1. Introduction

Over the decade that is about to end, 42 clubs have always been present within the five major European leagues. The 50th Monthly Report of the CIES Football Observatory analyses the make-up of these teams over the course of the decade with questions such as: how many players did they use? What was the age of players fielded? Their height? Their origins?

The analysis also includes an economic dimension by taking into account the transfer fees spent or received (including bonuses) since the 1st January 2010 by the 42 clubs studied. For all variables, the data for 2019 refer to the period from the 1st January to the 15 November.

Figure 1: study sample

42 clubs always been present within the five major European leagues (2010-2019)

Figure 1: study sample

2. Turnover

A first element of analysis is the turnover within squads. Very important differences exist between clubs. At one extreme, Athletic Club Bilbao only used 77 footballers in domestic league matches played during the decade studied. This result reflects the crucial importance given to the question of identity in the policies of the Basque club.

The great stability observed at Athletic Club is contrasted with that of Genoa. Enrico Preziosi’s club used 205 players in Serie A fixtures between 2010 and 2019. Sevilla and Rome, the two teams where Monchi worked as a sporting director, are also among those who fielded the most footballers. These findings illustrate the emphasis placed on trading players in the strategies of these clubs.

Figure 2: number of players used in domestic league games


Figure 2: number of players used in domestic league games (2010-2019)

Despite the 2016/17 season at Crystal Palace, Steve Mandanda is the footballer who played the greatest percentage of domestic league minutes for one of the 42 teams of the sample. During the decade studied, the French goalkeeper took part in 84.2% of minutes played by Olympique de Marseille. The highest value for an outfield player was recorded for Lionel Messi at Barcelona (83.4%). Paris St-Germain is among the six teams whose most used footballers during the decade took part in less than half of the minutes played (Thiago Silva, 49.6%).

Figure 3: % of domestic league minutes of the most used player by club


Figure 3: % of domestic league minutes of the most used player by club (2010-2019)

3. Age

Over the course of the 2010 decade, no team has fielded players as old as multiple Italian champions Juventus: 28.8 years of age on average when the matches were played. Two other Italian clubs have the highest values: Inter (28.4 years of age) and Lazio (28.3 years of age). French and German teams are over-represented among those having fielded the youngest players, with a minimum of 24.6 years of age for Toulouse.

Figure 4: average age at matches played


Figure 4: average age at matches played (2010-2019)

Eight of the nine clubs having on average recruited the oldest players are Italians, with a maximum of 26.6 years of age for Lazio. Keen to win titles, Paris St-Germain and Manchester City have also targeted experienced players. However, with the arrival of Guardiola, Manchester City has changed its strategy by recruiting younger footballers, similar to the policies pursued by other major teams such as Real Madrid (23.5 years of age at the time of recruitment) or Liverpool (24.6 years of age).

Figure 5: average age at the time of recruitment


Figure 5: average age at the time of recruitment (2010-2019)

4. Height

Analysis in terms of height also highlights important differences with regard to leagues and clubs. Barcelona used the shortest players in absolute terms (178.66 cm on average). The Catalan club is followed by five French and three other Spanish teams. At the opposite end of the scale, six of the seven clubs having fielded the tallest footballers are German, with a maximum value of 185.05 cm for Schalke 04. The height of the Juventus players was also relatively high: 183.76 cm (5th place).

Figure 6: average height of players used (cm)


Figure 6: average height of players used (2010-2019)

5. Origins

The unique case of Athletic Club also stands out in the analysis of the percentage of minutes played by footballers having grown up outside of the association of their employer club, standing at a meagre 3.7% (Aymeric Laporte). At the opposite end, the 12 teams where expatriates played the highest proportion of domestic league minutes are English and Italians, with a maximum of 83.9% for Arsenal. This percentage is above 80% also at Inter and Chelsea.

Figure 7: % of minutes of expatriate players


Figure 7: % of minutes of expatriate players (2010-2019)

With the exception of Athletic Club, all of the teams present in the big-5 between 2010 and 2019 fielded players from at least 18 different countries. Although giving considerable room for expatriates, the most competitive teams tend to concentrate their international recruitment on a relatively limited number of origins: 18 for Atlético Madrid, 19 for Barcelona and Paris St-Germain, 20 for Real Madrid and Bayern. AS Rome holds the record (37 different origins during the decade studied).

Figure 8: number of different origins


Figure 8: number of different origins (2010-2019)

6. Training

Athletic Club is the only team where club-trained footballers (at least three seasons between 15 and 21 years of age in situ) played a majority of domestic league minutes: 61.3%. Barcelona also has a high value 46.1%. At the opposite end, many Italian and English teams are at the bottom of the rankings. Despite the recruitment of many young talents, Manchester City is the club where players from the youth academy accounted for the lowest level of minutes: 2.1%.

Figure 9: % of minutes of club-trained players


Figure 9: % of minutes of club-trained players (2010-2019)

7. Finance

The indicator of the cost of paying fee transfers spotlights the major disparities in clubs’ financial means. Manchester United tops the list (an average of €32 million per paid transfer), followed closely by Paris St-Germain (€30 million). Four other teams invested on average more than €20 million per paying fee transfer during the decade studied: Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester City and Chelsea. At the opposite end, three French clubs had the lowest values, with a minimum of about €2 million for Montpellier.

Figure 10: average expenditure per paying fee transfer

2010-2019, € Million

Figure 10: average expenditure per paying fee transfer (2010-2019)

Only 16 of the 42 teams analysed have a positive net balance for transfer operations carried out between 2010 and 2019. The maximum was recorded for LOSC Lille (+€249 million). None of the seven clubs always present in the Premier League during the 2010s has a positive net balance. Four teams have considerably negative net balances: Manchester City, Paris St-Germain, Manchester United and Barcelona. The cumulative deficit of these four clubs is over €3.5 billion.

Figure 11: net balance for transfer operations

2010-2019, € Million

Figure 11: net balance for transfer operations (2010-2019)

8. Conclusion

The study shows the importance of the differences in strategies pursued by teams when composing their squads. The unique case of Athletic Club Bilbao is reflected in almost all the indicators analysed. The Basque team carries on with success a strategic model based on an extremely strong regional anchoring. This model has become increasingly rare with the commercialisation of football and its globalisation, in particular at the level of the five major European championships.

Barcelona’s case shows that territorial anchoring can be a plus even for a global club. The numerous trophies obtained during the last decade are indeed for the most part linked to the exceptional qualities of home-grown players such as Lionel Messi, Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, Gerard Piqué or Sergio Busquets. More recently, the change in the strategic orientation of Chelsea towards giving more room to players from the youth academy, without a loss in competitiveness, indicates that the deterritorialisation of football remains a choice rather than an obligation.

The analysis of strategies for squad composition during the 2010s thus shows that although money is more than ever a key factor, other elements come into play. Squad stability stemming from good strategic planning, as well as the ability of clubs to get the best out of the talents trained in their youth academies and to stimulate a strong sense of belonging to all parties concerned (players, staff, supporters, etc.), remain crucial success criteria even in the today’s hyper-commercial and globalised environment.