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August 2021

Why do Chelsea only have 19 players? How to manipulate the 25 rule

By Tony Attwood

No one quite knows the best way to react to the new 25 rule, and looking at the official data to emerge from the EPL it is clear that the clubs have simply made occasional adjustments to their squads to fit the new rules.

What I haven’t seen elsewhere is an analysis of just what the clubs have done, and that’s what I have tried to prepare below.   The data comes from the official figures, but does involve some actual adding up by me.  If I have made a slip somewhere sorry in advance, and to the guy who writes in every now and then saying “if you are going to comment at least bother to get your facts right first,” I’d say, maybe you should look elsewhere for your data.

What I have done is present four columns showing what seem to me the most interesting figures.   But we would all recognise from the off that such data doesn’t tell us anything about the quality of players.  They are just figures which are, in my view, quite interesting in themselves.

The first column is obvious – the number of players the teams entered in their 25. I think there was a feeling at the off that everyone would put in 25 players – but in fact under half of the clubs nominated 25.   The biggest reason must be that doing this gives you less room for manoeuvre next time around.

The smallest squads are at Chelsea and Wigan, both with 19.

Next is the Home Grown rule but before I get to that, here’s the table in full.

Squad Home Spare Youth
Arsenal 20 7 5 56
Aston Villa 22 5 3 36
Birmingham 25 13 0 25
Blackburn 21 8 4 41
Blackpool 24 15 1 22
Bolton 24 13 1 35
Chelsea 19 4 3 43
Everton 21 9 4 38
Fulham 25 11 0 31
Liverpool 21 8 6 53
Man C 25 12 0 44
Man U 25 13 0 47
Newcastle 23 16 2 45
Stoke 25 17 0 25
Sunderland 24 13 1 37
Tottenham H 25 11 0 43
WBA 25 11 0 33
WHA 25 10 0 39
Wigan 19 7 6 31
Wolverhamp 25 15 0 34

The Home total is again simple: the number of players that are designated in the “home grown” rule. 8 of the 25 players must be homegrown, which implies a sliding scale.

  • If the club nominates 25 players then 8 must be home grown
  • If the club nominates 24 players then 7 must be home grown
  • If the club nominates 23 players then 6 must be home grown
  • If the club nominates 22 players then 5 must be home grown
  • If the club nominates 21 players then 4 must be home grown
  • If the club nominates 20 players then 3 must be home grown
  • If the club nominates 19 players then 2 must be home grown

Chelsea with 19 players nominated and 4 home grown are thus ok, as are Arsenal with 20 squad members and 7 home grown.

This has led me to my own little invention – the “Spare” chart. Obviously if a team has nominated 25 players it has no spaces “spare”.   And one might think that a team that has nominated 24 has 1 space spare.

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That is true, but if one also takes into account the number of home grown players, it could well be that the club could only nominate an extra player if that player is home grown – something that could be a severe restriction.  If we keep in mind the difficulty all clubs seemed to have this summer in doing transfers involving home grown players, then the situation in which a club is anxious to sign a high quality central defender could be made worse if the club now has to sign a high quality central defender who meets the home grown rule.

In other words I am saying that apart from putting a squad together, clubs need flexibility, in the sense that if something goes very wrong on the injury front the club can quickly move to bring in another player.

One way of doing this is through having a fully nominated 25 person squad, obviously. Another way is through having a high a “Spare” number as possible (meaning that one has a number of places available that can be filled by any player from anywhere in the world (subject to a work permit, if non-EU).  The final way to do this is to have a lot of youth players – and I will come to that at the moment.

The clubs with the highest number of spare places (as I have defined it above – places that could be filled by any player) are Liverpool and Wigan with six.  The lowest are all the nine clubs who have nominated 25 players – they have zero.  Chelsea, despite nominating only 19 players have only three spaces left that can be filled by players irrespective of their place of origin or past history.

Finally, the youth totals. As expected Arsenal have the most players in this section – 56 (not 57 as I said in an earlier article – there’s my maths going again).  Liverpool are second with 53, Man U have 47.

At the bottom end of the youth league Birmingham and Stoke have 25 players listed.

So what do we learn from all this?

First clubs are being cautious in filling up their 25 list.   In Arsenal’s case this is because they have at least six youngsters who will turn 21 by next season* and so even without any transfer work their 25 list would be full (although as at least one of them is home grown, that consideration does not apply).

Second, numbers are interesting, but not a guide to success.  Liverpool’s position looks excellent, but I don’t hear many people talking about their youth set up at the moment, nor extolling the quality of their 21 as they go through a period of being a selling club.

Third, Chelsea is a huge surprise (to me at least, but maybe I am just behind the game).  They must have some cracking players lined up in their youth section who are all homegrown, for them to be relaxed at the situation.  The only reason that they did not fill in the four open spaces they currently have must be to do with meeting the financial regulations of Uefa – and indeed maybe in year’s to come we’ll see this as the first impact of those regulations.

Finally I was surprised at how small Villa’s youth squad is.  Again numbers mean nothing if the quality is there, but 36 players in the youth sides does seem very much on the low side.

And even though I said finally there is one other thing that interested me. The official EPL site that has all the lists (although not the analysis that I’ve added here) lists all the players – first team and youth, and it is fascinating to read the full names of the players.  Perhaps it is just me, having been brought up in the era of players called  Joe Baker and Tony Adams, but it is interesting to see that we have in our squad guys named Johan Danon, Djourou-Gbadjere, Alexandre Dimitri Song Bilong, Chukwuemeka Ademola Amachi Aneke, and Jay-Aston Emmanuel-Thomas (who must be the first person to play for Arsenal with a double barrelled first name and surname).  I quite liked Nigel Paul Odfleld Spence-Neita, also on the Arsenal books.  Although none can quite compare with Magaye Serigne Falilou Dit Nelson Gueye of Everton.

I don’t mean there’s anything amiss with such names – in fact I really like the flourish and style that is shown there.  My registered name is Anthony Leonard Attwood – but I used Tony  to avoid my father (Arthur Charles Attwood) and I both having the same first and last initials.  All of which is of no significance at all really.

* I have one gap in my knowledge about the 25 rule. A new list has to be presented in January – but as fas as I can see that list takes the same as definition as the September 2010 list we have just seen.  In other words the player being under 21 is still measured as of January 1 2010.  To spell it out, a player who is 20 on January 1 2010 is still “under 21” for the whole of this season, even if he was actually 21 on January 2nd 2010, and thus is 22 on January 2nd 2011.  So we will have 22 year olds counting as “under 21”.  Is that really right???

17 comments to Why do Chelsea only have 19 players? How to manipulate the 25 rule

  • walter

    I think teams will have to hire a person just to keep up with those rules.
    And I think it would be stupid to have a rule that would force a club to get rid of players just because they would be nr. 26 or 27.

    And I wonder if a player nr. 26 would go to court to fight this rule as it will take away his chance to work what will happen?

  • I am not a lawyer, but I am an employer, and from what I know of the law, there could be a problem.

    In English and Welsh law an employer does not have to provide work for an employee – only pay him/her – unless there are circumstances whereby through NOT offering work the employer is harming the employee.

    So players could have two grounds for complaint against a club that leaves them out of the 25 given the restrictions of the transfer window.

    First, that by not playing they have no chance to get bonuses that are offered in the contract.

    Second, that by not playing they are reducing their chance of getting a job elsewhere, because only by playing can they keep up their skill level. (This is the argument used by airline pilots who are not given the chance to fly).

  • Chris the skiing gasman

    Great article, could you go to the glovebox and fetch my brain medicine it hurts

  • Richard B

    Walter – could it be a coincidence that for the first time in their history Arsenal appointed a head of HR some months ago?
    What with all this – and clearing up after Jack Wilshire’s escapades – she must be pretty busy.

  • Dark Prince

    @Tony- There is one thing that we dont notice and that is a player left out of the league squad can play the fa cup, carling cup and the european games for the team. And that fairly amounts to 10-15 games atleast if the team plays well. But i guess this luxury lies with mostly the top teams. If we say arsenal can reach the semis of each of these competitions, then it will be about 20 games extra than the league games. Possibly a place where someone outside the 25 man squad can prove his worth.

  • Gooneraside

    Excellent article, Tony.

    Loved to see that there’s 56 future youth stars (not all at The Arsenal of course).

    Were there any noticable, unexpected absentees from other clubs lists? Not that I want us to buy anybody, just wondered who’s been deemed not wanted on board.

  • Terence McGovern

    It has been difficult to get a difinitive explaination of the rule with especially the media muddying the waters.
    For example it is obviously a case where the rule doesnt dictate that each squad is obliged to have 8 homegrown players but rather that each squad can have no more than 17 non homegrown players.

    The premier league isn’t comprised of idiots so this would tend to suggest that this rule was drawn up with a deliberate loophole.
    In other words it seems that The EPL was more concerned with portraying the perception that they were creating a situation rather than creating it in reality.

  • Rufusstan

    I originally liked the idea of this system for squads, especially as I thought it would benefit us more than other sides. The more that I see the way that it works in practice, loopholes and all, I become less and less sure that it is a good thing.

    Checking that I have the right idea about ‘spare’ slots, I think we have 4 (25-20)=5 but one needs to be deducted because we are one home grown short. (Wigan are the same, and I think Liverpool should only have 4 spare as well, but anyway).

    Next year is going to be where the problems start for us. If we have 6 players at 21, then we will automatically go over the limit as they all have to be added to the full squad. We can use all of the slots as there are several that count as home grown, but without buying anyone, our squad expands to 26.

    If Arsenal are going to get into trouble, doing things supposedly the right way, how long is it before the system collapses? What do we do with the extra players? Loan them? Sell them to other PL sides with bulging squads? Move them on at a loss as other sides in the same boat lead to a glut of experienced players for sale? Or does the 30+ policy become a cull so that we can make space for the young players we have spent so much time and money developing.

    It’ll all end in tears.

  • Dark Prince – the problem with the notion of putting players into the Champs League is that there too there is a squad that has to be set in advance. And although we do often get to games that can be used for our youngsters, much of the time what you want are people who are playing fairly regularly, rather than only in cup games.

    But with the FA Cup and League Cup I guess more clubs will be doing what Wenger has been doing for years.

  • Terence McGovern

    I think that the main changes that this rule brings will be felt in the level of transfer business done in each window.

    This might appear to be stating the obvious but I believe that it will initially at least have a paralysing effect on many clubs.
    A club may find itself in a stuation where it cannot import players because they have expensively trained academy graduates coming through that need places. As there will be limited options of moving them on to other clubs with the same problem the options will be to either release the majority of their graduates incurring a loss or play them.

    Now at first glance this would appear to be an achieved objective of the rule in the first place but there is a downside.

    Things have a way of finding a balance. What will most likely happen is that the academies of lower league clubs will suffer as they will be able to pick up players cheaply from more prominent academies from the higher leagues. This will make it less cost effective to have their own academies.
    At the higher end of the spectrum there will be certain clubs that will abandon their own academies in favour of simply buying graduates of academies of other clubs that they know will produce quality players.

    The bottom line is that whilst it would probably play very nicely into the business model that Arsenal run, it would mean less academies surviving in the long run nationwide which is definitely not in the interest of the game and contrary to the spirit and ideal that the rule sought to protect.

    I firmly believe that this will actaully be a tremendous cash cow for Arsenal but in the long term is bad for football.

    What we have seen is just the first cut so to speak but soon we will see many unemployed(albeit well off) footballers . Less squad places means less employment.
    Some might consider that this is simply a solution to spiraling wage costs and the first step towards a more austere age of financial management in football but that is red herring in a league that has no wage cap because only through a wage cap will will there be a more rational approach to the allocation of turnover to wages.

    It is all very well for a club to sign a big name and give him huge wages but the net effect is that extra money offered him to beat out a competitor for his signature is money taken from the development of new players and probably sign the death warrant on the potential careers of several youth players.

    This is a core belief and fundamental consideration of the way Arsenal operate.

    One would think that in a nation that laments a lack of young talent, our club would be applauded for this.

    Then again how would they sell newspapers and get more hits if they praised common sense and the moral high ground?

    Easier by far to sensationalise a new signing and engage in character assassination with their right hand of the very solution to the problem that they rail about with their left.

  • Rufusstan

    Thinking through the possible unintended consequences of this policy on youth development, I’d worked out a set of nasty conclusions and coming back to post them, I find most in the message above. There is I feel a real possibility that clubs will give up on youth development as too big a risk of them spending the money and either not getting players of the quality they need, or in positions they already have sufficient cover.

    One thing that really worries me is that it adds another cutoff point in a player’s career at 21. With limited slots available you have to be pretty sure that a player is going to be capable of fitting into the first team by that point, or you may as well get rid of him. The reserves, cups and the like might give you a little leeway, but often players need regular first team games to move on that last bit, and you cannot give a player a limited spot unless you are sure they are worth it.

    This is harsh for the players and potentially very expensive for the clubs, as how many players are the finished article at 21? Would you have bet on Alex song being a regular two years ago? Imagine you had to decide to include Theo in the squad or sell him based on his form over the last 2 years. You can carry these players in the hope that the potential comes through, but how do they show it if they are not in the 25. At the moment you can give them 10 minutes here and there and see what happens.

    There just seem to be so many potential pitfalls in the system.

    I have to add in an unrelated note (should have been in the post above), that I’ve been reading this blog for a few months now, and love the ideas expressed so I have to thank Tony for the thankless task of running it. I just cannot believe its taken me this long to get off my arse to comment.

  • Rufusstan – too kind.

  • Richard B

    The bigger the Arsenal academy system, the more players that will be available to loan out (at the borrowing club’s expense) at the time pre-determined by Arsenal. After the loan, either they will return to AFC to play in one of the squads or, if not, they will be sold on the open market with the full cost of their training (and maybe more) recouped by the Club.
    There may be other clubs who will try to emulate that model (as other Dutch clubs tried to copy Ajax in the past) but no one will start with the same level of global reputation and therefore Arsenal will be young players’ first- choice ‘university’ – at least in this country. And that gives Arsenal first choice on who to accept. With Bosman and the UEFA financial fair play rules screwing up the transfer market – it’s as though it’s all be planned.
    Surely not?

  • kiwigooner

    Makes you wonder whether Arsenal’s precognisance on this was the result of forward thinking, taken on by the Red tape manufacturers or was there a conspiracy, and we had inside information. Either way the only real way to surf is to be ahead of the wave…
    Great post BTW

  • Gooner Gal

    Rufusstan, I totally agree with your posts, I would also add that the FA have also potentially weakened the bargaining position of clubs if you can imagine a scenario where you have a homegrown star player who knows that you don’t have any other homegrown player in his position of the same standard at the club. Because it will be possible to work out who exactly in the league is potentially available, would consider a move and at roughly what price, the rule could increase player power significantly in contract renewals.

    I am not too sure where that leaves Arsenal, but I would hazard a guess that the 25 man rule had something to do with something I read a while ago about Arsenal tying their youth players into 8 year professional long term contracts a couple of years ago. I also have a greater appreciation of the benefits of our players being able to play a variety of different positions. It gives us injury cover, more team formation options and increases player sell on value.

  • Terence McGovern

    Richard B in a way you have hit the nail on the head regarding The problem and antipathy that the status Quo in English football have with Arsenal.

    Our youth system produces a prodigious amount of talent but unlike the dutch example you give with AJAX or Feyenoord who also have a history of producing fine players, Arsenal in relative terms do not produce many english players.

    Now don’t jump on me with this citing the likes of Bentley, pennant etc. I know we have a fine crop beginning to show potential. The problem in my opinion is that we are percieved to also produce and further foster the likes of Clichy, Diaby, Fabregas, Vela, Traore etc. There is a genuine dislike out there that we help fine tune the future players for the national teams of other nations and we are despised for it even though they would not admit that in clear terms.

    For example if there is a mention of Liverpool’s academy it is lauded because it has produced Owen, gerrard, Carragher etc who are all full England internationals. This is despite being an academy in serious decline.

    It is a perceptual fault for having a truly international academy rather than just be churning out local english players.
    As long as for every Walcott, there is a world cup winning Fabregas they will despise us in a barely concealed and veiled fashion.
    Arsenal is perceived to foster the players that prevent England from winning a major tournament.

    By the way I know that some of these players mentioned have had some of their youth training elsewhere but their induction to senior play came through our ranks and that makes them ours

  • Terence McGovern

    wow I could take my above post and turn it into a hate article in 5 minutes that would be perfect for the daily mail lmao!