Getting the balance right between youth and age

Here’s an exercise that I bet you don’t do: go to, click on one of the “lesser” leagues like Liga NOS, then click on player stats, then click on the detailed tab, then change the “shots” category from per game to total, then sort the shots data by total. Then I scan the results for players 21 years old and younger.

Why? I’m fascinated with young players who get lots of shots. Basically, if you see a guy under 21 who is getting 50+ shots a season, there’s a good chance this kid has talent. I consider it even better if the bulk of his shots are in the penalty area and/or in the 6 yard box.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not at all pretending that I’m a scout or that this is some kind of meaningful insight into football players. This is basic stuff: getting shots is difficult, if a young player is getting shots he must be doing something right, if he’s getting shots in the 18 yard box, he must be doing something really right. It’s also possible his team just really sucks but even if the team sucks, a young guy who is able to get shots on a sucky team is still probably pretty good.

I also look at their shot-footedness, key-passiness, and their dribbling stats. If I see a player with a large section of his shots with both feet, then I know he’s two-footed. Key passes show me how active he is in buildup and dribbling stats are the one I use to decide if a player is going to be an “ooohhhh” player, one of those guys that everyone thinks is better than he actually is.

But every time I do this, I “find” some “hidden” gem. Again, I’m not egotistical enough to think that these are undiscovered players by any stretch. I’m sure that every club in world football is scouting these players and running advanced stats on them. But for a layman like myself, it’s a fun diversion from my country’s developing Trumpwelian hellscape.

Doing this I “discovered” players like Anthony Martial, Gabriel Jesus, Gabigol, and Ousmane Dembele. Of course, I’m discovering them right at their peak value but still, it’s fun to be able to sort of predict when I think a player is about to make a big jump in value and or get bought up by a Premier League club.

For example, in Liga NOS, I guarantee that guy Andre Silva will get snapped up by some club soon. I watched his videos. He’s not really that impressive. But it’s hard to turn down the prospect of a 21 year old with 15 goals in 27 appearances in the league and Champions League.

The other guy I highlighted on that list, Jota, I would bet would be a high value player but then I noticed: he’s actually already on loan from Atletico Madrid.

Over in the Eredivisie, I got all excited by this young Turk named Enes Ünal. 19 years old and already among the most prolific shooters in the Dutch league. But I noticed he’s actually a Man City player on loan. Still there are others in that division: Gaston Pereiro (insanely left footed), Kasper Dolberg, and Queensy Menig (on loan from Ajax).

In the English league Championship there is a 19 year old named Tammy Abraham who plays for Bristol City. He already has 61 shots in the 18 yard box and an incredible 12 in the six yard box. Which explains why he has 15 goals this season. 8 of them in the 6 yard box. Oh, he’s on loan from Chelsea.

One thing you may have noticed is that there are a lot of players on loan from big clubs. Yep. That’s because the big clubs, I suspect, are capitalizing on the player value bubble and are spending money on players and player development.

Chelsea haven’t built a single brick of a new stadium but what they have done is invested heavily in young players. Chelsea currently have 36 players on loan. Man City have 28 players on loan, though a large number of them are failed former stars. Arsenal have 13.

Another team which seems to be doing well in the youth department is Borussia Dortmund. Signing Ousmane Dembele was a real coup. Currently playing in the wide role, Dembele is a silky dribbler and I suspect he will be moved central to replace Aubameyang in the next 2 years or so. Dortmund also signed Christian Pulisic an exciting young prospect and recently beat Real Madrid to the signature of a kid that the Spanish press (I read the Spanish papers) are ga ga over named Isak. This 17 year old Swede is already being hailed as the next Ibrahimovic. They also signed Emre Mor from under the noses of Man City and Man U and are going after Arsenal’s Gedion Zelalem. They didn’t land Zelalem this month but the Guardian is reporting that they will be back after him in the summer.

Dortmund are able to sign all these young players because they are able to play them. The expectation at Arsenal among fans is for Arsenal to be title challengers and to buy complete players. I think the expectations at Borussia Dortmund are different, the supporters are happy with young, attractive football, and building for the future. Moreover, the Premier League is significantly more dangerous for young players than the Bundesliga. There is a real risk of burnout and injury in the Premier League.

But with Arsenal I wonder if it isn’t time to think of a new approach. As we get close to the end of the careers for Alexis and Özil it might be time to go back to 2007 and try another youth project with some young players augmented by older, cooler heads. With the money Wenger has at his disposal we could finally get a guy like Fabregas and surround him with the talent that would compete for the League title.

Or do you think Arsenal have enough youth already with Iwobi, Ox, Wilshere, Welbz, Holding, Bellerin, and the Jeff?


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