The 2016/17 football season saw the rise of plenty of young stars. By the end of the season young players were attracting big clubs and massive transfer fees. Over the summer transfer window Ousmane Dembele, aged 20 from Borussia Dortmund, was signed by Barcelona for a fee of €105m, while 18 year-old Kylian Mbappe was signed by PSG from Monaco in a loan deal that will see him sign for the Parisian super club next summer for a fee of €145m.
With these young players and many more showing their worth, I decided to find out which of the top 5 leagues are the most generous when it comes to giving these players opportunities.
Based on the total number of minutes played by all players last season, against the total number of those minutes given to youth players, decided as players aged 21 and under, I calculated the percentage of playing minutes given to youth players in each of Europe’s top 5 football leagues.
Based on this data, the French Ligue 1 is the best location for young talent to play, coming in with nearly 3 times as many minutes given to youth players as the last placed Premier League.
To delve further, I calculated the most and least youth friendly clubs in each league based on their minutes given to youth players.
Surprisingly, it’s one of the most expensive squads in the Premier League that tops the list for giving minutes to youth players, although aside from the academy graduate Marcus Rashford the remaining minutes come from Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial, coming in at a collective €85m in transfer fees.
It’s no surprise to see Spurs so high with the majority of their minutes coming from Young Player of the Year Dele Alli, and Everton make their way in at third thanks to Mason Holgate and Tom Davies making their way onto the scene this season.
Crystal Palace are the only team in any of the Top 5 leagues to not give a single minute to youth players, while their neighbours in the league table Swansea gave less than a full 90 minutes themselves. Chelsea, however, were flying without youth, although most of their young lads were finding playing time over at Vitesse.
There are similar findings in other leagues with Serie A leaders Juventus, and Real Madrid and Barcelona battling it out for the title in Spain, all rejecting the use of youth themselves. The only player to really make a mark in any of these teams is Marcos Asensio at Real Madrid, whom Zidane has taken a liking to. Maybe it’s the luxury of being able to send players out on loan to develop at smaller clubs that allows these teams to have fantastic squads while also having thriving youth at a moment’s notice.
Toulouse lead the line for youth players, they’re currently sitting in 12th, after two relegation-threatening 17th place finishes in a row maybe the young lads have been the kick that team needs to move up the table.
Finally I took a look at the individuals who have found the most success in each position this season.
Gianluigi Donnarumma was an ever-present for AC Milan last season, leading to a pursuit of the 18 year-old by Juventus who he desperately tried to sign for over the summer before changing his mind and staying with Milan.
Football tends to flow more freely as you move up the pitch and so generally teams like to have more consistent defensive line ups than in attack, and this is shown here as the further forward you go from Goalkeeper to Forward, the less minutes are given on average.
By Daniel Osborne