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The 20th FIFA World Cup will start on 12th June in Brazil and will generate huge media interest. The CIES Football Observatory is pleased to present new and exclusive data on the 32 teams who will be taking part in this mega event with the 2014 World Cup Preview. This new Football Observatory report analyses the profile of players used by each national team during the qualification process. For Brazil, we took into account footballers employed in friendly matches played during the qualification phase and in the Confederations Cup

The average age of players on the pitch for teams that qualified was 27.2. The oldest team was Australia (30.2 years), while the youngest was Nigeria (24.2). The average age on the pitch of European nations varies from 28.6 years for Italy and Russia to 24.7 for Belgium. The youngest player fielded was Fabrice Olinga (16.8 years during the match between Cameroon and Togo on 23/03/2013), while the oldest was Mark Schwarzer (40.7 years during the Australia v. Iraq match on 18/06/2013).

The employer club whose footballers played the most minutes during World Cup qualification matches was Real Madrid (10,549 minutes), followed by FC Barcelona (9,549) and Bayern Munich (9,351). The first non-European club, Esteghlal FC of Iran (5,061 minutes), ranked only 14th. This finding reflects both the over-representation of European teams in the World Cup and the high concentration of top level players in the most competitive European leagues.

In total, 48.9% of World Cup qualification minutes were played by footballers under contract with top division clubs in England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France. Only Russia did not field players employed by big-5 league teams. The percentage of minutes played by big-5 league footballers was also below 25% for Australia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Iran and South Korea. These nations will most probably struggle to qualify for the knockout stages.

Only about 35% of the qualification minutes were played by footballers playing in domestic leagues. This percentage was 0% for Cameroon and the Ivory Coast. The percentage was also under 5% for Uruguay, Bosnia, Ghana and Belgium. At the opposite end of the spectrum, domestic league based footballers played 100% of minutes in the English side. All other qualified nations fielded at least one player under contract with a foreign team.

The CIES Football Observatory will attend the first OptaPro Analytics Forum to be held Thursday 6th February in London. Drs Roger Besson and Raffaele Poli will present a poster on the fight against relegation in the English Premier League. The poster can be downloaded here.

The CIES Football Observatory is happy to disclose the 6th edition of its annual Demographic Study on 31 top division leagues of UEFA member associations, 472 clubs and 11,653 players. The 96-page publication is divided in five chapters: club records, league comparison, league profile, international migration and youth talents. A free excerpt is available here.

The Study shows that professional European football is still confronted with processes that do not necessarily augur well for its future. The cloud of economic stakes that hangs over sporting logics is flagrant in many clubs and countries. In general, the number of transfers carried out by teams during the current season is at an all-time high. A trend that is difficult to understand given the actual climate with its numerous financial difficulties.

The increasing speculation surrounding players’ transfers is also visible through the progressive drop in the number of club-trained players, which has attained its lowest level since 2009. Conversely, the percentage of expatriate players has risen for the second consecutive year. Here too, the figure has never been so high.

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Key figures

  • Despite the regulations introduced in many countries and at UEFA club competition level, the relative presence of footballers playing for the club where they were trained reached a new record low: 21.2%.
  • The percentage of expatriate players reached a new record high this season: 36.8%. The proportion of footballers who have already experienced international migration during their career was also never as high as for current season: 49.3%.
  • The English Premier League has the second highest percentage of expatriate footballers (60.4%), just after Cyprus. Expatriates represent a majority of squads also in Italy, Turkey, Portugal and Belgium. The greatest proportion was measured at Inter Milan (89%).
  • While Brazil remains the most represented foreign origin, the number of Brazilians decreased by 67 since 2009: from 538 to 471. France is the second nation with the highest number of expatriates in top division European leagues: from 247 to 306 (+59) during the last five seasons.
  • A new record high was also registered with regard to the number of new signings. On average, players recruited from January 2013 onwards represent 41.3% of squads (10.2 signings per club).
  • Transfer activity is much higher in Southern and Eastern Europe than in the northern part of the continent. Cyprus tops the ranking of the highest number of squad members signed after January 2013 (on average 14.1 per club). This figure is only 5.3 in Sweden.
  • Italy and England top the table for the largest squads (26.8 players per club on average). Italian Serie A also gathers the most seasoned footballers (27.3 years) and the least percentage of club-trained players (8.4%).
  • The tallest league is German Bundesliga (183.8cm), while the shortest is Spanish Liga (180.1cm). Barcelona has the second shortest squad (177.4cm) among the 472 clubs surveyed. Only Bnei Sakhnin (Israel) is composed of shorter players than the Catalan side.
  • The highest percentage of players with national A-team caps in 2013 was recorded in England (44.3%). At club level, the greatest proportion of active internationals was registered at Chelsea (80%). The London club outranks Manchester City and Fenerbahçe.
  • Barcelona has the most stable squad among European top division teams. Players in the Catalan club have been on average for 5.5 years in the first team squad. The average stay is above 5 years in only one other club: Manchester United.
  • Finally, the CIES Football Observatory study confirms the excellent work undertaken by Ajax Amsterdam in the area of youth training. The Dutch side tops the table of clubs having trained the most players under contract with top division teams in Europe. With 69 representatives, Ajax outranks Partizan Belgrade, Barcelona, Hajduk Split and Sporting Lisbon.

Ballon d’Or contender Franck Ribéry was the most productive offensive midfielder in the big-5 leagues since the start of the season. His main rival, Cristiano Ronaldo, ranks second among forwards. Lionel Messi was not included in the analysis as he played less than two thirds of championship minutes.

The rankings compare players according to key performance indicators exclusively developed by the CIES Football Observatory academic team using data provided by our partner Opta Pro. The indicators measure both the production and efficiency of players in six complementary areas of the game: shooting, chance creation, take on, distribution, recovery and rigour (see explanation below).

All the indicators are perfectly comparable at international level as they were developed by taking into account the differences between leagues in both the style of play and game intensity.

Luis Suárez outranks Cristiano Ronaldo (1st in Spain) and Neymar among the best performing strikers. In the remaining leagues, Carlos Tévez tops the table in Italy, Zlatan Ibrahimović in France and Marco Reus in Germany.

Franck Ribéry was the best performing offensive midfielder both in Germany and at big-5 league level, ahead of James Rodríguez (1st in France) and Miralem Pjanić (1st in Italy). In the other leagues, Samir Nasri tops the English table and Andrés Iniesta the Spanish one.

Paris St-Germain rising star Marco Verratti heads the ranking for central and defensive midifielders. The young Italian prodigy outperforms Gabi Fernández (1st in Spain) and Arturo Vidal (1st in Italy). Former full back Philipp Lahm ranks first in Germany, while Aaron Ramsey tops the English table.

Another very young player tops the table for full backs: David Alaba. In the other leagues, the best performing full backs were Douglas Maicon (Italy), Layvin Kurzawa (France), Pablo Zabaleta (England) and Dani Alves (Spain).

Finally, Giorgio Chiellini finishes top of the ranking for centre backs, ahead of Dante Bonfim (1st in Germany) and Leandro Castán. Alex da Silva heads the French table, Dejan Lovren the English one and Gerard Piqué was the best performing centre back in Spain.

More rankings are available in the 57th edition of the Big-5 Weekly Post. For more information, please contact us at

CIES Football Observatory key performance indicators

Shooting: ability to take advantage of goal opportunities through accurate shooting

Chance creation: ability to create goal opportunities through efficient passing

Take on: ability to create dangerous situations by successfully challenging opponents

Distribution: ability to hold the grip on the game through efficient passing

Recovery: ability to minimise goal opportunities for opponents through proficient ball recovery

Rigour: ability to minimise goal opportunities for opponents by efficiently blocking their actions

The online database on the CIES Football Observatory website has been updated. The new database now includes data on the previous five completed seasons of the big-5 European leagues (from 2008/09 to 2012/13).

All interested users can now actively consult and access the trends observed in each of the big-5 leagues in relation to the following indicators:

• Average age

• Average height

• % of club-trained players

• % of full internationals

• % of expatriates

• Average stay

More detailed descriptions for each indicator are available here

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