Sunday 22 October 2017

Age profile adds up to trouble for Trap

Robbie Butler and David Butler

With the dust still settling on the 23-man squad selected by Giovanni Trapattoni for the European Championship finals, it is worth asking next month whether the squad selected is the appropriate age for the challenge.

This is an area that we investigated before and found startling evidence confirming that a person's birth date heavily influences their chances of becoming an elite footballer.

The 23 players selected by Trapattoni have an average age of 28.3. Regrettably, two of the youngest players named in the most recent squad for the friendly against the Czech Republic, James McCarthy and Seamus Coleman, are not due to be on the plane to Poland.

While experience is obviously important when competing at major tournaments, the omission of some of our younger talent is all the more worrying when we consider the past performance and the average age of squads at major finals from 1992 to 2010.

If you take all European Championship and World Cups from 1992 to the most recent World Cup in South Africa -- 10 in all -- you can look at the average age of the squads at the finals and the average age of the teams that lined out in the final. The number crunching is quite boring but once you trawl through the squads a pattern emerges.

Starting at squad level, since 1992 the average age of a winning squad is 27.01 years. The Spanish are the youngest victorious squad, with an average age in 2010 of less than 26 (25.91). The oldest squad to win a major championship in the past 20 years are the Greeks, in 2004, with an average age of 28.35. This is fractionally older than our squad heading to Poland.

However, a word of caution on squad level data. As we know, lots of players go to major finals and never get near the pitch. To overcome this, we examined birth dates of players to play in the final match from 1992 to 2010. The youngest team to appear in a final since 1992 were the defeated Czechs in 1996, with an average age of just 25.82 for the 11 starting players. The oldest finalists were also beaten. This claim goes to the French team of 2006, who had an average age of nearly 30 (29.64).

The average age of winning teams from 1992 to 2010 is 27.61, with defeated finalists on average aged 27.58 years. No starting 11 was victorious in either tournament when younger than 26.09 or older than 28.91.

Assuming a starting XI of Given, O'Shea, St Ledger, Dunne, Ward, Duff, Whelan, Andrews, McGeady, Keane and Doyle, our average age is 29.82. The stats would suggest this is far too old; in fact, this competition has probably come two years too late for this Irish team.

A Moneyball-style analysis can be used to consider what the stats would suggest is our best chance. This is obviously going into the realm of opinion, and hence is open to question, but let's suppose we replaced the three attacking players in our assumed starting XI, aged 30 or older (Andrews, Keane, Duff) with Gibson, Long and McClean, the average age drops to 28.67. This is closer to what the stats indicate will work.

However, that's easier said than done.

Robbie Butler & David Butler are lecturers in UCC's Department of Economics

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