Sunday, 8 October 2017

Premier League Age Profiles Through the Ages

I found some data I collected but never got round to analysing for the joint OptaProForum presentation with Simon Gleave a few years ago.

It simply consists of minutes played by each age group in the four highest tiers of English domestic football.

There are a variety of methods to describe the ageing curve in football, where players initially show improvement, peak and then decline with age. I prefer the delta approach, which charts the change of a variety of performance related indicators or their proxies.

We may condense the age profile of a team or league down into three main groups. Young players, under 24 who are still improving,

Peak age performers from around 24 to 29 and ageing players of 30 or more, who may still be good enough to command some playing time, but are diminishing compared to their own peak levels.

Using the amount of playing time allowed to each of the three groups as a performance proxy, the peak age group of Premier League players have been increasing their share at the expense of both the younger and older groups since 2004/05. Peak share has risen from 48% of the available playing time at the start of the period to 60% by 2014/15.

The wealth of the Premier League and the limited alternative destinations for the best, prime aged talent would appear to be a reasonable cause for this increase. Perhaps only Spain's Barcelona and Real Madrid (Suarez and Bale) account for the few realistic destinations for peak age, Premier League talent.

By contrast, League Two, the fourth tier of English football, appears to have a very different age profile.

Here, youth and peak aged players share playing time, with 30 & over players lagging well below these levels, implying a different market further down the pyramid.

Players are not being recruited from the extreme right hand tail of the talent pool, so more options of similar ability are available and there is also an extensive pool of buyers in the two or three divisions immediately above League Two, ready to take on the cream of the peak age performers.

Finally here's the plots for the best Premier League teams compared to the remainder of the clubs.


Peak shares are similar for both groups, but the top teams have played a larger share of (talented) younger players, while the remainder of the Premier League have swayed slightly more towards experience (perhaps ageing players from the top teams dropping in grade, but remaining in the Premier League).

Crouch at Stoke, for example.

Liverpool's individual profile appears to illustrate how their age profile has remained similar to the average for top Premier League teams across the 11 seasons.

Over 30's make up the lowest proportion of playing time, followed by younger players and topped of by peak age talent.

30+ contribution falls away, to be replaced by ageing peak age talent, which in turn is refreshed by maturing younger players. Replacement buys can then be made in the 22-24 range to continue the cycle.

By contrast, Everton has chosen to largely swap around the over 30 group and the under 24 group, leading to seasons where older players dominate.

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