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August 2021
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Bloated or shrunken? How many of the top six clubs have used all 25 places??

By Tony Attwood

It struck me, while we were having our bit of fun concerning how often people call a team’s squad “bloated”, that  I had never seen a comparison chart of the number of players that there are in each squad.

Indeed even the full official list published by the Premier League doesn’t actually give totals, just names.  So I wasn’t able to tell straightaway just how well or badly run Arsenal has been of late in terms of putting a squad together, when compared to other clubs.

Of course numbers aren’t anything without comparisons, which is why the large numbers of commentators calling a squad “bloated” without giving numbers or comparisons, was really rather laughable.

So here’s the chart that I was looking for, and which I’ve not seen published elsewhere.

The numbers are those declared at the start of this season – obviously transfers undertaken this month are therefore not included.

To reiterate the rules, a club can register 25 players, with a maximum number of foreign players being 17.  Figures are those before this transfer window opened.

Club Total (25) Home Grown Foreign grown (17) Spaces
Arsenal 22 5 17 3
Chelsea 21 4 17 4
Liverpool 24 7 17 1
Manch C 20 4 16 5
Manch U 25 11 14 0
Tottenham Hots 25 8 17 0

What is so interesting is the fact that there are such different approaches going on here.

  • Four of the six clubs did not have players occupying all the available spaces.
  • Manchester City and Manchester United have not filled their foreign component of players.
  • Manchester United have far more home grown players than any other club – more than twice the number of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City.

This is interesting when we consider the ways in which transfer rumours are written without any regard for the number of players that a club already has in each column.   The stories rarely seem to mention who is going to be sold when a player is tipped to be introduced.

Of course under 21s don’t have to be included here, and this means that, for example, Arsenal’s one purchase of the current window, Omar Rekik, will make no difference to our number.

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But also sales this window are not included, so we have in fact yet another home grown space available having sold Matt Macey to Hibs in Scotland.

For the other clubs so far this window I have not seen any transfers of players from these club’s 25, going out nor any coming in.   There have been loans and transfers of players not in the 25 and not likely to make it in the near future, and it is possible there is a player or even two I have missed, thinking he’s not going into the squad – and if so I am sure I will be corrected.  But for the moment it does seem that the table above is how it is.

So what are the benefits of these different approaches?

First, a full 25 man squad costs money on salaries which the club may not want to spend.  In the past this may not have been too worrying, given the profits the clubs could make, but during the pandemic it is a lot more concerning.

Second, a player in the 25 man squad who doesn’t get games is going to get fed up in the end.

Third, if the club has a number of under 21s on the books who don’t have to be registered, then filling the squad with players is going to make that transition to the first team harder.   And that will make it ever harder for the club to recruit and keep under 21s, if there are other clubs saying “you’ll go straight into the first team squad”.

This simple analysis also reveals the stupidity of some of the transfer rumour reporting which never takes account the size of the squad, but instead operates in a vacuum assuming that players can be sold or (as with two Arsenal players this season) just abandoned in no-man’s-land.

Players watch what clubs do, and clubs that a) change their managers regularly and b) allow players to rot because they don’t meet the wishes of a new manager, then probably find it harder and harder to recruit new players.

But we should also add, while Tottenham and Manchester United have done good business by filling up all their available spaces, it does mean that neither club can buy anyone without either putting a player into no-man’s-land or selling.  And in this market, the latter might be very difficult.

2 comments to Bloated or shrunken? How many of the top six clubs have used all 25 places??

  • Dublin Gooner

    You may be right that players look at all this stuff and iit impacts their decision around transfers. Personally, I think this is unlikely.
    A player not being picked or otherwise unhappy is more likely to want to leave, I can see that, but may not do so, as in the case of Ozil.
    A player offered a deal is much more likely to look at contractual issues such as salary, length of contract etc. As will his agent, who will be guiding him.
    Whether he’s joining a club with a big squad or a small squad or a reputation for giving youngsters a chance and stuff like that is probably more or less irrelevant. At the end of the day footballers and their agents are as greedy as everyone else. It’s all about money and what’s in the contract.

  • GoingGoingGooner

    What a quagmire! And, imagine the complexities if there were a salary cap, too!

    In my mind, all of this points out the importance of having leaders at the club who have a vision, the football nous and the support of the board to implement a long range plan. The numbers in this article are not finite quantities but numbers on the move depending on the present form of a player and the direction in which he is progressing (or regressing) and, of course, other things such as his wages packet. In addition, because the home grown rules only affect English clubs, there is a market within the market for English lads.