1. Introduction

The June 2022 Monthly Report of the CIES Football Observatory analyses the squad make up of ten of the main women’s leagues worldwide from the aspects of players’ age, playing time of expatriate footballers and origins represented among the latter. The study covers the six-year period from 2017 to 2022.

The sample is composed of players fielded or present at least once on the bench over the season. For the current season, the values refer to the situation as on the 1st of June. The NWSL Challenge Cup in the United States was also considered. For 2022, the sample studied includes a total of 119 clubs and 3,067 footballers.

Figure 1: study sample (2017-2022)

2. Age evolution

After four consecutive years of growth, the players’ average age on the pitch (calculated on the 1st January of each year) did not increase during last year. Since 2017, however, an increase was recorded in eight of the ten leagues studied, with a notable rise in the English Women’s Super League (+2.3 years of age). By championship, in 2022, the values vary between 22.1 years of age in the very young Dutch Eredivisie and 27.1 in the more mature NWSL in the United States.

Figure 2: average age on the pitch (2017-2022)

Figure 3: evolution in the average age on the pitch, per league (2017-2022)

Figure 4: average age on the pitch, per league (2022)

During the current or last completed season, NJ/NY Gotham FC fielded the oldest line-ups with an all-time record for leagues surveyed of 30.3 years of age. This is about 1.5 years more than for the second most experienced team: Tottenham Hotspur WFC. As for last season, VV Alkmaar fielded the youngest line-ups among teams surveyed (19.7 years of age), ahead of two other Dutch teams: SC Heerenveen and PEC Zwolle.

Figure 5: average age on the pitch, per club (2022)

3. Evolution of expatriates

Since 2017, the development of women’s club football has gone hand in hand with an increase in the international mobility of players. The percentage of minutes played by expatriate footballers, those who grew up in a different association from that of their employer club, went up from 21.6% in 2017 to 30.9% in June 2022. However, as for age, the rising trend reversed during last year.

Figure 6: % of minutes by expatriates (2017-2022)

The player labour market internationalisation process observed during the six-year-period studied was particularly marked in the Italian Serie A (+36.6% of minutes by expatriate footballers) and the English Women’s Super League (+19.6%). By league, in 2022, the level of expatriates ranges from just 5.4% in the Dutch Eredivisie Women to 47.7% in the Swedish Damallsvenskan.

Figure 7: evolution in % of minutes by expatriates, per league (2017-2022)

Figure 8: % of minutes by expatriates, per league (2022)

Many of the most competitive teams are made up of a majority of players who have grown up in foreign associations. Twenty of the 119 clubs analysed fielded expatriate footballers for a majority of domestic league minutes, with a record figure of 75.2% for the Swedish side IFK Kalmar. Champions League winners Olympique Lyonnais are just below the 50% threshold (47.1%), while the percentage for 2022 finalists FC Barcelona is much lower (25.1%).

Figure 9: % of minutes by expatriates, per club (2022)

The United States stand out as the main exporting country in women’s football. With 82 footballers abroad, US citizens outrank the Swedes (46 expatriates) and the Canadians (42). Players from the United States are present in all the leagues studied, with a maximum of 22 representatives in the Swedish Damallsvenskan. In total, 73 associations had at least one expatriate in one of the ten championships analysed.

Figure 10: principal origins of expatriates (2022)

4. Conclusion

After the strong increases in players’ age and expatriate presence recorded between 2017 and 2021, during the last year, the most competitive women's leagues worldwide underwent no major changes at the level of squad composition. The average age of line-ups fielded has remained stable, though the percentage of minutes played by expatriates has fallen slightly.

After having developed strongly, thanks notably to new resources invested by professional clubs traditionally more oriented to men’s football, women’s club football has entered into a period of consolidation. We have observed the emergence of a transnational market where each league, and teams within the latter, play complementary roles according to their economic and sporting potentials.

With the support of national associations, this new phase should go hand in hand with a general reinforcement of training programmes. Already well underway, this process will allow the level of competition to further improve both for clubs and national teams, thus promoting a lasting sporting and economic growth of women’s football.