Does the length of player contract equal chances of success? Most certainly not.

By Tony Attwood

An article from the CIES Football Observatory raises an interesting point:

“Barcelona and Real Madrid top the rankings for the longest average contract duration of first team squad members. Six out of the eight top ranked clubs are still competing in European Cups. This illustrates the relationships between long-term planning and success.”

And on the face of it that seems reasonable – the clubs still in the international trophy hunt have their players tied down on the longest term contracts.

But as anyone who has ever studied statistics, causality, logic, or in fact any science knows, just because two figures seem to run in parallel it doesn’t actually mean cause and effect.  The CIES Commentary implies cause and effect, but carefully avoid actually saying that.  However they do speak of a relationship, and that may not really be valid.

When you have a great player on your books it makes sense to tie him down to a long contract, that is logical.  Of course it is also risky, as we have seen with Santi Cazorla.  Over the past three seasons he has played a total of 32 games (of all categories).  By way of comparison he played 148 games in the first three seasons.   So putting him on a long term contract has been a disaster.

But still, having the names of Barcelona and Real Madrid at the top of list shows that long term contracts must be good.  Except… one way to get players on long term contracts is to spend lots of money by renewing contracts and buying new players all the time.  And only the biggest teams can do that and afford to write off the ones they get wrong.

So maybe we should look a little further.   In third place on the CIES list (but not mentioned in their commentary) is Lille OSC who are currently in 19th place out of 20th in the French first division.  One suspects they might wish they didn’t have so many players on long term contracts.

In sixth place are RB Leipzig who are fifth in the German league, 26 points behind Bayern – who are 31st on the list and thus below Southampton, Everton and Newcastle.  Suddenly the cause and effect link starts to look strained.

There is also the issue of how much of a turnaround the club is currently engaged in.  On average, a Barcelona first team squad member has 3.23 years of contract remaining – something you might expect given their position in the League not only this year but each year.   Arsenal have an average of 2.23 – exactly one year less.

Now supposing Arsenal’s figure was 3.23 years – instead of people saying, “wow Arsenal are up there with Barcelona” what they would probably be saying is “we are clearly not good enough, we are sixth in the league, so we need new players and we need to move on the dead wood.”

And then finding all these “dead wood” players are on long term contracts the club would be stuck.  Because although there is seemingly no limit on what clubs can spend each year (the example of PSG shows that FFP is long since deceased) there is a limit in the Premier League of how much the club’s salaries can go up year by year.

So it would be no good Arsenal bringing in more new players and putting them on long term contracts, if they couldn’t sell the existing players, because the club would break their own wage limit.

There is another problem here too.  The difference between Arsenal in 49th place and Barcelona and Madrid at the top is a year.  It is not as if everyone’s contract is about to come up.  The average player has 2.23 years left on his contract.

So does that make any difference?  Certainly for playing at the moment no, it doesn’t.  Most players try their level best no matter what sort of contract they are on.  If one is going to argue otherwise one would probably suggest that players near the end of a contract try harder because they either want a great contract with a new club, or a renewal with their existing club.

So thus far we are struggling to find any reason to suggest why there might be a link between the length of the players’ contract left and the success of the club.   Besides it might just be that clubs are in the Champs League are earning more money, and so splash it around with longer contracts.

But let us alook at who is above Arsenal in the list.

Club CIES pos Average length PL Pos
Tottenham 3 3.18 4
Manchester City 8 2.89 1
Liverpool 11 2.85 3
Southampton 16 2.81 18
Everton 17 2.79 9
Chelsea 28 2.57 5
Newcastle 30 2.55 10
West Ham 35 2.45 14
Watford 36 2.43 12
Leicester 37 2.42 8
Bournemouth 49 2.23 11
Huddersfield 49 2.23 16
Arsenal 49 2.23 6

So there is no absolutely no consistent correlation between clubs’ league position and the length of contract.  After all Manchester United don’t even figure on our chart, since they are below Arsenal in the CIS table.

However there is another factor to consider.

Many younger players get short term contracts which tend to be reviewed each year and then renewed with an upwards salary if they are breaking through into the first team.  The reason for this is that the number of young players who show promise but then slip back is very high.

Plus the fact that a very large percentage of long term players get terrible injuries, and their entire future is based around how well they come back from these injuries.  We may think of, and sympathise with, Zelalem, Le Jeff and others in this regard.

So a club that likes to bring through its own youngsters tends to have more players on shorter term contracts than clubs that simply buy and discard.  But bringing youngsters through is a way in which clubs with less expenditure available can compete with clubs with the most money.

Thus the net conclusion has to be that the link between contract length and success is not proven – there are too many other factors lurking within, and the fact that most of the Champions League last eight are in the top 100 clubs for contract length, is not particularly informative.

Any club that tried to use the Observatory’s figures when arranging contracts could be in real trouble – this is in short a serious misuse of a set of statistics to draw conclusions that are most certainly not justified.



6 Replies to “Does the length of player contract equal chances of success? Most certainly not.”

  1. this is just a general issue of misrepresenting stats
    at this point anything that doesn’t involve a simplest form of significance analysis is a lie
    sadly this is the state of stats in football (at least publicly available), kinda reminds me of state of baseball in “moneyball”

  2. Tony

    As you say, a very shaky conclusion to draw on such flimsy evidence.

    In all that you say I think this is the key paragraph:

    “But still, having the names of Barcelona and Real Madrid at the top of list shows that long term contracts must be good. Except… one way to get players on long term contracts is to spend lots of money by renewing contracts and buying new players all the time. And only the biggest teams can do that and afford to write off the ones they get wrong.”


    Take Chelsea for example:


    ANDRIY SHEVCHENKO: AC Milan to Chelsea (£30m)

    League appearances: 48

    League goals: 9

    FERNANDO TORRES: Liverpool to Chelsea (£50m)

    League appearances: 110

    League goals: 20

    When you can spend that sort of money on players and watch them flop without even flinching, as Chelsea did ‘back in the day’, then that’s fine. You don’t really give a shit how long there contract is, and I wouldn’t mind betting that ‘back in the day’ Chelsea would of been way further up the CIES table than the 28th position they currently occupy.

    If Arsenal had done the same it would of been a disaster, as it would of been for most clubs. It still would be.

    That is the sort of thing only the likes of Real, Barca, PSG, City etc. can do, although it seems not Chelsea anymore, which could go some way to explaining there current dilemma.

    This from earlier in the season:

    “Chelsea’s Russian owner spent £121 million on players in his first season, £102m in his second, and has broken the British transfer record twice with Andriy Shevchenko and Fernando Torres. In all, he has spent an eye-watering £1.1billion on transfers since 2003, and more than £2.5bn in wages.

    There could be another £52m heading out of the door this week, with Roma’s Emerson Palmieri already on board and club-mate Edin Dzeko set to join in the next 48 hours.

    But that is it, manager Antonio Conte said last night. Chelsea cannot compete with the big boys any more.
    Manchester City and Manchester United, as they have shown with their spectacular move for Alexis Sanchez, are out of their reach. The days when Chelsea were the big spenders are over.

    Conte made the extraordinary admission that in the spending stakes at least, his club are second best.

    “There are two teams in this league who are ‘top’, and they stay there. The others have to fight for a place in the Champions League,” he said.

    One is led to ask, if it has nothing to do with money, as Chelsea fans did, and City fans now do claim, what is he on about.

    It’s very odd because I think the special one was making the very same point about lack of money not long ago as well.

    But I thought money, or more accurately the lack of it, is we have been told no excuse. Hmm?

    Anyway, back to the point. High transfer fees, high wages and long contracts are very very risky and unless you are operating on an unlimited budget, as Chelsea were, and those others are, it is simply a recipe for disaster.

    Ergo, the recipe for success is not the length of the contract, that is just a consequence of the real reason, the amount of money spent on the players in the first place.

  3. In an equally simplistic manner you could draw the conclusion that ‘long contracts’ are a direct consequence of success, rather than the other way round.

    Although again, a far from flawless conclusion, I would suggest a much more valid one than that of the CIES football observatory one.

  4. just reading the Guardian about the coming CL City-Pool game and well, words fail me. Here it is :

    “The referee will be Antonio Mateu Lahoz, who Guardiola criticised recently, saying: “I remember what happened last year. It was 1-1 at home to Monaco when there was a clear penalty on [Sergio] Agüero and what should have been a red card, but the Spanish referee didn’t call it. We went from a possible 2-1 lead to 2-1 deficit. These types of situations are very important.”

    Lahoz has twice before officiated at the Etihad, awarding two penalties to Napoli in October’s group game, and one to Monaco in that home leg.”

    F..k…you imagine AW saying : well the referee does not like the colour yellow…. he’d be sent to Siberia right away and the shitstorm would be a shit tsunami…. here it is just reported, nothing else….

    Then, well maybe UEFA does not want City winning and has a clear preference for the spanish duopoly Real/Barca ? Smoe Type 3 activity going on at that level ?

  5. Chris

    -MOTD not even showing the 2 potential red card offences by Southampton.

    -The papers not even mentioning either of them.

    -The papers calling for Ashley Young to be retrospectively red carded for identical offense.

    -The papers headlining Hughes anger at Wilshere not being sent off.

    -The SKY commentator criticising Arsenal fans for not turning up when they are the very ones encouraging them to boycott the matches.

    -Guardiola going unchallenged for saying something Wenger would be slaughtered for.

    -Arsenal secure 6th win in a row with aggregate 18 – 3 score line. Hardly a mention. Try google and see what you get.

    Just another day in our wonderful anti Arsenal media.

    And some still wont have it.

  6. The media are without doubt: idiots; biased; or corrupt. Clearly the first, almost certainly the second; the third is unproven. It’s a strange coincidence how easy it is to apply exactly the same argument to referees and consequently the footballing authorities in general…..

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