In England, we worry a lot about our men’s national football team – the state of it now, and the state of it in the future. Other countries probably do as well, but for us they exist only as comparisons to beat ourselves with when they achieve more than us. It’s always good, though, to have a sense of where the next generation of players is coming from, and that’s why I’ve set out to look at all of the semi-regularly featuring under 25s in Europe’s top leagues.
There is finite space in this column and an innumerable amount of players, however. I looked at defenders two weeks ago, and this time it’s the turn of defensive and central midfielders.
There’s something immediately interesting when you look down the list of names for central midfielders to have started 10 or more matches this season in Europe’s top 5 leagues: and that’s that a lot of the names are recognisable. The Under 25 central defenders featured a lot of unknowns or small names – mixed in, of course, with your John Stoneses and Aymeric Laportes – but for the middle of the park you’re hit with names. Pogba, Verratti, Fabinho, Kimmich, Naby Keita, Julian Weigl – all players who you’ve not only heard of, but might put into a squad if you were buying up the world’s best talent.
This is reflected in the average Euro Club Index (ECI) ratings for the clubs these players have featured at. In terms of the homegrown players in each league, the average ECI rating improves each time from centre-backs to centre-mids. England’s central defenders in these top leagues, for example, had an average ECI of 93, around a Swansea or West Brom level, whereas their central midfielders have an average ECI of 34, around Bayer Leverkusen or Everton level.
The only problem for England is that there are only 3 of them. Eric Dier, Tom Davies, and James Ward-Prowse are curiously alone when Europe’s players are sifted through these filters. This is England’s next generation.
Bear in mind that this is discounting an advanced, attacking midfield position, where Dele Alli and Ross Barkley join the list, but that’s still essentially the extent of the talent being played semi-regularly.
It’s slightly curious that there are no English central midfielders lower down the league being played semi-regularly. Italy, Spain, and France have more (a lot more, in the case of our most immediate, Gallic neighbours) players playing in these positions, but the average ECI rating for their clubs is lower, around the 80s or higher for Italy (though skewed by Pescara’s extremely low place on the ECI).
The French, it seems clear (although the reasons for it are less so), flood their domestic league with their own, young talent. 22 of them, by these parameters, or a whole nineteen more than the English. The French talent also plays a lot more on average than their European counterparts, though only by a small handful of 90 minutes here and there. The English trio only average 11.4 90s as starting central midfielders, but this is partially because of Eric Dier’s frequent deployment as a centre-back at Spurs.
Ligue 1’s young central midfielders are also largely French – the same is the case with La Liga and the Spanish, and to a marginally lesser extent with the Bundesliga and Germany. The lack of young English central midfielders in the top 5 leagues is not because they’re being crowded out by foreign contemporaries though, as there are only 12 semi-regular young central midfielders of any nationality in the Premier League, and the lowest figure for any of the Big 5 competitions.
This is all a stark contrast from the case in Italy, where their 12 Italian young centre-mids only make up the minority of the 31 total in the league. Italian fans may have stats to back up any sporting xenophobia, but the English have to blame the old. In fact, there are more English centre-mids over 30 playing semi-regularly in the Premier League than there are under 25s (Barry, Barton, Britton, Carrick, and Marney hogging the minutes).
The real nation to watch, though, are Germany (this might not be surprising). They have 12 under 25 central midfielders in the top 5 leagues, equal with Italians, pipping the Spanish by one, and hugely overshadowing the English. What’s most impressive is that these players have an average ECI rating of their clubs of just over 37, essentially on a par with the average quality of England’s CMs. No wonder they are World Champions.
This article was written with the aid of StrataData, which is property of Stratagem Technologies. StrataData powers the StrataBet Sports Trading Platform, in addition to StrataBet Premium Recommendations.
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