Experience makes the difference for Champions League glory

07 September 2022 Consultancy.uk 3 min. read
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Much has been made of the record transfer haul amassed by Premier League clubs during football’s most recent transfer window. However, if an English club is to see its name written on the famous trophy this year, it might be more important to field an experienced squad than an expensive one.

Examining summer transfer activity in Europe’s Big Five leagues, it looks obvious that English Premier League teams among the favourites to win the 2022/23 Champions League. But new research from Football Benchmark suggests that there is more to it than that.

The English top flight was the only league globally to eclipse €1 billion in gross spend in the summer transfer window – with expensive arrivals like Erling Haaland and Darwin Núñez seeing gross expenditure hit €2.25 billion. This is almost equal to the combined gross spend of the four other ‘top’ leagues in European football – Italy, Spain, Germany and France – who spent €2.29 billion on new recruits. This is by no means exceptional though – while the continued hyper-inflation of football transfers means the amount is larger, the Premier League has long made a habit of outgunning its competitors financially.

The most expecsive transfers to Champions league teams from the 2022 summer window

In particular, the fact the English league outspends La Liga does not seem to have as much impact as the hype suggests. English teams have only won two of the last 10 Champions Leagues – on par with the lower-spending Germany, and well behind Spain on six. While there is a strong correlation between financial might, activity in the transfer market and sporting success, teams with smaller price tags but might still outperform big spenders.

In particular, Real Madrid’s continental success in the last decade has revolved not only around their squad’s world class football ability, but also the experience they have amassed in the tournament throughout the years. Having won the trophy five times in a decade, the club’s squad has regularly been discussed as ‘due a refresh’ early on in a season, only for the veteran players to once again roll back the years and produce on the biggest stage. Luka Modric, Karim Benzema and Dani Carvajal were all present in Los Blancos’ starting 11 for their 2014 triumph against Atletico Madrid – and the club’s 2022 final victory against Liverpool.

According to Football Benchmark analysis, there is evidence that if a side’s players have played around 650 UCL games – which averages out to around 26 games per player considering a 25-man squad – it is extremely unlikely that they will not reach the knockout stages, at the very least. The only exception to be found by the firm was Barcelona, last season, when the club’s financial crisis saw it unable to adapt to life after Messi – slumping to a third-place finish in its group despite having a combined 1,098 matches under its belt.

The most experienced squads in the Champions League

While the importance of experience ‘diminishes’ at the knock-out stage – with many other variables coming into play – it still seems to be an important factor. While Liverpool’s young squad of winners in 2018/19 had a combined 377 games of experience prior to the season, the example is an outlier as the most ‘inexperienced’ winning squad. Since then, things seem to have swung back in favour of experience, though, with Real’s latest win coming from a squad with 1,157 Champions League games under its belt.

Looking ahead, this suggests Real have as good a chance as ever of winning the tournament – especially as it still counts some of the only players to have retained the European Cup in the Champions League-era, among its ranks. This year, the club has 1,055 games of experience to draw on, ahead of PSG on 986 – still desperately chasing a maiden victory despite spending huge amounts over the last decade – Liverpool on 880, Barcelona on 867, and Atletico Madrid on 837.