A statistical analysis of Newcastle United’s Age Demographic between the current Championship season and the previous Championship-winning campaign of 2009/10 shows a distinct difference in the make-up of the first-team squad and, tellingly, a shift in transfer policy.
The much anticipated ‘Rafalution’ did not disappoint with no fewer than 29 incoming and outgoing transfer deals taking place over the summer transfer window. A similar squad upheaval took place following United’s first relegation from the Premier League in 2009. However, on this occasion, the entirety of Newcastle’s transfer activity has been overseen by manager Rafa Benitez – a luxury not afforded to Chris Hughton in the close season of 2009/10.
And this metaphorical handing over of the transfer reigns and purse strings has manifested itself in a clear manner, outlined in the graphs below.
Current squad has far fewer 18-22 year-olds.
The previous regime headed up by the infamous Dennis Wise had a penchant for signing young players with the intention of selling them on further down the line for a profit. This is shown clearly in the ‘2009/10 Age Distribution Chart’ with the 09/10 squad having a slightly higher number of 18-22 year-olds.
Current Squad is primarily made up of 24-26 year-olds.
The 16/17 squad boasts a vast number of players between the ages of 24-26; those of whom will be entering their footballing prime in the coming months and years. This indicates that the ‘Rafalution’ has purchased players with intent to develop them in their most productive years, with the desire to build a squad capable of challenging in the Premier League once again.
Comparatively, the 09/10 squad was very sparse in terms of players entering their prime. This could be a possible explanation for why the likes of Kevin Nolan, Alan Smith, Joey Barton and Peter Lovenkrands all departed the club within two years of promotion in 2010.
Current squad has fewer aged players
One of the most obvious differences between the two data-sets is the volume of players considered to be in the halcyon days of their careers, between the ages of 28-30. This may have played to United’s advantage in 2009/10 as the experienced core of the side used their grit and determination to battle their way out of the division.
Benitez wants malleable individuals in his squad
Benitez seems to have opted against targeting ‘finished articles’, players who have already developed and established their own playing philosophies. That is to say, players who have moulded themselves and been moulded by the direction of their former managers.
Instilling his own philosophy would be more difficult to achieve if his squad was saturated with seasoned professionals, who’d find it more difficult to develop their individual game. Therefore, in bringing in players like Dwight Gayle (25), Matt Ritchie (27) and Achraf Lazaar (24), he can benefit from their willingness and capacity to develop thier game.
There is more balance in the current squad
A similarity that can be drawn from the squad distribution in both seasons is shown in the blue trendline cutting through the data in each chart. From left to right, the descending trendlines indicate a more balanced squad, with a majority of young players. Whereas, an ascending trendline would mean the squad was saturated with older players and less well-balanced, however that is not the case in either chart, which could bode well for the 2016/17 season considering the 2009/10 campaign was so successful.
It remains to be seen whether the age distribution of United’s squad will have an impact on the barometer of success. However, if the previous Championship campaign is anything to go by, even with the boardroom turmoil behind the scenes, performances on the pitch were excellent.
This season, with Rafa Benitez at the helm, more stability at director level and a positive feeling surrounding the entire city and the club, it could prove to be a recipe for success.
There seems to be a healthy balance between youthful enthusiasm and athleticism, and experienced, headstrong know-how and, in spite of the blip at the weekend, I am confident it will be enough to take us up this season.
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