Football supply, demand and planning for reality - Part One

28 Aug Football supply, demand and planning for reality – Part One

It’s the time of the year where in football, the ‘market’ is fluid with movement of athletes, managers and those that follow them. It is the time of the year where clubs are seeking their competitive advantage for the season to come in order to achieve their ‘goals and ambitions.’

It is also the time which brings trepidation, uncertainty and anxiety for many involved in the game. This includes those young players who have been released who are uncertain of their future, those players who are at the end of their career who are waiting (or having to prove) they are worth another year, those managers / coaches who are still out of work and waiting for the phone to ring, and the host of players who are out of contract and hoping to impress on trial for a new dawn.

Part one of this two part blog considers supply and demand for the athletes.


Athletes (The supply system, the talent pathway)


It is not difficult to work out that the amount of ‘spare holes’ in the professional football recruitment ranks each year is very small. The player development funnel for the 92 league clubs, has only enough room for a certain number of players. Let’s look at a VERY crude examination of the English league clubs.

Across the 92 league clubs a reasonable estimate of average senior squad size is 26 (not including considerations of U21s / Scholars) = c2,392 professional athletes.

Each year there will be a degree of movement of those c2,392 professional athletes through the following mechanisms, with the diagram illustrative of the approximate proportion under each heading. (These estimates are aggregated up from a small case study of clubs across the Premier League and Football League):




The proportions of professionals in each box in the hypothetical scenario might not be exactly right but if you consider recent experience of the team you support it wont be far out. Hypothetically if 15% of slots were ‘available’ each year for ‘new players into the funnel’ to break into the system, this is aggregated up to 359 across the system in this crude example (approximately 4 per league club on average). The following are competing for those ‘available’ spaces:

  • almost 2,000 athletes in the EPPP system on scholarships and those professionals playing in the Under 21 Premier League (Cat 1-4, with over 9,000 athletes in the full Academy system in the England);
  • foreign players brought in the add value to teams;
  • players that come from non-traditional professional backgrounds – e.g. Non League football.


The simple message


The reality is, even though the numbers above are crude, and are taken as an even spread across the 92 clubs, where there is a skew on size and capability at the top end, the message is clear. The ability to break into the group of the ‘football employment conveyor belt’ is very hard, and the reality is, staying on it and making the best for the future is even more difficult.

The reality hits home when you realise the average life of a League 2 footballer is estimated at between 7-8 years with an average salary of £50,000. The need for recognition of the importance of future planning, is front and centre with objective eyes. The more that players (especially if they start early on in the Academy system), their support networks, and those with a role in helping to develop them as people and athletes, realise that the statistics of ‘making it, and making it as a life changer’ are really against them, then the more chance they have of preparing themselves for the message or pathway that the majority will follow.Part 2 is coming soon and will outline a similar picture but this time for the workforce supporting the professional game.