PARENTS who want their child to become the next Lionel Messi or Fernando Torres should plan their birth to be at the beginning of the year, researchers have advised.
Economics lecturers at University College Cork believe they have the key to producing an elite squad of Ireland's future players.
The study, carried out by brothers David and Robbie Butler of the Department of Economics, has indicated that young footballers born in the first three months of the year tend to perform the best.
Those born earlier in a selection year within organised football have one up on their teammates and are more likely to be selected at an elite level, according to the research.
However, they said that there was a simple reason for the finding.
Because of the club registration process later on in the year, players born at the beginning of the year have a natural physical size advantage.
"You can have players who are technically very good but, unfortunately, very small and, as a result, they may not be selected because the coach wants to win and will pick the biggest player," said Robbie.
Robbie and David presented their research, titled Relative Age Effects in Association Football, during a meeting with FAI high performance director Wim Koevermans.
They hope the findings will support the establishment of a well rounded academy in Ireland and suggest "a reframing of the environment" in which children play underage football to limit the advantages of physique at this level.