How to build the ideal football squad

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The winter transfer window is on the horizon and fans are already looking ahead to who their club should be looking to sign in January. Bringing in new faces is not without its risks though, with Everton’s summer squad-building having ended badly for Ronald Koeman, so what lessons can managers learn?

We have analysed the last decade of transfer data from across the ‘big five’ European leagues to come up with some advice for clubs at both ends of the table in order to build the ideal football squad.

To win the title you need South American players

The first stat that jumped out at us was that every one of the last 50 title-winning clubs across the major European top divisions had at least one regular starter from South America. More is definitely better too, with over half of them having at least four who made a minimum of 10 league appearances.

The average title winner had around 4.5 first-team regulars from South America, compared to an average of just 3.2 for the clubs finishing in the rest of the top four. This is good news for Manchester City, who have six first-team regulars from that part of the world, with no other Premier League team fielding more than three.

Experience trumps youth at the top of the table

We regularly hear fans imploring their manager to give youth a chance but the unfortunate reality is that it really is tough to win things with kids. Only around one in eight title winners in the last decade had three or more first-team regulars aged under 21, compared with around one in three clubs finishing third or fourth in the table.

Meanwhile, over half of clubs finishing in one of the top two positions had at least three regular starters in their 30s, again compared to around a third in the lower reaches of the top four. This could explain Tottenham’s inability to make the final push in the last two title races, as no top-flight club has given more minutes to young players at the expense of those in their 30s.
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Experience isn’t all that useful at the bottom

The situation is reversed for clubs struggling at the sharp end of the table, with survival chances dropping the more 30-somethings are added to a squad. Around two thirds of clubs finishing in the bottom six with a maximum of one first-team player in their 30s survived, but those with two or more have been likelier to go down than survive, with prospects getting progressively worse for older squads.

This does not bode well for Everton and Bournemouth, who have each fielded four over-30s regularly this season, while Burnley and Swansea have only one first-team regular of this age.
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Foreign imports can stave off relegation

Unfortunately for young players, the recipe for survival isn’t as simple as giving kids a chance in the first team. Their other great rival for playing minutes – signings from overseas – appear to be the more reliable means of clawing to safety.

Clubs finishing in the bottom six with at least three-quarters of their first-team regulars hailing from outside their home nation survived the drop on 72% of occasions, compared with just 42% for clubs whose squad was predominantly composed of domestic talent.

Again there are worrying signs for Bournemouth and Everton with their predominantly English squads, while Stoke, Crystal Palace and West Ham’s heavier reliance on imported talent should see them survive.
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Posted By

Andrew works at the Press Association where he oversees all the company’s sport betting editorial, having previously worked on the Teletext Sport desk and been editor of the England cricket team’s website. A lifelong Huddersfield Town fan, his preferred way to unwind is to head for the hills on his bike.

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