STATS: U23 player usage in the last DStv Premiership season

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South Africa U23 were knocked out of the Olympics men’s tournament in meek fashion on Wednesday after their third loss of the group stage.
 
This time, it was a 3-0 loss to Mexico that ensured we were left rooted at the bottom of the table. Much has been said about the performances in the post-mortems, with this stat saying what a thousand words would fail to:
 
1 – 17 African teams have traveled to the Men’s Olympics football tournament in the 21st century, but 2021 South Africa are the first to return home without a single point.
 
Traditionally, the tournament restricts participation to under-23 players, with leeway for a maximum of three overage players. However, last year FIFA announced that they would change the Olympic games from an U23 tournament to a U24 tournament given that the Olympics had been postponed by 12 months. The likes of Brazil, France and Ivory Coast have taken advantage of the over-age rule and called up superstars like Daniel Alves, André Pierre Cignac and Eric Bailly, one of whom proved to be the arch-nemesis in our second game. The same can not be said for South Africa.
 
Yet, one good takeaway is that the majority of our squad is locally based, giving players a chance to face world class competition at a young age.
 
7 – Of the 10 players who played more than 150 minutes at the tournament, seven of them are based locally. But being locally-based is of little use if you’re not getting game time in the highest league.
 
We went about exploring how many minutes youth get in the DStv Premiership, by looking at the proportion of young players in PSL top-flight squads last season (squad composition). Secondly, we looked at which clubs gave minutes to the most young players (player usage).
 
Squad composition
The visual below shows the breakdown of 2020/21 PSL squads from this past season, highlighting SuperSport United as one of the clubs that has opened up their squad to younger players Under 24 (Light Blue and Blue). Altogether, 50% of SuperSport’s squad was under the age of 24. It’s no wonder that players like Teboho Mokoena and Luke Fleurs were deemed good enough for the Olympic squad. Not only that, they were also trusted with 270 minutes and 263 minutes respectively.
 
Luther Singh (270) was the only other outfield player to play every minute at the tournament.
 
The squad breakdown shows all players that were in the top-flight squads at some point last season. The age bands are more a guideline than an actual scientific measure of peak years. The longer the yellow bar, the more older players were in a squad. The longer the green and turquoise bars, the more younger people were in a squad.
 
However, what it doesn’t show is how many young players were actually used in the last season.
 
Young Player Usage (ages at the start of last season)
 
In the interest of ‘fairness’, the analysis only considered league games, taking into account that teams play a differing number of games in all competitions. A team like Kaizer Chiefs played in four competitions (including CAF qualifiers) and also went deep into the CAF Champions League (49 games) while teams like Stellenbosch and Baroka only played 31 games.
 
For a second season in succession, it was SuperSport that led the league for minutes given to young players, with Kaitano Tembo trusting Under 23 players with 13 630 minutes. Assuming a game is worth 990 minutes (90 minutes for 11 players), it is the equivalent of 14 full games – that’s almost half a season. They are one of only two sides who gave more than 10,000 minutes to youth, alongside Baroka (11 225).
Mamelodi Sundowns gave the least minutes to players Under 23 in the league, with 2267 minutes entrusted to youth, the equivalent of just over two full games. Black Leopards and TTM (now Marumo Gallants) are the two other clubs with less than 10% of total minutes for youth.
 
Individual Players
 
When one remembers that Bafana Bafana had the oldest average squad at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, the issue of young players getting competitive minutes starts to look even more pressing. When you change the frame and look at individual contributions, the picture still remains the same. Of the Top Ten young players that saw the most minutes last season, SuperSport, Baroka and Stellenbosch have two each.
 
SIfiso Mlungwana leads the league for young player minutes, playing in every game of the last season, and keeping a new record number of clean sheets for Golden Arrows. He is also the only player that featured in every minute of the last DStv Premiership campaign.
 
Answering the football question
In the aftermath of a dismal Olympics showing, many will be wagging their fingers looking for a target to blame. This article is not intended to help with that, but to help the conversation around the biggest football question of the week. At the end of the day, there are different factors and variables to consider for each club. All stakeholders including schools, clubs and the national football association need a blueprint for a future vision, around which they can all work in unison.
 
Whether giving opportunities to young players was intentional or circumstantial for clubs like SuperSport and Baroka is a question only the club’s hierarchy would be able to answer. For Sundowns, it’s important to note that a squad on a run of four consecutive league titles would likely be kept as a unit, most likely ageing together as well.
 
But some outcomes can’t be ignored. Baroka have won Young Player of the Season for two seasons in a row, while SuperSport lead the league for youth minutes for two seasons in a row. Is it a surprise that players like Luke Fleurs, Teboho Mokoena and Evidence Makgopa were also key performers at the Olympics?
 
25 – Baroka had the lowest average age of players used in the league, at 25 years.
 
MAIN PICTURE: Courtesy of SuperSport United.
By Opta Jabu