For the third year running, the CIES Football Observatory has analysed the composition of teams participating in the five of the most developed women’s professional leagues worldwide: four European (Germany, Sweden, France and England), as well as the National Women’s Soccer League in the United States.
The study focuses on the age, origin and international status of the players. The domestic league minutes played by each footballer are taken into account in order to present statistics on the pitch. The data on the principle expatriate origins refer to all the players fielded or present at least once on the bench during championship matches from the start of the season up until the 29th May 2019.
The average age of players on the pitch has increased for the third consecutive year. It has risen from 25.1 years of age in 2017 to 25.5 in 2019. This result shows that an increasing proportion of teams tend to trust more experienced footballers. The economic development of the leagues studied has probably convinced a greater number of players to stay at a professional level for longer. Younger footballers have thus more difficulties to break through.
Figure 1: average age on the pitch, by league
The German Bundesliga is the only championship in which the average age on the pitch has fallen over the last three years. It is now the league fielding the youngest players among those covered by the study: 24.7 years of age (-0.8 since 2017). At the opposite end, we find the United States National Women’s Soccer League: 27.5 years of age (+1.3 years since 2017). The biggest increase was observed in the English WSL: +2.1 years.
Six NWSL clubs are among the ten teams with the highest average age on the pitch. The highest value overall was measured for North Carolina Courage: 29.9 years. Olympique Lyonnais, the multiple European champions, also field very experienced line-ups: 27.2 years of age on average (eighth oldest value).
Figure 2: average age of the oldest line-ups
Teams from the German Bundesliga are overrepresented among those fielding the youngest line-ups. Five of them figure in the top ten rankings and four of them are in the top five positions of the table. Only one team in the leagues studied has an average age of less than 23 years: Borussia Mönchengladbach (22.6).
Figure 3: average age of the youngest line-ups
This section focuses on the presence of expatriate footballers both on the pitch and in squads. The notion of expatriate refers to footballers playing outside of the association where they started playing football and which they left following recruitment by a foreign club.
The percentage of minutes played by expatriates has increased for the third year running reaching a figure of 32.4% (+4.4% in comparison to 2017). The most notable increase was recorded in England (+7.5%), where more and more clubs invest in women’s football through reproducing the same mechanisms already observed in the men’s game.
Figure 4: % of minutes by expatriates, by league
Arsenal is by far the team where expatriates play the greatest percentage of minutes: 78.9%. This is almost 20% more than for the clubs occupying the second, third and fourth places: Bristol City, Wolfsburg and West Ham. With 50.2% of minutes played by expatriates, Olympique Lyonnais is also present in the top ten.
Figure 5: highest % of minutes by expatriates, by club
The total number of expatriates in the leagues covered increases year by year: from 300 in 2017, the figure has increased to 348 in 2018 and again to 379 in 2019. The internationalisation of the labour market already observed in the men’s game is also taking place in the women’s. In total, 53 associations have expatriates in the leagues studied (+6 with respect to 2017, +3 in comparison to 2018).
Canada is the country with the biggest contingent of expatriate players in the championships analysed with a total of 28. Canadians are particularly numerous in the United States within the NWSL. The majority of Scottish women head for England, while half of expatriate Americans play in the Swedish Damallsvenskan.
Figure 6: principle origins of expatriates
The proportion of minutes played by footballers having already been selected for a national A side has reached 50% for the first time (+5.5% since 2017). The English WSL is now ahead of the American NWSL: 56.8% compared to 56.0%. This result confirms the importance of investments made by English clubs to develop the women’s game.
Figure 7: % of minutes by internationals, by league
Numerous teams play with a majority of footballers with international status. The percentage of minutes played by the latter reaches 99.0% at Bayern Munich and 98.8% at Arsenal. It is greater than 90% in three other teams: Wolfsburg, Manchester City, as well as at the multiple European champions Olympique Lyonnais (94.2%).
Figure 8: highest % of minutes by internationals, by club
The indicators examined in this report reveal the economic development occurring at the top of the pyramid of women’s professional football. In this context, the age of players tends to increase, international mobility grows and the concentration of the best footballers within a limited number of clubs independently of their origin pursues its course.
Though encouraging, the evolution noted shows the importance of reflecting on regulatory mechanisms to limit the negative effects due to market logics already observed in the men’s game such as, among others, the speculation on young players, the concentration of resources and competitive imbalance.
Monthly Report n°46 - June 2019 - Demographic analysis of the five major women’s football leagues