The 20th player
In 1984, Liverpool famously used just 15 outfield players in a 66-match season. 12 of those individuals played in over half of those matches, with just 3 fringe players coming in for cover.
Football has unmistakably changed; large squads are now the norm and rotation is an accepted part of the game. However, teams still rely on a ‘core’ group of 10 outfield players competing in over 50% of possible league playing time, while the 15th most-appearing player on average plays about 25% of possible minutes.
But what of the 20th player? What kind of individual do we want in this role? Virtually all teams use at least 20 outfield players in a season, and on average this player features in about 10% of possible minutes – or 9 minutes per game (in Norway this is as low as 6%, and as high as 13% in the English Championship).
Should he be an experienced head, someone the manager can turn to in the game’s final moments? Or a youngster, a player who is not a core player today but must start somewhere?
A quick scan of the data tells us that players like Aaron Ramsey (when aged 17), Daniel Sturridge (20) and Mario Götze (17) have all been the 20th most-appearing player in their careers. Every other young player would have started somewhere near 20th in the pecking order, with a view to rising up the ranks year-by-year.
9 minutes per game may not seem much, but accumulated over a season it can be crucial experience for a young player, and ultimately benefit the club in the long run. It’s not always easy to give an unknown quantity a chance, but the 20th player might be a good place to start.