In November 2022, the 830 players selected to play at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ were playing for 295 different clubs. Of these, FC Barcelona accounted for the biggest single contingent of players, at 17. If we consider where these players were trained as youngsters (for at least three years between the ages of 15 and 21), this figure rises to 427 clubs, with AFC Ajax providing 11 players, more than any other club. The discrepancy in these figures shows that, at senior level, top players tend to be more concentrated at a smaller number of clubs than they are early in their careers, reflecting the tendency of dominant teams to bring together players originally trained by a larger number of different clubs.
We also observed that players under the median age for the tournament trained at fewer clubs between them than players older than the median age. This reflects the tendency of the dominant teams to integrate the best talent in their own countries and abroad into their talent development systems at an early age. In this respect, it is interesting to note that Manchester City FC, a club that actively recruits a lot of young players from abroad, trained players representing 5 different countries at this FIFA World Cup.
The circle of clubs involved in the career development of 2022 FIFA World Cup footballers is further expanded if we take into account all the teams for which these players turned out in senior matches under the age of 23 – a total of 763 clubs. Including matches played for the B-teams of clubs whose main teams play in the top divisions of their respective domestic leagues, the percentage of game time accumulated by players under the age of 23 in the lower tiers of the relevant national league pyramid is considerable, at 26.4%.
This statistic shows the importance of teams and leagues at different levels of the game in developing all players, including players who have succeeded in their career to the point of playing in the most prestigious competition in the world, the FIFA World Cup. It also underlines how important it is to take care of the whole football ecosystem at every sporting and economic level, so that all players, including the most talented youngsters, have the chance to develop their full potential.