 44.4% to 48.2%. However, from January 2010 to the end of 2011, a drop was noted. The trend was subsequently inversed. A new record was measured in January 2017: 48.7%. If the trend continues, the percentage of minutes for players imported from abroad will in the near future top the symbolic 50% threshold.
Today, expatriates already represent more than half of the players fielded in the English Premier League and the Italian Serie A. In the two cases, we are close to record values. The Serie A also differentiates itself from other leagues with regard to the extent of the increase measured since the 2009/10 season. On the other hand, the German Bundesliga is the only championship where the current value is lower than that recorded on the 1st January 2010.
Figure 5: % of minutes by expatriate players (January 2010-March 2017)
The percentage of expatriates varies greatly according to club. At one extreme, at the start of the current season, expatriates played 98.9% of minutes at Udinese. At the other end of the spectrum, this percentage was only 7.0% at St. Pauli between September 2010 and February 2011. Though the quasi exclusive use of expatriates does not lead to success, with the exception of Athletic Club Bilbao, the almost total absence of this category of players seems to be somewhat of a handicap.
Figure 6: % of minutes by expatriate players, maximum and minimum values by team* At the end of the season
The percentage of minutes by players present in the first team of their employer club for at least one year has decreased over the period covered by the study. The minutes of play of recently arrived footballers has gone up from 31.1% in January 2010 to 34.9% in March 2017. The maximum value was measured on the 12th August 2016: 37.5%.
In all leagues, the minimum percentages were observed between 2010 and 2011. With the exception of the English Premier League, the current values are superior to those measured at the start of the period analysed. They vary between 29.1% in the English top division and 38.8% in Ligue 1. The French value is primarily explained by the stronger presence of players promoted from the youth academy in comparison to the other big-5 championships.
The Italian case is particular both at the level of the extent of mobility and the rapidity of change observed. In a context of economic difficulty, the Serie A teams have become much more unstable. Far from being a solution to their problems, this process has a negative impact on the competitiveness of Italian clubs. If the foreign investors who have become shareholders in several French Ligue 1 teams show some perspicacity, France could well overtake Italy in the UEFA rankings.
Figure 7: % of minutes by recent arrivals (January 2010-March 2017)
The analysis of maximum and minimum values by club shows that too high a presence of recent arrivals on the pitch often leads to failure. Thus, most of the teams having used the most new players were relegated at the season’s end. On the other hand, a very parsimonious use of recent arrivals can be an advantage. However, the examples of Tenerife, Auxerre, Lens or Bochum show that this strategy can also be counter-productive.
Figure 8: % of minutes by recent arrivals, maximum and minimum values per team* At the end of the season
One of a kind, the demographic stock exchange will permit football actors and fans to monitor with precision the evolution of this particular labour market. The research team of the CIES Football Observatory is thus proud to be able, once again, to push the boundaries of knowledge at the service of the world’s most popular game.
In the future, our objective is to transform the demographic stock exchange into an interactive tool freely available online. We also plan to include other leagues than those covered in this Report. Initially, championships already included in our Digital Atlas will be added. Afterwards, we hope to be able to further expand our coverage. The growing interest that you manifest in our studies encourages us to continue in this direction.
Monthly Report n°24 - April 2017 - The demographic stock exchange