When Rangers recently played Dundee United at Tannadice manager Ally McCoist came in for some criticism when he decided to name only five substitutes. “There must be a couple of youth players worth a place on the bench”, was the cry from many quarters. Of course Rangers still met their obligation of having three under 21 players in the squad.
Was this particular to McCoist and Rangers or was it reflected through the rest of the SPL. So I had a look at the last lineup of all 12 SPL clubs and of the 164 players used, only 3 could have played in their club’s youth league fixtures. Clark Robertson of Aberdeen who has been pretty much a regular, and Motherwell duo Stewart Carswell and Adam Cummins, Carswell has made quite a few appearances while Cummins was making his debut.
The percentage of youth players in the SPL clubs lineups was 1.8%, a pretty low figure, or was it ? How does it compare to other European leagues ? To carry out a similar study of other leagues would be a mammoth task, where as I could tell with a glance at a SPL lineup who is a youth player, looking at any other league would require a more in-depth investigation. I decided by looking at recent Under 19 international squads it would give a snapshot and a wee insight.
I decided to look at countries based on their club coefficients, as some higher ranked countries players don’t developing through their domestic league, Republic of Ireland for example. Most of their youth players would be attached to English clubs. There are also other factors to consider, obviously it would be more difficult to break through at an English Premier League Side than one in the Finnish Veikkausliiga.
The validity of this also has to be qualified a wee bit, the availability of data is not uniform across all leagues and there may be one or two players playing above the under 19 squad (if you were looking at this last season, Jack Wilshere for example), although I can’t think of any at the moment.
There are a couple of other factors to take on board, the reserve sides in Germany and Spain play inthe lower divisions in a pyramid structure and in England the youth leagues stop at a younger age, so when players across Europe are still playing for their club’s youth sides, English youngsters are playing reserve football or have gone out on loan.
The findings were pretty surprising and Scotland fared pretty well in comparison in my opinion. Across all countries they were some players that made only one or two top team appearances and these were generally late in games as a substitute, the best example of this being Inter Milan’s Lorenzo Crisetig who’s only top team appearance was as a last-minute substitute in Inter’s Champions League game against CSKA Moscow.
Looking at the big five countries, Spain comes top with a third of their squad having La Liga experience, with Athletico Bilbao’s Jonas Ramalho and Malaga’s Juanmi Jimanez making an impressive 23 appearances. Added to this are others who have been developing at a decent level through the clubs B teams.
One thing that England, France and Germany have in common is that their national youths squads have significant representation from clubs not in the top division. France and Germany have a similar profile in the spread of top team appearances with Markus Mendler of FC Nuremburg and Kurt Zouma of St.Etienne making the biggest impact. Outings in the top division from the England squad is rare, but players from the Championship have made the breakthrough and the loan system means that more that three quarters of the squad have played first team football in one of the four divisions.Italy’s squad is almost exclusively from Serie A clubs and selection for the first team at their clubs have been very limited with nobody making a real impact.
With Portugal ahead of France in the latest club rankings I was surprised that of two Sporting Lisbon players have managed to step up from under 19’s to first team at club level. Perhaps the fact that Brazilians can get easy access to the Portuguese league is a factor and it is significant that Benfica recently fielded a side in the Champions League without any Portuguese players.
Holland has always been associated with the development of young players and with more than half the squad with a top team appearance to their name you would think the trendy continues, but the top of the list, Ajax’s Davy Klaasen has only appeared six times.
So how does Scotland fare ? Well of the of the thirty top European Leagues the under 19 player with the most top team appearances by a long way is a Scot. Aberdeen’s Fraser Fyvie on 54 top team games, which is an incredible figure when you consider he was out with a cruciate injury for a long period. His nearest challenger being Harvard Nielsen of Valerenga in Norway who is a long way behind on 31.
With 44% of the Scotland 19’s having played in the top division, we come near the top, matching Greece and only behind Holland, Croatia, Norway and Finland. With Norway, Croatia and Greece having the most impressive stats when you look at the number of top division games across their squads.
As I say it is only a snapshot of the 19’s squads at that particular time and the overall figures across the leagues could be entirely different. The real picture of these squads will only appear in five or six years times, individuals develop at different rates, some of these will make full international level and most won’t, and others that were never even considered could emerge as the real talents.
In conclusion I don’t think Scotland is such a bad place for youngsters to progress and ultimately if they have the talent and dedication they will make it anyway.
Data spreadsheet below.