The A-League’s Youth Revolution in Numbers

It’s a Youth Revolution… or is it?

What a season we had in the A-League this year. One of the reasons for such a successful season on the pitch league-wide is the influx of youth being given a chance due to border restrictions preventing teams from doing a lot of international recruiting, as well as budget issues due to COVID-related losses. 

But just how much did youth playing time increase, or did it increase at all? Did we just simply see an exciting season because of players being re-invigorated after an interrupted 2019/20 season?

To find out, let’s dive into the numbers. All numbers are courtesy of FBref, and only include league regular season totals, leaving out the finals series.

For this article, references to youth players will refer to U23 players, as they are still eligible for the Olympic Squads until that age. In the event a goalkeeper (GK) has the most youth minutes, an outfield player will also be included.

THE NUMBERS

Adelaide United

2019/20

Minutes played by youth – 9692

Percentage of total minutes available for the entire team (26 x 90 x 11 = 25,740) (Max mins per player is 2340) – 37.65%

Most minutes played by a single youth player – Riley McGree (1989 minutes, 20)

2020/21

Minutes played by youth – 12,637

Percentage of total minutes available for the entire team (26 x 90 x 11 = 25,740) (Max mins per player is 2340) – 49.09%

Change in percentage on previous season – Increase of 11.44% 

Most minutes played by a single youth player – Louis D’Arrigo (1879 minutes, 18)

An exciting season from Adelaide saw a youth-heavy squad (16 of the 27 players used were 23 or younger) scrape into the finals after a last game thriller against the Western Sydney Wanderers. 

Unearthing gems such as Mohammed Toure, Kusini Yengi, Joe Gauci (GK) and James Delianov (GK), the future looks incredibly bright in the city of churches, and United could very well contend for a trophy next season with all this talent having a season of top-flight football under their belts.

Brisbane Roar

2019/20

Minutes played by youth – 8406

Percentage of total minutes available for the entire team (26 x 90 x 11 = 25,740) (Max mins per player is 2340) – 32.66%

Most minutes played by a single youth player – Macaulay Gillesphey (2266, 23)

2020/21

Minutes played by youth – 10,961

Percentage of total minutes available for the entire team (26 x 90 x 11 = 25,740) (Max mins per player is 2340) – 42.58%

Change in percentage on previous season – Increase of 9.92%

Most minutes played by a single youth player – Dylan Wenzel-Halls (1901 minutes, 22)

With Warren Moon at the helm for an entire season after taking over towards the end of the 19/20 campaign, Brisbane brought in some exciting young talent. Dylan Wenzel-Halls (departed for Western United at end of season) developed nicely into his role up-front, and loanee Riku Danzaki impressed fans across the league during his spell.

The Roar appear to be recovering nicely from the setbacks of the Robbie Fowler era, with the youth talent playing a key role in that.

Central Coast Mariners

2019/20

Minutes played by youth – 10,757

Percentage of total minutes available for the entire team (26 x 90 x 11 = 25,740) (Max mins per player is 2340) – 41.78%

Most minutes played by a single youth player – Gianni Stensness (2165, 20)

2020/21

Minutes played by youth – 15,254

Percentage of total minutes available for the entire team (26 x 90 x 11 = 25,740) (Max mins per player is 2340) – 59.26%

Change in percentage on previous season – Increase of 17.48%

Most minutes played by a single youth player – Kye Rowles (2308 minutes, 22)

Plagued by both on- and off-field dramas in recent years, the hire of ex-Matildas coach Alan Stajcic proved to be a good one for the Mariners, who returned to the finals for the first time in seven seasons. 

Impressive seasons from Josh Nisbet, Gianni Stensness, Kye Rowles, Ruon Tongyik and Stefan Nigro helped solidify the Mariners, with the Gosford side leading the pack for almost half of the season. 

In just 911 minutes of play, Alou Kuol impressed enough that he was able to secure a move to German side VfB Stuttgart. The departure of Stajcic and a number of key players will mean the Mariners need to work hard next season to maintain the success displayed this season, but the youth talent will go a long way to helping ensure that happens. 

Macarthur FC (Inaugural Season)

2019/20 – Not applicable

2020/21

Minutes played by youth – 6641

Percentage of total minutes available for the entire team (26 x 90 x 11 = 25,740) (Max mins per player is 2340) – 25.8%

Change in percentage on previous season – Not applicable

Most minutes played by a single youth player – Denis Genreau (1886 minutes, 21)

A mix of youth and veteran experience saw Macarthur sneak into the finals in their inaugural season, upsetting the Mariners before falling to eventual Champions Melbourne City a week later. 

Denis Genreau proved to be a critical part of Macarthur’s squad, which saw him earn both Socceroos and Olyroos call-ups this season. Under contract until the end of the 2022/23 season, he will play a huge part in Macarthur’s plans over the next two seasons.

Melbourne City

2019/20

Minutes played by youth – 5232

Percentage of total minutes available for the entire team (26 x 90 x 11 = 25,740) (Max mins per player is 2340) – 20.32%

Most minutes played by a single youth player – Nathaniel Atkinson (1224 minutes, 20)

2020/21

Minutes played by youth – 8776

Percentage of total minutes available for the entire team (26 x 90 x 11 = 25,740) (Max mins per player is 2340) – 34.09%

Change in percentage on previous season – Increase of 13.77%

Most minutes played by a single youth player – Tom Glover (GK) (2250 minutes, 22), Connor Metcalfe (2080 minutes, 20)

Boasting one of Australia’s best domestic keepers and number one choice for the Olyroos, Tom Glover is an integral part of the City line-up. 

With other youth talent having amazing seasons including the likes of Connor Metcalfe, Nathaniel Atkinson, Marco Tilio and Stefan Colakovski, the future is bright at Melbourne City as they look to build on their successful 2020/21 season, which saw them win both the Premiers Plate and the Championship. 

Melbourne Victory

2019/20

Minutes played by youth – 6394

Percentage of total minutes available for the entire team (26 x 90 x 11 = 25,740) (Max mins per player is 2340) – 24.85%

Most minutes played by a single youth player – Elvis Kamsoba (1829 minutes, 23)

2020/21

Minutes played by youth – 8458

Percentage of total minutes available for the entire team (26 x 90 x 11 = 25,740) (Max mins per player is 2340) – 32.86%

Change in percentage on previous season – Increase of 8.01%

Most minutes played by a single youth player – Jake Brimmer (2154 minutes, 22)

While their cross-town rivals had massive success, Victory did not. Finishing last and hiring Tony Popovic to try and turn things around next season, Jake Brimmer, Dylan Ryan and Ben Folami proved bright spots on the youth front, and hopefully they can continue to perform for Victory into the future. 

Newcastle Jets

2019/20

Minutes played by youth – 7868

Percentage of total minutes available for the entire team (26 x 90 x 11 = 25,740) (Max mins per player is 2340) – 30.57%

Most minutes played by a single youth player – Matthew Millar (2114, 22)

2020/21

Minutes played by youth – 11305

Percentage of total minutes available for the entire team (26 x 90 x 11 = 25,740) (Max mins per player is 2340) – 43.92%

Change in percentage on previous season – Increase of 13.35%

Most minutes played by a single youth player – Angus Thurgate (2177 minutes, 20)

There is a lot to look forward to next season for Jets fans, who already boast promising youth talent such as Apostolos Stamatelopolous, Angus Thurgate, Kosta Petratos, Luka Pršo, and Archie Goodwin.

The club have also extended Jordan O’Doherty’s stay at the club and brought in Cameron Devlin and Dane Ingham to compliment the array of youth already at Newcastle. With new head coach Arthur Papas coming in to try and turn things around, he certainly has the youth available to do it.

Perth Glory

2019/20

Minutes played by youth – 3069

Percentage of total minutes available for the entire team (26 x 90 x 11 = 25,740) (Max mins per player is 2340) – 11.92%

Most minutes played by a single youth player – Jake Brimmer (950 minutes, 21)

2020/21

Minutes played by youth – 8559 

Percentage of total minutes available for the entire team (26 x 90 x 11 = 25,740) (Max mins per player is 2340) – 33.25%

Change in percentage on previous season – Increase of 21.33%

Most minutes played by a single youth player – Dane Ingham (1195 minutes, 21)

An aging Perth Glory squad saw the likes of Carlo Armiento, Dane Ingham (departing for Newcastle), Callum Timmins, and Luke Bodnar impress, while Nick D’Agostino made his return to football after a lengthy spell on the sidelines due to injury. 

It’s unclear what to expect from the Glory going forward on the youth front, although if there is a squad that needs to get younger, and fast, it’s Perth. 

Sydney FC

2019/20

Minutes played by youth – 2851

Percentage of total minutes available for the entire team (26 x 90 x 11 = 25,740) (Max mins per player is 2340) – 11.08%

Most minutes played by a single youth player – Joel King (1654 minutes, 18)

2020/21

Minutes played by youth – 5074

Percentage of total minutes available for the entire team (26 x 90 x 11 = 25,740) (Max mins per player is 2340) – 19.71%

Change in percentage on previous season – Increase of 8.63%

Most minutes played by a single youth player – Joel King (2299 minutes, 19)

The Sky Blues once again had the lowest youth minutes, now for the third time in the last four seasons, with most of those minutes concentrated around Joel King.

Another season in which players like Luke Ivanovic, Chris Zuvela, Trent Buhagiar, and Calem Nieuwenhof were hampered by injury didn’t help the number of minutes available to youth. Sydney need to find a way to keep their youth healthy, and if they can, the talent will shine through.

Wellington Phoenix

2019/20

Minutes played by youth – 9495

Percentage of total minutes available for the entire team (26 x 90 x 11 = 25,740) (Max mins per player is 2340) – 36.88% 

Most minutes played by a single youth player – Liberto Cacace (2149, 18)

2020/21

Minutes played by youth – 10,200

Percentage of total minutes available for the entire team (26 x 90 x 11 = 25,740) (Max mins per player is 2340) – 39.62%

Change in percentage on previous season – Increase of 2.74%

Most minutes played by a single youth player – Clayton Lewis (2053 minutes, 23)

Stellar seasons for Ben Waine, Reno Piscopo, Cameron Devlin (departing for Newcastle), and Clayton Lewis was not enough to see Wellington through to the finals, missing out by just a single point. 

An expected return to New Zealand should allow this youth talent to continue to develop, and hopefully bring about some more fantastic young footballers which Wellington have been good at doing in recent years.

Western Sydney Wanderers

2019/20

Minutes played by youth – 6043

Percentage of total minutes available for the entire team (26 x 90 x 11 = 25,740) (Max mins per player is 2340) – 23.48%

Most minutes played by a single youth player – Keanu Baccus (1735 minutes, 21)

2020/21

Minutes played by youth – 10,964

Percentage of total minutes available for the entire team (26 x 90 x 11 = 25,740) (Max mins per player is 2340) – 42.60%

Change in percentage on previous season – Increase of 19.12%

Most minutes played by a single youth player – Daniel Margush (GK) (2340 minutes, 22), Keanu Baccus (1783 minutes, 22)

With this season not playing out the way Wanderers fans would have hoped, it was not all for nothing with Daniel Margush (GK), Keanu Baccus, Tate Russell, and Thomas Aqualina playing a pivotal role in the team. 

Margush should be the starting keeper for a number of years to come at Wanderland, and with the amazing academy and facilities out in Western Sydney, they should be able to produce plenty of youth talent over the next few seasons to help turn the Wanderers around.

Western United

2019/20

Minutes played by youth – 4869

Percentage of total minutes available for the entire team (26 x 90 x 11 = 25,740) (Max mins per player is 2340) – 18.92%

Most minutes played by a single youth player – Jerry Skodatis (1050 minutes, 19)

2020/21

Minutes played by youth – 5351 

Percentage of total minutes available for the entire team (26 x 90 x 11 = 25,740) (Max mins per player is 2340) – 20.79%

Change in percentage on previous season – Increase by 1.87%

Most minutes played by a single youth player – Dylan Pierias (1859 minutes, 20)

With Dylan Pierias, Lachlan Wales, and Jerry Skotadis all locked in for next season, as well as recruiting Dylan Wenzel-Halls, the youth will have plenty of say for Western United when it comes to their success next season. 

Still awaiting a coach after the departure of Mark Rudan, there could be some more young talent on the way to Tarneit next season that will look to impress.

THE RESULTS

After looking at the numbers, yes, there is a youth revolution. Every team saw an increase in youth playing time over their numbers from the previous season. The largest increase was Perth Glory at 21.33%. The lowest increase was Western United at just 1.87%.

In the 2019/20 season, the total of youth minutes was 74,676 across the entire league. In the 2020/21 season (not including Macarthur), this total was 107,539 minutes, a 44% increase. Including Macarthur (who did not have a team in the 19/20 season), this total was 114,180 minutes, a 52.9% increase. 

With more money coming into the league through the new TV deal, plus the border restrictions related to COVID-19 changing rapidly, it will be interesting to see what sort of impact this has on youth playing numbers and whether or not clubs will go back to older overseas recruits.

With the 2020/21 season being touted as one of the best on-field in recent years, it would be disappointing to see these numbers drop. What this season has allowed is gems like Kusini Yengi, Alou Kuol, Patrick Wood, Daniel Margush, and Ben Waine to name just a few to emerge and make their mark on the A-League. 

We need more of these players to emerge and develop, because it creates for exciting viewing, and might allow Australian talent to create more of an impact overseas, which can only be a good thing for the long-term future of the game in this country.

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