The seventh edition of the CIES
Football Observatory Annual Review is now available. This
publication unveils the logics of success in the five major
European leagues using a novel and unique "demo-technic" approach.
The latter combines the study of players' demographic profile and
their on-pitch performances both on an individual and collective
The five chapters that make up the publication cover the
following areas: player selection and turnover; age structure and
club experience; mobility and contracts; club pitch performance;
player pitch performance.
Player selection and turnover
As already highlighted in our previous
Guest Blog for OptaPro, a first insight of the Study is
that squad size is generally negatively correlated to results.
Fewer players used, the better the results. No 2011/12 big-5 league
champion has fielded more than 25 footballers over the course of
the season (from 25 for Real Madrid and Juventus to 23 for Dortmund
and Montpellier). All title winners figure among the five clubs
having utilised the least players in their respective league.
No big-5 league club has used as few players as German
Bundesliga and Champions League runner-up Bayern München (21). The
best performing clubs rely more than any other team on a core group
of players who make up the main stay of the starting eleven. From a
performance perspective, the analysis suggests that best strategy
is to have at least eight stable players in the initial
The average percentage of minutes played by the four most used
defensive footballers was always higher than 78% in title winner
clubs, up to 89.8% for Montpellier (4th greatest value
at big-5 league level, +28% compared to Paris St-Germain) and 90.6%
for Juventus (2nd, +19% compared to Milan).
Age structure and club experience
The report shows that investing in young players is more than
ever a key success factor. In all leagues, the average age of
players fielded by champions was lower than that of runner-up
teams. All title winners are among the ten youngest clubs in their
respective league. As in the previous season, the youngest champion
was German (Dortmund, 24.5), while the oldest was Italian
With the exception of Juventus, the highest percentage of
minutes among champions was played by footballers aged between 22
and 26. However, no title winners fielded as regularly players
under 22 years of age as English and German runner-ups: Manchester
United (25% of minutes) and Bayern Munich (22%). Within the context
of a generation change, their strategy of giving a chance to young
talents will pay dividends.
The best teams concentrate in their squad footballers having
acquired extensive big-5 league experience already at young age.
Among the teams made up of young but already quite experienced
players also figure possible current season's surprise packages:
Athletic Bilbao, Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke 04.
Mobility and contracts
Footballers fielded by the best performing clubs have played a
greater number of seasons together than their counterparts in lower
tier teams. This shows the importance of squad stability in winning
trophies. However, Manchester City and Juventus won their league
with a relatively low social capital available. This highlights the
outstanding work carried out by club managers Mancini and
Except for Juventus, all champions were among the four teams
having fielded the least players signed at the start or during the
season in their respective league. Only German surprise team
Borussia Mönchengladbach (0.51) used fewer new signings than
Spanish title winner Real Madrid (0.84). PSG's second place in
France with 6.17 new signings on the pitch can be seen as a prelude
to even better results.
In all champion clubs, players whose contract ran out at the end
of the season played a much lower percentage of minutes than among
league rivals. The ability of the best performing clubs not to rely
too much on players who will be leaving the club in the near future
is part of their competitive advantage.
Club pitch performance
The pitch performance of clubs is measured using data provided
by our partners Opta. Our key performance indicators cover five
areas of the game: shooting, chance creation, take on, distribution
and recovery. All the indicators aggregated on a team level are
positively correlated to results. This allows the objective
identification of the highest performing clubs and players in the
most decisive areas of the game.
Barcelona is at the top of the ranking of the most productive
big-5 league teams, followed by arch rival Real Madrid, Manchester
City, Juventus and Manchester United. Five English clubs are in the
12 first positions of the table. This shows that the greatest
concentration of top level teams is to be found in the English
The first French club is only 11th (Paris
St-Germain). Montpellier success in the Ligue 1 is mainly related
to the outstanding contribution of substitute players
(1st position in France, 5th place at big-5
league level). Barcelona is among the three best performing big-5
league clubs in all areas of the game. Manchester City is not in
the top three in the take on area only (18th).
Player pitch performance
Statistical procedures have been developed to compare players at
big-5 league level by neutralising the three following possible
biases: different styles of play between leagues, different
competitive balance within leagues, and different competitiveness
of league representatives at international level. These
methodological precautions allow us to objectively rank players
from different leagues.
Lionel Messi was the most decisive player in the 2011/12 big-5
league season. Barcelona's forward over-performed compared to
Cristiano Ronaldo in all areas of the game except for shooting,
during each part of the season, against every kind of opponent, as
well as both in home and away matches. However, the positive gap in
away matches was significantly lower than at home.
English Premier League footballers are over-represented in the
first positions of the general ranking. They are eight among the 13
top ranked players and 22 among the first 60. This confirms the
great level of talent concentration in England.
An excerpt of the Annual Review may be downloaded for free
from the CIES Football Observatory's website (www.football-observatory.com/publications).
The 96-page comprehensive report is on sale on the CIES website (http://shop.cies.ch/ch_en/edition-cies.html).