Premier League: Are the big guns justified in preferring experience over youth?
"You can't win anything with kids!" - These were the famous (or infamous!) words by Alan Hansen, which have been discussed and deliberated more than any other comment by any other football pundit.
There are always articles written about how youth should be promoted, about reducing the average age of teams in the game, and so on.
But this has to be taken with a pinch of salt!
Let's look at what happened last year in the Premier League - Manchester City won the title in a tight battle with Liverpool, followed by Chelsea and Spurs, with Arsenal and Manchester United completing the top 6.
How many young players, or "academy graduates" did each of these club squads include?
The answer is, 1 for City, 2 for Liverpool, 3 for Chelsea, 5 for Spurs, 6 for Arsenal and 8 for United (the entire player list is provided below to prove this was not made up!).
Do we see a trend here - yes, the league position is inversely proportional to the count of promoted youth players!
This article is not just based on a single year, but on the basis of Premier League data for over a decade.
The average number of U23s playing regularly (over 10 games in a season) in a title-winning squad since 1992 stands at just around 2.5. In that, the highest count of players was 6 for Manchester United in the 1995-96 season, but then, that was the Golden Generation for the Red Devils. That squad was a special one, a "once in a lifetime" team.
The likes of Chelsea and Manchester City (more than any other) have always been criticised for buying rather than using youth (which is a convenient discussion to then point to their "dirty" money). However, fancy this - only five Premier League sides have won the title with an average age under 27!
Today, clubs rebuild summer by summer, and finishing just eight points off the top can result in eight major changes to the squad. But are they going for youth?
Better scouting and more transfer activity means money is still thrown at teenage prospects, while better-quality academies and the need to nurture home-grown talent for the future suggests we should be seeing far more younger players in the Premier League today than 20 years ago.
But the trend of snubbing young players for experienced heads extends to the rest of the teams in the top flight, too – not just the title-winners.
The last time a title winning squad used more academy players than buying from the market was the United squad in 95-96, with only Nick Culkin and Tony Coton bought before the season – and neither made an appearance during the campaign!
This time, Chelsea are in a similar situation (given their transfer ban), with only Mateo Kovacic - who was already on loan at the club - and Christian Pulisic - another signing that was finalised before the end of last season - being the buys.
Of course Chelsea fans would want an encore of the United's 95-96 season, in their first under new boss Frank Lampard, but would that be enough of a justification for Premier League clubs to actually say that their young players and academy products can win games for them week in week out?
Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham and Callum Hudson-Odoi could play a big role for the Blues this season, and maybe just maybe, you could see a change in the times. Until then, though, the evidence is enough to suggest that experience does trump youth in the Premier League, for a wide variety of reasons.