Early-season birth dates weight heavily in favour of a pro career

Barca youth

September 1 – The date a player is born can still have a defining effect on whether a young footballer will have a professional career, or not.

A new study raises questions about whether youth player recruitment is still being based on advanced physical size and strength, rather than footballing ability.

The study by the CIES Football Observatory found that players born early in the year (defined as Jan-Dec, but more aligned to starting dates of the age-groups they play in) are more likely to play professionally.

The CIES looked at the month of birth of 43,938 players who played in 2021 in 119 leagues worldwide. “The study confirms the relative age effect, i.e. the advantage to be born early in the year to make a career,” say the CIES authors.

“In total, 31.2% of players in the sample are born in the first trimester of the year. In contrast, only 19.0% are born in the last trimester. Without relative age effect, these proportions should have been around 25%,” says the report.

“Per national origin, the stronger concentration of footballers born in the first trimester was measured for the Chinese (43.6%). An over-representation was recorded for 64 of the 67 origins with at least 200 representatives in the sample.”

The weighting towards the start of the youth age groups is confirmed by the very low proportion of Japanese born in the first trimester – 16.2% – (in Japan, youth categories start on April 1. As well as in England where players born in the first trimester are just slightly over-represented (27.1%) where age group football begins September 1.

To see the full report click here.

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