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Age distributions of top clubs in Europe, or how Man City are building a dynasty and no one’s playing the youth just like Chelsea

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Chelsea v Stoke City - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

There’s a vintage, which comes with age and experience

Or so says Jon Bon Jovi. I happen to believe that each vintage has its own unique properties, and depending on the quality of the grapes, some need more aging than others. Some are ready to drink early, some are best suited to sit in the barrel for a while. Why all this talk of wine, you might ask? Surely this is a football site. Well, much like wine grapes, footballers are sometimes ready early, and sometimes need to age.

I’ll expand on this. I saw something today in the Daily Hilario that made me think back to something else I had done a while ago. It was an infographic that showed minute distribution by player age, where each Premier League club looked like little tops or dreidels or something.

There was I think as much debate about the shapes as there was about the data. I found the data curious, but I freely admit that when it comes to things like age distribution, anything beyond the top clubs is data that I find I really don’t care about. And I don’t mean that in a snobbish way. When you can’t afford top players, you get what you can get, and one of the first things that you lose out on are top players in their prime. Or any good young players, as well. So age distributions start skewing very oddly. And the little dreidels were sorted by the average age of the starting lineups, which I suppose also fit the story being told by the infographic, but again, not what I look at when I see that data. I have nothing against the presentation, everyone tells their own story, but after looking it over I felt like telling a story of my own, with some data.

Youth Is wasted on the young

I want to tell a story of top clubs, and not only how they distribute their minutes, but also how they buy players, how they design rosters, and how they go about winning. At least I’ll talk a little bit about those things. To tell all of it would be way past my knowledge.

What I’ve done is gathered up all of the played minutes of league play for each of the top six clubs for each of the top five leagues in Europe. These break down as follows:

  • Premier League — Man City, Man Utd, Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal, Liverpool
  • Serie A — Napoli, Juventus, Inter, Roma, Lazio, Sampdoria
  • La Liga — Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Valencia, Real Madrid, Sevilla, Villareal
  • Bundesliga — Bayern Munich, Schalke 04, Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig, Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Monchengladbach
  • Ligue 1 — PSG, Monaco, Lyon, Marseille, Nantes, Nice

I’ve also created a total of 8 age categories, to better define and understand the age distributions. Each category spans a 3-year space. Bear with some of my names, they are quite lame and ordinary:

  • Academy (16-18)
  • Young (19-21)
  • Emerging (22-24)
  • Prime (25-27)
  • Post-Prime (28-30)
  • Veteran (31-33)
  • Bench (34-36)
  • Old (37-39)

Whether or not you like my names, the point was to be descriptive and make each grouping obvious. If you have better names, I’d love to see them in the comments, trust me. I know some of these stink.

The goal here is to simply take a look at the minute distributions for each of these clubs grouped with their respective leagues, and grouped by these age-related groups, and look for any patterns. See if certain “Top” clubs, like a Barca, or a Juve, or a PSG, all have similar characteristics, and if there are any league-specific patterns that emerge.

We aren’t in an Information Age, we are in an Entertainment Age

I’ll be including the minutes distribution table as well as a chart for each league.

Premier League:

Things I see:

  • The predominance of the “Prime” category for all six teams. Liverpool at 47.7%. Chelsea at 46.6%. Arsenal at 33.6%.
  • Manchester City are VERY balanced. The rest of the league should be concerned, that’s how you start building dynasties, by re-loading every year and always having older players, prime players, and young players coming through. Emerging - 24.6%, Prime - 24.5%, Post-Prime - 20.2%, Veteran - 19.0%.
  • Chelsea are in a bit of a win-now-be-worried-later mode. We have all of those academy youth out on loan, but we are not playing young players at the club much right now, and we all know it.
  • United are pretty balanced too. 79.3% between Emerging, Prime, and Post-Prime.
  • Liverpool are a lot like Chelsea, except with a laser-focus on that Prime age of player.

Serie A:

Things I see:

  • Good ol’ Buffon. Literally the only reason these tables go past 36. I couldn’t just ignore 900 minutes though, right? (Dortmund has 90 minutes up there in the BuLi table too)
  • There are a lot more older players in Serie A right now getting minutes than in the Premier League. Either one or both of the Post-Prime and Veteran sections are quite massive for every club. And don’t let the vertical scale fool you, other than Inter and maybe Lazio, Emerging players are few and far between in this group.
  • Juventus are probably the most balanced, which should surprise no one. Most money, most prestige right now, best ability to roster-load. Inter aren’t bad either, but at little old-heavy.
  • Napoli with their Prime and Post-Prime contingent should stay competitive for a few more years, regardless of squad changes.

La Liga:

Things I see:

  • Barcelona are obviously riding a certain few players from a certain generation who have been carrying them for years now. Two of the key ones sound like “Bessie” and “Juarez”. Another one sounds like “BK”. Another one you might have with some “gravy”. If you are wondering why they are scrambling for guys like Dembele and Coutinho, it’s because they need some new young blood.
  • Atletico you wouldn’t think would have such good young minutes played. Between Emerging and Prime they are getting 63.8% of their minutes. Valencia are similar with 62.8%. That’s good balance for the present and the future. Sevilla are really set up well too. 86.5% of the minutes between Emerging, Prime, and Post-Prime. Built to win, or at least give them the best shot.
  • Real Madrid have a lot of older weight dragging them down, which is hindering that Prime group for accomplishing what they need to. Massive shortfall of Emerging level players, too. This might be the biggest reason RM might not look at Hazard. It wouldn’t be “bad” for them to load up on more Prime players, but they need some slightly younger guys too, if they can.

Bundesliga:

Things I see:

  • Look across those first three clubs on the chart. LOTS of Post-Prime guys. Bayern will be fine, they always are, but the other two? It’s going to hurt, soon.
  • RB Leipzig are well loaded for the future, but they will probably keep getting raided, like Liverpool are doing with Keita.
  • Gladbach are very well balanced, they look like Manchester City’s distribution.
  • It’s really interesting how there’s very little in the way of 31+ players at almost all of these clubs. Guess football’s a young man’s sport these days in Germany.

Ligue 1:

Things I see:

  • The massive predominance of Emerging age players. As probably the least strong of the five big leagues in Europe, this isn’t surprising. Lots of Prime players too.
  • PSG and Monaco both look a bit similar, just a few more older minutes at Monaco. And both the most balanced, which isn’t surprising, as these are the two top-heavy clubs in the league.
  • The rest all are relying on younger players.

A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man

Beyond simply looking at minutes, and looking at lining up talent for now and the future, one of the other big things with having players in the right age groups is building camaraderie within the clubhouse, and trying to build a ‘family’ at the club. Sure, everyone is a professional. And “It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.” But the players that form bonds together trust each other, and that not only helps on the pitch, but off it as well, and helps to build the brand.

When we look at the actual distribution of ages of the players themselves, and not simply the minutes, we can get an idea of whether the clubs have a nice mix of veterans to provide advice, and youth to sponge it up, for example. And kind of see how the actual ages of the players compare to their minutes. Do keep in mind, the only players being included are ones that have at least played one minute. Otherwise I could list 30+ players for every time, and I’m not going to do that. If they’ve played, they are part of the team in my opinion. If they haven’t? Just visiting.

I’m going to list all five charts together, before observation points, with an emphasis on the Premier League chart.

You will notice for most clubs that the numbers will compare to the minutes distribution. This makes sense, as most good clubs don’t have players that don’t play. A few things of note:

  • Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs all have 4 players in a combination of Academy and Young categories. United have 3, Arsenal 2.
  • Chelsea haven’t given a single minute in league play to anyone over the age of 33. You see, at 30 you get the one year deals, and at 34 you simply get a good seat to watch the match.
  • Liverpool and Spurs apparently have the same policy.

For the other leagues....

  • Barcelona actually do have a few Emerging players, they simply aren’t playing much. Good for them.
  • Real Madrid actually has quite a few Young and Emerging players, but again, they aren’t playing. I bet they love that, sitting in fourth while all the old fogies eat up the minutes.
  • Bayern is also like this. What a shock, big clubs not playing young players. Don’t we hear constantly about how these big clubs play all the “youth” and Chelsea are the evil corporation and ruining football or something?

Coffee’s for closers

In closing, and I hope you didn’t need some of that coffee to keep up with the article, but that was a fun look at age distribution and minute distribution among the elite clubs of Europe. Please feel free to share any thoughts or opinions you have in the comments section. I’d love to see a lively discussion about this topic.