Earlier in the day Ted Knutson published this (link) on age and value in the transfer market. It’s a terrific piece with a focus on Man City’s Summer spending and the problems with signing players who, at 28 years old, may have already peaked.

Now I know that using words like already ‘peaked’ when talking about 28 year old athletes may seem like crazy talk but some of the information I collected on this topic shows that the average forward is already starting to decline.

To start us off let’s look at the age curve. To do this I want to use Time On Pitch % which is the percentage of minutes a player features in divided by the total available minutes (league only).

Age Curve

 

Age_new_medium

 

This chart shows us some cool information although I must repeat the warnings we posted in the previous article that this is only a 5 year sample. More data is desperately required.

Here are some quick thoughts from the Age Curve graph:

 

  • Young players do not log heavy minutes in the Premier League. An apprenticeship is required, and it is only at the age of 22 that forwards start to play anything approaching regular minutes.
  • The age 29 bucket is strange. It does feature a smaller sample, but it could also be the death rattle of desperate forwards struggling against the dying of the light. Or, maybe it’s something to do with power forwards/target men.
  • If we cast aside that 29 year old bucket, which is a smaller sample anyhow, the we see a peak for ToP% between the ages of 24-27 with a slight Autumn peak at age 28. Depending on your outlook peak years in terms of percentage of playing time could be 24-27 or 24-28.
  • If you are a forward aged 30 or over then you can expect the ToP% to fall away quite rapidly. In fact, on average, forwards over this age haven’t played this little football since they were 21 or under.

We have the age curve figured out, now I want to show you Shots per 90 and Shots On Target Per 90 performance by age.

 

Shots Per 90 And Age

 

Age_shots_medium

 

Yet again we see weird peaks and troughs in the early and late age buckets due to small sample size and talent outliers. The bigger samples are between the ages of 22 and 30.

 

  • The ability of forwards to generate shots falls between the ages of 23 and 26.
  • From age 27 shots per 90 is in decline.
  • Arguably shots per 90 is in terminal decline but for the the 32 year old bucket, which has some survivor bias and small sample issues.
  • For reasons unknown, players from the age of 27 onwards just cannot generate shots per 90 at the same rate they once did.

 

Shots On Target Per 90 And Age

 

Sot_decline_medium

 

This chart looks at Shots on Target per 90 performance of forwards. We see very similar patterns to shots per 90 with volatile spikes for younger players.

 

  • Peak years are between 23 and 26 years of age.
  • From 27 years old we see a gentle decline in shots on target per 90 output.  Then we have an out of place spike at age 29 and a huge small sample spike at age 32.

 

Final Thoughts

Shots per 90 and shots on target per 90 tell virtually the same story: Peak years between 23 and 26 and gradual decline thereafter with a nice renaissance year at 29 when decline has already begun.
This shots numbers when coupled to the time on pitch % age curve show us some pretty important information, even in this smallish sample of half a million minutes of football. I think this information can help us gain further knowledge in the average players expected peak, the age where decline will set in and most importantl,y when to buy and sell forwards.
Rooney, anyone?
  • Marco

    Much as I understand the minutes played being used, is there an element that older forwards play from the start of games, when defenders are fresher, and shots harder to come by, whereas younger players are more likely to be used as impact players, facing tired legs?

    Is that a small enough difference as to be negligible?

  • bubble game

    I think the peak in scoring age in hockey is about 25 as well. Looks like SOT per 90 decline is less severe than the shots decline – better shooting positions?

    Do you have the data to see how long the average players peak years are? Curious to see if a forward who peaks at 20 can expect the a similar number of peak seasons to one who peaks later.

  • Leo

    Interesting points… could there be an argument that older forwards are likely to pick their shots more wisely through experience, whereas younger players may through an eagerness to make a mark, not pick shots as wisely? It would be interesting to see if there was any difference between the success rates of younger and older players in terms of their shooting accuracy, success rate being the amount of goals in relation to their shots on target.

    • http://BenPugsley Ben Pugsley

      Hey man, cheers for the comments……I have that info if you’d like? Shooting Accuracy (sot/Total Shots) doesn’t decay by age and is pretty random. The same goes for scoring% (goals/SoT)