How many players do we need?
Implicit in all the decisions around player trading and youth promotion is a prediction about the depth of squad needed to compete during the season. Some clubs hope to go deep in all competitions, others are content at prioritising the league.
Given the average footballer’s annual pay is a deeply material cost to the club, it makes sense to consult the data to see how many players have been historically needed, by club circumstance.
The table below shows the average number of outfield players who played at least 900 minutes – the equivalent of 10 matches – during a season, according to the number of matches that team played in a season
Clubs playing in Europe have typically needed outfield 20 players who can play 900+ minutes; in other words, a high number of players who play a high number of matches. Those not in Europe have needed 2.4 fewer players on average, and even fewer if they have no plans to go far in the cup competitions.
For example, last season Leicester City – who played just 5 cup matches alongside their 38 league games – had just 14 outfield players play 900+ minutes. Meanwhile Manchester City – who played 9 cup matches and reached the Champions League semifinals – required 21 players to meet this threshold.
With the winter transfer window on the horizon, it’s worth asking: given our circumstances, how many players do we really need?