English clubs' average ages primed for UEFA Champions League success

18 September 2018 Authored by Consultancy.uk

This season’s English Champions League hopefuls have time on their side, if the latest data on the average age of the competition’s entrants is anything to go by, at least. With last season’s finalists having average ages around 26 years old, Liverpool and Manchester City look best positioned for the tournament, with a blend of youth and experience hopefully providing the longevity and flair needed to go all the way in 2018/19.

Just what the ideal age is for a footballer is a continued matter of debate. Received wisdom of the average pub pundit suggests that a footballer will peak between the ages of 27 and 29, and there is some statistical evidence to support this on the international stage, with a BBC study in 2014 finding that historically, the perfect age to be a player in the World Cup is 27.5. At the time, that was the average age of the winning teams in the 19 World Cup finals between 1930 and 2010, with the youngest being Argentina in 1978 (25.7) and Brazil in 1962 (30.7) being the oldest.

However, the demands of a month-long competition are entirely different to those of a season-long elite competition, and teams succeeding in the UEFA Champions League in particular have boasted some notable exceptions over the years. For example, the AC Milan team which won the 2006/07 tournament boasted then-38 year old Paolo Maldini, and a number of other decades-long stalwarts among its ranks. At the same time, it seems that the changing style of the modern game now favours the young.

Average age of teams in the UEFA Champions League (# years)

Last year’s winners, Real Madrid, took their historic run in the contest to three successive Champions League victories, with a squad whose average age was 26.5 at the time. After a summer clear-out which saw the club’s record top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo exit the club aged 33, among others, Madrid’s squad is still only an average of 0.1 older than it was half a year ago. However, as the team is still struggling to integrate its new coach, and an underwhelming goalkeeping signing, while the absence of Ronaldo is still being keenly felt, it is perceived by many as unlikely that they will add yet another European trophy to their cabinet at the end of this campaign.

At the same time, however, two of England’s four entrants are in or around the age bracket which seems to best prepare a club for success in the Champions League. Manchester United’s expensive squad has an average age of 27.1, and will be approaching 28 by the time of the final in the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid rolls around, and while manager Jose Mourinho clearly values experience in his players, this perhaps suggests a reluctance to give youth a chance which has enabled previous winners to weather the hectic fixture schedule of European football. Similarly, while Tottenham’s squad is comparatively younger at 26.3 years, the squad will be approaching the 28 mark by May. Following years of being touted as a team for the future, this may be Spurs’ make or break season, so the team will undoubtedly be feeling the weight of expectation entering the tournament this year.

Youth and experience

On the other hand, last year’s finalists seem to be maturing at a rate that could foreshadow Champions League success this year. While, obviously, these statistics should be taken with a pinch of salt thanks to the huge number of variables at play in a football match, let alone a 32 team tournament, Liverpool’s average age of 26.0 will see them roughly where Real Madrid were last year, when they triumphed in a nervy final. Liverpool’s squad will have learned important lessons in composure from that match, while manager Jurgen Klopp has used a summer spending spree to patch gaps highlighted in that match – most notably with the  €72.5 million acquisition of Brazilian shot-stopper Alisson – suggesting a level of experience and youthful exuberance could possibly see the Reds take one step further this year.

Meanwhile, odds-on favourites Manchester City find themselves in a similar position. Currently aged at an average of 25.9, the Citizens have never ventured further than the semi-final of the tournament, despite significant investment over the past decade. However, former Barcelona icon Pep Guardiola has used his tenure at City to infuse his distinctive brand of possession football with a ruthless attacking flair, and the Sky Blues are subsequently riding high from a record-breaking Premier League title, during which they were rarely challenged. Having been ousted by Liverpool in one of the shocks of the tournament last year, the team will be hoping to have learned its lessons from a harsh quarter-final exit, and likewise have strengthened their squad with Leicester City playmaker Riyad Mahrez.

According to further Consultancy.uk analysis of data from UEFA, the oldest teams in Europe’s premier club contest are from Czech team Viktoria Plzen and Russian outfit Lokomotiv Moskow, both aged 28.7. Elsewhere, at the other end of the spectrum, the two Dutch clubs in the competition will be hoping to build for the future, and solidify a place at Europe’s top table once more. The Eredivisie has not been represented by more than one club at the tournament in eight years, and its two entrants this year boast the youngest squads on display. Ajax, who were the last Dutch team to lift the trophy in 1995, have an average age of 23.4, while Dutch champions PSV Einhoven have the youngest squad of all, at 23.3 years old, 23% younger than the oldest teams in the tournament.

Related: Premier League remains Europe's highest spending league on transfers.

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