The fringe player dilemma
It’s easy to forget about your fringe players. When your season largely rests upon the actions of 15 to 18 key individuals, you can quickly lose focus on the purpose of the rest of the squad. We all recognise that squads need depth, but what type of profile is required for your backup players?
By grouping players as ‘core’, ‘squad’ and ‘fringe’ members of a team, the characteristics of each squad becomes measurable and comparable. According to our analysis, in a typical squad the 10 most-appearing outfielders in a season each play more than 50% of minutes over the course of a season. They are your core players, and – if available – the first names on the team sheet. The next 7 ‘squad’ players each play on average between 20% and 50% of minutes, whilst the fringe players tend to play less than 20% of minutes each.
By chance or design, different clubs have different compositions of fringe players. Some will favour youth, occasionally providing opportunities in the first team as part of the club’s succession plan. Meanwhile, others will opt for more experience, in the hope that these players can also provide leadership in the dressing room – Rickie Lambert for Liverpool, Claudio Pizarro for Bayern Munich, Gary Caldwell for Wigan Athletic. In the Premier League last season, just 1 of 7 (14%) of Tottenham’s fringe players were over 23, whilst all 6 of Hull’s backups were in the ‘peak’ or ‘roll down’ phases of their careers.
In last season’s Championship campaign, Sheffield Wednesday stood out as a team that mixed experienced core and squad players with younger fringe players, whilst teams like Blackburn and Leicester generally opted for old heads in reserve, especially compared to their core and squad players.
Notwithstanding the benefits of having experienced heads around the dressing room, the issue with carrying a high number of over-23s in the fringes of the squad is twofold: they can become high cost/low productivity passengers, and they arguably block the pathway for younger talent. When margins are fine, it’s vital to get the composition of the squad right year-on-year.
Which begs the question: are your fringe players serving the right purpose? And if not, what is the evolution plan for next season?