Value of youth rises with game time

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.

DO Graph

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.

DO Table

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

The City Sports Podcast Episode 8

This week’s edition sees host Leo McGuinn joined by regulars Shane O’Brien, Sean Meehan, Scott Howe and Daniel Osborne to look over Ireland’s play-off failure, Tony Pulis’ sacking and the seemingly unstoppable Manchester City, as well as looking at the insipid Irish rugby display against Fiji.

Time to say goodbye? Defeat to Denmark should spell the end for Martin O’Neill

“Just to say, thank you very much for giving us the space,” Danish manager Age Hareide sarcastically said following Denmark’s 5-1 drubbing of the Republic of Ireland, before going on to say, “they [Ireland] made it a little bit easy for us.”

To have an opposition manager make comments of that ilk about a fellow professional’s  tactics does not bode well for Martin O’Neill’s future.

O’Neill got it drastically wrong on Tuesday, maybe not initially, but his response to Ireland conceding was nothing short of farcical. Ireland had not conceded more than one game in a competitive home match under O’Neill prior to Tuesday night, mainly because they never leave themselves exposed as they did. To abandon such an approach with such a huge game still delicately poised beggar’s belief.

Ireland were absolutely outclassed by an average Danish team at home in what surely ranks as the country’s worst defeat since the embarrassment that was the 5-2 defeat to Cyprus in 2006 (there have been bigger defeats since then, but the losses to Spain and Germany in 2012 can at least be put down to the fact that both teams were world class).

It started so perfectly as well. Shane Duffy’s sixth minute goal gave Ireland the lead in the tie and seemingly set up 85 minutes of nerves for the Irish fans. Unfortunately, those nerves, or the lead, didn’t even last half an hour before the wheels came off.

The equaliser changed everything. Ireland were moderately comfortable up to that point and even carved out two decent chances to extend their lead. However, once the Danes got on the scoresheet (shambolically) it was one-way traffic.

Ireland proceeded to play with what Keith Andrews labelled ‘gung ho’ football and threw bodies forward in the immediate aftermath of conceding the equaliser and paid the ultimate price for it. There was no need to panic. With over an hour left, there was plenty of time to probe at the Danish defence and regain the lead.

Instead, they played like they were 2-0 down and left themselves exposed on the break and were punished within three minutes. What was a manageable task suddenly became exceedingly difficult and the half time substitutions only compounded the problem. Removing two defensive midfielders exposed the Irish defence even more and Christian Eriksen made them pay dearly.

Eriksen is genuinely world class and to give him the space that the Irish midfield did at 1-1 is criminal, especially when there was a need to be compact and see the game out to half time.

Of course, O’Neill cannot have accounted for the individual errors that were the catalyst for so many of the Danish goals. Stephen Ward, a mark of consistency throughout Ireland’s campaign, froze on the big occasion and two of the Danish goals came directly from his errors. Cyrus Christie, usually dependable in a green jersey, looked edgy from the off and should have done so much better with his goal line clearance for the Danish equaliser. However, the tactics remain unjustifiable and inexcusable despite the errors.

The ends have always justified the means during O’Neill’s reign, impressive 1-0 wins against Germany, Austria and Wales were built off the back of a rearguard action, but any one of those games could have gone the way Tuesday night’s match did. Had Germany put away one of the many first half chances they had in Dublin, you could make a case that the final score would resemble the one against Denmark. The same goes for Austria, who absolutely dominated the opening half in Vienna and, to a lesser extent, Wales.

It is not last night that should be seen as the killer blow in Ireland’s qualifying campaign however. It is the absolutely abysmal 2017 that wrecked any hopes of automatic qualification.

The group was there for the winning – ten points out of twelve at the beginning of the year was the perfect launchpad, but a lack of ambition against Wales at home (who had ten men for the best part of half an hour), an Austrian side who were in complete disarray, and a Georgian side that were sixth seeds in the group ultimately saw Ireland pick up three points from their next four games.

Losing at home to Serbia, who were reduced to ten men around the hour mark, was also inexcusable. A lack of ambition on the manager’s behalf was at the forefront of these results. Sitting back on a 1-0 lead in Georgia perhaps best showcased this lack of ambition, and saw the Georgians enjoy more than 70% of the ball.

Austria came to Dublin in June lacking confidence and lacking any real hope of qualifying for the World Cup. That should have been the game where Ireland laid down a marker and really went at the opposition, instead they resorted to the same type of football that had seen them drop points against Wales in March.

O’Neill’s reign has not been all doom and gloom by any means and qualification for Euro 2016 and the subsequent qualification from the group stages are undoubted high points. However, these feats were only achieved because of the expansion of the Euros into a 24 team tournament. Ireland would not have qualified for any previous European Championship based off their last qualification, nor would they have made it out of the group stages in any other tournament.

Admittedly, O’Neill has been a vast improvement on both of his predecessors in Giovanni Trapattoni and Steve Staunton, but his refusal to blood new talent and continue with the tried and trusted has led to Ireland continuing to play negative football where the ball is treated as the enemy.

Whether O’Neill stays or goes, whoever is in charge next year has a rebuilding job on their hands and has to give youth a chance. There are some promising players in the Irish Under 21 squad, and friendlies in March offer the perfect chance to hand the more promising players their debuts. There is a plethora of promising players in the squad already that for too long have been overlooked, it is time also to put that to an end.

By Shane O’Brien

The City Sports Podcast Episode 6

This week’s edition sees host Leo McGuinn joined by Shane O’Brien, Daniel Osborne, Sean Meehan, Eoghan McGrane and Scott Howe to look over the weekend’s Premier League action, Cork City’s victory in the FAI Cup final, Slaven Bilic’s sacking by West Ham United and Friday night’s GAA teams of the year.

Vinnies reign supreme in the capital once more

St Vincent’s defeated Ballymun Kickhams in a tightly contested affair last Monday to retain their Dublin Senior Football title.

The Marino men edged out their rivals by a goal winning on a scoreline of 1-08 to 0-8 in front of a sold out Parnell Park.

The highly anticipated game boasted some of the finest individual talent in the country, however the standard on show was surprisingly lower than expected.

St Vincent’s were by far the better of the two sides in the opening half enjoying far more possession. Tomás Quinn had two chances to find the net but was denied by a goal line deflection and the butt of the post respectively.

Vincent’s did hit the back of the net through talisman Diarmuid Connolly midway through the first half, following an uncharacteristic mistake from Philly McMahon. Lorcan Galvin capitalised and supplied an unmarked Connolly with a pass and the Dublin star slotted a low shot to put his side in the lead.

Ballymun were far from their best in the first period, dropping several shots short or wide and could be considered fortunate to only trail by a goal with the half time scoreline reading 1-04 to 0-04.

The second half was more of the same. St Vincent’s controlled the game very well and were more than happy to hold possession for long periods, keeping Ballymun at arms length at all times.

Ballymun never looked like breaking down Vinnies until a slick hand-passing move saw wing back Carl Keeley go one on one with goalkeeper Michael Savage only to see his shot pushed over the bar. This was crucial as Vincent’s managed to avoid Ballymun gaining momentum as they began to run down the clock.

Ballymun became increasingly desperate with McMahon and Dean Rock both moving to the edge of the square as the game reached its climax, but in truth Vincent’s were never really troubled in what was a very controlled solid defensive effort.

By Eoghan McGrane

The group that nearly got away

Ireland rarely do things the easy way. Monday’s win in Cardiff was one of the most impressive away victories in the country’s history, probably the most impressive when you factor in that the game was win or bust. But it should never have come to that.

Before Monday’s game, the campaign had threatened to become a campaign of ‘what ifs’ following an abject 2017.

November’s win in Austria saw Ireland sitting pretty on top of Group D with 10 points from 12 and with back-to-back home games with Wales and Austria there was a real chance to gain a stranglehold on the group. Victory over the Welsh, who played with 10 men for 25 minutes, would have put the boys in green seven points clear of their Celtic rivals at the halfway stage of the group.

Instead they would limp to a 0-0 draw in Dublin that maintained the status quo. June’s clash with a depleted Austrian outfit offered the chance to regain momentum at the top of the group, but again they were held to a draw, producing one of the worst home performances of the O’Neill era in the process.

The insipid September draw in Georgia that followed put Ireland firmly on the backfoot and brought them to a must win home game with group leaders Serbia that they promptly lost, once again failing to exploit a man advantage for the best part of half an hour.

That defeat saw Ireland drop to third behind Wales and represented a dramatic fall from grace since beating Austria. What could have been a seven-point buffer following the home game in March was now a one point deficit.

Trailing Serbia by five points with just two games remaining meant that Ireland’s only realistic chance was the play offs if they could beat wales in Cardiff, however they would need favours elsewhere to ensure they would not be the worst second placed team.

Miraculously, Scotland did Ireland the favour they needed by beating Slovakia and then failing to beat Slovenia, meaning that a win in Wales would suffice for the play offs. Ironically, it is not the first time Scotland have done an Irish campaign favours either, their defeat to Georgia in 2015 was the difference between Ireland qualifying for Euro 2016 and not qualifying and their win in Bulgaria in 1987 saw Ireland qualify for their first ever international tournament.

With Monday’s game in Cardiff a must win for both sides, the game had the feel of a cup final and Ireland to their credit executed a game plan to perfection. They dug in in a difficult environment and struck at the opportune moment, a wonderful goal from James McClean that will go down in the annals of Irish football history and sparked wild celebrations among the travelling Irish contingent. Thankfully they were still celebrating come the full-time whistle.

However, the job is only half done and Ireland face the prospects of a play off for the 4th time in the last five campaigns. Their possible opposition (Switzerland, Italy, Croatia, and Denmark) is daunting but Irish fans will cross their fingers that they are drawn with either Switzerland or Denmark.

The Danes failed to qualify for Euro 2016, a tournament comprising of exactly half the teams in Europe so their credentials must be called in to question.

The Swiss, on the other hand, won nine of their ten games in qualifying but it was a visibly poor group featuring one good team in Portugal who were still on a come down following their European success last summer and Ireland would fancy their chances against a team they beat last year, albeit in a friendly.

Italy and Croatia represent far more daunting opponents and it would be a tough ask to overcome either in two legs. Having said that, Martin O’Neill is slowly building a portfolio of major scalps as Ireland manager and there is always a chance he will pull off another Germany or another Italy or another Austria. Wales can now be added to the list of higher ranked scalps and it was a win that saved Ireland’s campaign.

But they should never have been in need of that win. The what ifs have been shelved, for now. Hopefully, they will be shelved for good in a month’s time.

By Shane O’Brian