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Use of underage players in the big-5 (2009-2023)

The 449th CIES Football Observatory Weekly Post presents the 402 footballers who played in the big-5 before turning 18 during the 15-year period from January 2009 to December 2023.

Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma is the footballer who has played the most minutes in the five major European leagues as a minor (4,879), followed by Alban Lafont, Eduardo Camavinga, Florian Wirtz, Pablo Gavi and Warren Zaïre-Emery (ongoing).

Seven players made their big-5 league debut before the age of 16, the youngest in absolute terms being Arsenal’s Ethan Nwaneri (15.5 years).

With 119 minors fielded by their clubs, France’s Ligue 1 is the leader in this area, as the Monthly Report number 91 also reveals. The sharp rise in the use of underage players recorded since 2022 is strongly linked to the increase observed at French Ligue 1 level.

The study also shows that early experience in big-5 leagues is no guarantee of success.

Only a minority (47.7%) of footballers used in the big-5 as minors and who subsequently played in other teams were able to do so for at least one club at a better sporting level than their initial one.

This finding indicates that caution is required when it comes to assessing the true potential of players launched into professional football at an early stage.

>>> The 402 minors’ list

>>> Full analysis

See also the FIFA, ECA & CIES study on the transfer of minors and their career paths.

About the CIES Football Observatory

The CIES Football Observatory is a research group created in 2005 within the Swiss-based Centre International d’Étude du Sport (CIES). It specialises in the statistical analysis of football, in particular in the areas of demographics, transfer values and performance.

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About the CIES

The International Centre for Sports Studies (CIES) is an independent study centre located in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. It was created in 1995 as a joint venture between the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the University of Neuchâtel, the City and State of Neuchatel.

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CIES – Centre International d’Étude du Sport

Avenue DuPeyrou 1, 2000 Neuchâtel
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Phone +41 32 718 39 00
Fax +41 32 718 39 01


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