The 49th Monthly Report of the CIES Football Observatory analyses clubs from 31 European top divisions from the standpoint of the demographic characteristics of their players. The study covers the period from 2009 to 2019. For this last year, the sample is made up of 11,692 footballers spread out over 463 teams (25.3 players per club).
To be included, a player has to be present on the 1st of October of the year of reference in the first team squad of the clubs analysed. Moreover, he must have already played in domestic league games during the current season or, this being not the case, to have played matches in adult championships during each of the two preceding seasons (B-teams not included). The second and third goalkeepers are taken into account in all cases.
Figure 1: study sample
The average age of players in the leagues analysed has changed little since 2009. On the 1st October 2019, it was 26.07 years compared to 25.90 ten years before. The lowest value was measured in 2014 (25.83 years of age). The average age then increased slightly (+0.24 years). In 2019, the most numerous age class was that of players aged 24. Players of 21 years of age or under account for 20.8% of clubs’ squads in the sample studied.
Figure 2: age pyramid
2009 vs 2019
Almost four years separate the youngest league (Slovakia) from that made up of the oldest players (Turkey). The French Ligue 1 is the only big-5 league where footballers are younger than the average measured for the 31 championships studied. Several Eastern European countries are among those whose clubs are made up of the most experienced players (Hungary, Bulgaria, Russia or Czech Republic).
Figure 3: average age per league
The training analysis is based on the notion of club-trained players. In accordance with the UEFA definition, the latter are those having spent at least three seasons between the ages of 15 and 21 in their home team. After having fallen sharply up until 2018, the presence of club-trained players in the leagues studied has stabilised. On the 1st October 2019, it was 17.2% (+0.2% in comparison to the historic minimum of the previous year).
Figure 4: % of club-trained players
The highest percentage of club-trained players was recorded in Denmark (27.4%). In only three other countries was this proportion over a quarter: Slovenia, Norway and Switzerland. At the other end of the scale, club-trained players only accounted for around 9% of squads of Turkish, Portuguese and Italian teams. As for the five major championships, the highest value was measured in Spain: 20.9%.
Figure 5: % of club-trained players per league
The internationalisation level of the football players’ labour market can be measured through the notion of expatriates. It defines players having grown up outside of the national association of their employer club and having gone abroad for football-related reasons. This definition has the advantage of isolating migrations directly linked to the practice of football. Indeed, the foreign players having grown up in the association of their employer team are not considered as expatriates.
Figure 6: % of expatriate players
For the fifth consecutive year, a record value was recorded for expatriates. The latter henceforth account for 41.8% of players in the sample. Ten years previously, this percentage was only 34.7%. The increase observed over the last year was, however, the lowest recorded since 2014: +0.2%.
The highest levels of expatriate players were measured in four Mediterranean countries: Cyprus, Portugal, Turkey and Italy. Greece also has many players imported from abroad. The other leagues where expatriates represent a majority of squads are to be found in Great Britain (England and Scotland) and in Western Europe (Belgium and Germany).
Figure 7 : % of expatriate players per league
Between 2009 and 2017, the average length of stay of players in the first team squad of their employer club has progressively fallen to reach an all-time low of 2.22 years. This value has little changed since then. In 2019, 42.9% of players in the sample had been recruited during the year. This percentage does not include players freshly promoted from a youth academy. In total, 63.9% of players present on the 1st October 2019 were recruited after the 1st January 2018.
Figure 8: year of recruitment pyramid*
2009 vs 2019
All the countries where the players recruited in 2019 accounted for a majority of squads are situated in Eastern Europe (Romania, Serbia and Bulgaria) and Southern Europe (Cyprus, Turkey, Portugal, Israel and Greece). Conversely, most of the countries where clubs have the fewest new recruits are located in Western and Northern Europe. This finding reveals different cultural approaches to squad management and the transfer market.
Figure 9: % of players recruited during the year per league
Particularly noticeable between 2009 and 2018, the trend in the European labour market for footballers towards less stability and a greater international mobility has declined over the past year. Although the level of expatriates in the leagues studied has reached a new record, the increase observed was less marked than in previous years: +0.2% as opposed to an average of +1.2% between 2014 and 2018.
For the first time since 2009, when the CIES Football Observatory started gathering the data presented in this report, the percentage of club-trained players has grown. However, this increase remains very limited (+0.2%). As a result, it is very difficult to claim that the tendency towards fewer club-trained footballers has reversed. In the same vein, the halt in the decrease in the average length of stay of players in their club does not necessarily imply a return towards more stability.
From next year onwards, it will be very interesting to monitor if the increasing economic disparities between teams from different countries will push a greater number of clubs with limited means to concentrate on the promotion of locally trained talents. This holds particularly true in Eastern Europe (Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, etc.) and Southern Europe (Cyprus, Greece, Turkey, etc.), where transfer market activity is particularly prevalent.