Football is a global phenomenon that transcends social, cultural, and geographical barriers like no other. As the ‘beautiful game’ continues to grow and evolve, new patterns and trends emerge, aided by greater adoption of technology, increased inclusivity, and more focus on youth and grassroots football.

In partnership with CIES Football Observatory, who collaborated with Hudl at the recent UK Elite Football Conference, we reflect on some of the current market trends in global football and forecast the direction that they appear to be heading.

To get a broader context of the global dynamics at play, an overview of which countries are the top exporters of talent can provide insights into market tendencies within football.

Brazil, France and Argentina make up the top three countries that currently produce the highest number of players plying their trade abroad.

The steady increase in the number of global expatriate players over the last several years is also reflected in the growth of the top three countries, while there have been large jumps for the likes of Spain (+13.1%), Nigeria (+13.6%), Portugal (+12.6%) and Sweden (+16.6%) in the last twelve months.

Digging deeper into the statistics, we see the top destination for Brazilians is overwhelmingly Portugal - no doubt influenced by the shared language and the chance to adapt to European football.

Brazil is a country synonymous with football and, as well as their large population base to draw from, the success of their academies is a huge factor in preparing their players to continue their careers abroad.

As per a recent CIES report, three Brazilian clubs (São Paulo, Santos and Flamengo) rank in the top 10 teams globally when it comes to estimated transfer value of their academy graduates.

Eder Militão, Casemiro and Antony are just three recent examples of players who came through at Sao Paulo, while Real Madrid duo Vinícius Júnior and Rodrygo were plucked from Flamengo and Santos when they were still teenagers. Everything points to that trend only continuing.

Vinícius Júnior's dribbles in the final third from Wyscout Player Reports

Another interesting trend centers around clubs’ expenditure. In the summer of 2023, global spending surpassed pre-pandemic levels for the first time and hit a record €12.42 billion, showing that the industry is back to investing in players heavily.

Spending reached a low of €5.95 billion in 2021, as clubs reined in spending due to the effects of Covid and the related loss of gate revenue. As the market has recovered and transfer outlay has increased, the importance of effective player recruitment strategies cannot be understated for clubs looking to compete to win and work towards sustainability.  

This need to ‘find talent first’ has only increased in significance as more teams have access to video, data, scouting networks and player agencies.

When looking at how that expenditure is distributed, we can see that, post-COVID, the English Premier League has responded fastest in terms of returning to high expenditure on player transfers.

With a near 10% reduction in player transfers in the other Top 5 European Leagues in the same period, there has been a shift towards these leagues feeding the English Premier League with talent, principally due to their increased spending power.

As other leagues continue to recover post-COVID and as media rights deals are renegotiated, time will tell if the other competitions around the world will be able to truly compete with the spending power of the English Premier League. For the first time, this challenge could come from outside of Europe too - namely Saudi Arabia and North America.

As well as the breakdown of where money is being spent, it’s also interesting to analyze how this relates to the age demographics of transfers.

The graph below demonstrates that there has been a 7% reduction in player transfers between the ages of 26-29 years and a 6.6% increase in ages 25 years and under. 

The shift to recruiting earlier has been fueled by the desire to find players with a potential return on investment in future trading, which in turn has increased the value of younger prospects.

As spending increasingly focuses on young players, senior minutes at an earlier age have become vital, with many teams creating departments dedicated to managing the pathways of young talents that work alongside their academy and first team.

Therefore, identifying which leagues tend to give more minutes to younger players can be very beneficial when analyzing potential loan pathways, as well as for recruitment strategies.

Using customizable dashboards created by Hudl’s Data as a Service consultants, we can see which leagues are giving the most minutes to U21 players across a range of competitions.

Looking at data from the 2022/23 season across 80 leagues, a number of patterns emerge. 

Firstly, the leagues that give the highest percentage of minutes to U21 players tend to come from the second tier of mid-ranking European nations. Croatia’s 2. NL (52%), Belgium’s Challenger Pro League (51.2%), Netherlands’ Eerste Divisie (50.7%) and Austria’s 2. Liga (50.2%) are the leagues that stand out most, along with Mexico’s third tier, the Liga Premier Serie A (50.3%). 

Among the top flight competitions there is a slight drop in U21 minutes, with Slovenia’s 1. SNL (36%), Austria’s Bundesliga (35%) and Slovakia’s Niké liga (33.8%) making up the top three.

By contrast, Europe’s Top 5 leagues tend to offer less opportunities to younger players. France’s Ligue 1 is some way ahead of the rest with 27.1%, while Spain’s La Liga is bottom with 13.9%.

Extending the analysis into club specifics can give added insights when it comes to evaluating which teams within those leagues tend to develop young players and provide pathways, all of which can be fed into recruitment strategies or serve as inspiration for game and business models.

Danish side Nordsjaelland have fostered a reputation for giving youth a chance, particularly through their partnership with the Ghanaian Right to Dream academy, and are the club who have given the most amount of minutes to U20 players over the last five years.

When looking at which top flight clubs gave the highest percentage of minutes to U21 players last season, Slovakian outfit MSK Zilina tops the list. Given that their average of their squad this season is just 21.3 years old, that trend looks set to continue.

Austria’s RB Salzburg youth focused model marks them as one of the youngest teams in Europe this year, with an average age of 21.7, and they also chart in the top 10 for U21 minutes last year with 45.6%.

In comparison, when focusing on Europe’s Top 5 leagues last season, Lyon emerged as the highest with 31%, ahead of Southampton (25.2%), Barcelona (24.4%), Rennes (23%), Montpellier (19.4%) and Borussia Dortmund (19.3%). 

Looking at the percentage of minutes played by U21 players only tells us part of the story however. By breaking down the data further, we can also see the split between which leagues give most minutes to homegrown U21s and those that give more opportunities to young foreign players.

While the stats for the leagues that give the most homegrown U21 minutes largely tallies with the findings of the overall U21 minutes, there are some interesting results when it comes to opportunities given to foreign U21 players. 

Belgium’s Pro League ranks highest with 18.4% and is joined in the top three by their second division too with 16.3%. Out of all the clubs in these divisions, it is Lommel SK who came first when it comes to foreign U21 minutes last season, with a staggering 42.2%.

We also see that the top two tiers in the Netherlands and Scotland also make the top 10, while the Bundesliga is the highest of Europe’s Top 5 leagues with 12.5% - almost 4% higher than next highest, England’s Premier League with 8.7%.

When focusing purely on the top teams in Europe’s Top 5 leagues for U21 foreign minutes last season, the Bundesliga dominates with six of the top 10, although none can match Southampton’s 23.4%. 

Given that the Saints were relegated from the Premier League, while second place Dortmund challenged for the German title, it’s hard to draw definitive conclusions about the benefits of putting faith in imported youth, as much can depend on the quality of talent coming in and the situation of the club they arrive at.

Given the increased expenditure on youth players and growing focus on talent identification - particularly those with some experience of playing in a foreign league - these findings can nevertheless help give clubs the extra edge when considering potential markets as part of recruitment strategies.

Another interesting trend is the growing division between teams who are profiting from the development of youth players to sell and those who are prioritizing winning trophies - with a very small number of clubs who can truly say they are doing both well.

From the graph above, we can see that SL Benfica, AFC Ajax and RB Salzburg have the highest earnings from net-spend between 2014-2023, while Manchester United, Chelsea and Paris St-Germain have the lowest.

Furthermore, 7 of 10 (70%) of the lowest earning net-spenders are from the English Premier League, where overall income is the highest. Whereas, Portugal (3), France (3) and the Netherlands (2) make up the locations where the highest earners from net-spend are located.

The example of Benfica is a truly remarkable one. Through player trading and youth development As Águias have brought in over €1 billion to finance further success. 

The Portuguese giants have done this by identifying top talents, particularly in South America (Ángel di María, Enzo Fernández, Ederson) and smaller European leagues (Axel Witsel, Darwin Núñez), while also cashing in from elite prospects from their academy (Rúben Dias, João Félix).

Taking full advantage of youth recruitment and development as a way of providing a return on investment will be a key challenge for many clubs going forward in a segmented market with fewer buyers and more sellers.

The narrowing group of clubs at the top of the food chain has given birth to a new dynamic within the English Premier League

Benefiting from TV rights deals money, most clubs can almost take their pick of the best players in Europe, such is the discrepancy in buying power with the rest of the continent.

While incoming players’ transfer fees can be amortized across the length of their contract, in order to meet Financial Fair Play restrictions, there is an increased trend in selling homegrown academy players - often to rivals within the Premier League - due to the fact they count as pure profit on the balance sheets.

The likes of Mason Mount’s move to Manchester United, Cole Palmer switching Manchester City for Chelsea, and Aston Villa parting with top prospects Cameron Archer and Aaron Ramsey were all part of this recent phenomenon - one that looks set to only grow further.

Intrinsically linked to youth development and its rising role in organization’s identity, philosophy and business model is the theme of multi-club ownership.

The growth of multi-club ownership (MCO) could encourage the business incentive to field young players to give them exposure, before selling these talents on for profit, in order to finance the flagship club or generate revenue. 

MCO ownership could also impact recruitment strategies, as organizations look for younger talent to be initially placed at feeder clubs to gain experience and learn the shared game model, in preparation for a return to the parent club’s first team. There is also the likelihood that this could also lead to internalized value chains.

There are a number of leagues where MCO is prevalent, such as Belgium which has 50% of the Pro League under foreign ownership. It’s no coincidence these divisions are typically places that give a lot of game time to younger players, especially those from distinct backgrounds.

According to CIES Sports Intelligence research, the total number of clubs involved in multi-club ownership is now nearing 300 teams, having increased 30% over the past year and a half, while the growth in MCOs is anticipated to rise 46% between 2022 and 2025.

Perhaps one of the most discussed current trends in football is additional time. Following the directive to increase the effective time of football matches, there has been a big shift in the amount of additional time being played.

Using customizable dashboards created by Hudl’s Data as a Service consultants and data collected from 23 top leagues for the 2023/24 season, we can see that the average is typically above 10 minutes for almost every game week.

When comparing that with the 2022/23 season, the average across the leagues is closer to 8 minutes per game. It might not seem like much in isolation, but it’s the equivalent to playing a whole extra game, from one year to the next. 

Going back to 2018/19 the average was typically around 6 minutes per match across the selected leagues, again highlighting the change of time, as well as underlining the acceleration in the past 12 months.

Focusing on Europe’s Top 5 leagues, we can see the change in more detail. Hudl data shows that all five leagues have seen significant increases between 2022/23 and 2023/24, with the Premier League and La Liga consistently the highest and Ligue 1 the lowest.

To put the figures into context, the average Premier League side played roughly 337 extra minutes last season - effectively 3.74 extra games - whereas this season, after 10 rounds of fixtures, they are on course to play about 455 extra minutes - 118 minutes more and equivalent to just over 5 extra games a season. 

This increase in additional time could have knock-on effects on market trends and recruitment strategies. 

Given the increased physical output and durability needed to sustain more minutes and effectively a longer season, there will likely be more emphasis on physical metrics and injury record. Meanwhile, squad rotation will gain in importance, potentially leading to larger squads to combat against burn out.

While it’s too soon to draw any firm conclusions, it would not be surprising to see a preference for signing younger, fitter players who would theoretically be able to cope with the intensity and extra minutes, and thus become another contributing factor to the pivot towards younger players in recruitment strategies.

Want to know more about how WIMU maximizes athlete performance? Check out our new webinar series on enhancing human performance.

In summary, a number of the global trends in football relating to transfer expenditure, multi-club ownership and the amount of minutes played, all point to a growing importance in younger players and youth development

This will inevitably mean that talent identification, recruitment strategies and business models will need to evolve and adapt to these dynamics, with the adoption and implementation of technology at the heart of the search to find future stars and a competitive edge.

What’s for certain is that the world is set for an even more interconnected and exciting era of football, where the boundaries of what's possible are constantly pushed, and the global community grows ever closer.

To find out more about the services that Hudl’s Data as a Service consultancy can provide, get in touch and start overcoming tomorrow’s challenges today.

Click here to get more info on the Exclusive Youth Competitions Package

Learn more about how Wyscout and the Wyscout Scouting Area are powering modern football scouting processes.