The 2016 UEFA European Championship is just days away from its commencement, bringing together the best players that Europe has to offer. Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Andrés Iniesta, Paul Pogba and Robert Lewandowski are just a few of the outstanding names taking part in the competition, alongside breakout start and young talents such as Jamie Vardy, Kingsley Coman and Renato Sanches. The final 23 man squads for Euro 2016 have been released, leading to discussions on absences for tactical reasons as well as injuries, as the likes of Claudio Marchisio, Vincent Kompany and Daniel Carvajal will miss the tournament.
But what’s behind the names of the players? Their birthdates, which offer some interesting points analysed below. Is there a month in which there are more Euro 2016 players born? Is there any reason for it? The answer to both questions is ‘yes’.
Analysing the birthdates by months we can see that 57% of players are born during the first half of the year, i.e. from January to June, and the most common months are January and May (59 players), February (54) and April (53). In contrast, the months with the fewest players born are October (38), August (31) and November (29), all in the second half of the year.
A graphical way to see it is by grouping it by quarters, where there is a clear downward trend as the year progresses for Euro 2016 players.
Differences can also be observed by geographical regions: Northern and Central Europe countries are typically contributing fewer players born in the cold months of January, February and March, while the Mediterranean are those who have more.
Countries with the fewest players born in the first quarter:
- Hungary and Sweden: 4
- Belgium, Czech Republic, England, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Slovakia and Romania: 5
Countries with most players born in the first quarter:
- Turkey: 12
- Croatia, Italy and Spain: 9
Also, comparing the distribution of the players’ month of birth in Euro 2016, we can draw some conclusions. There is only one national team with no players born in January (Iceland), three in February (Czech Republic, England and Ireland) and two in March (Northern Ireland and Poland), but there are two nations without players born in October (Poland and Russia), five in November (Czech Republic, Russia, Sweden, Turkey and Wales) and up to six in December (Austria, Croatia, Iceland, Ireland, Spain and Turkey).
Coincidence or Scientific Fact?
With these numbers we wonder whether the fact that there are many more players born earlier the year is only a coincidence or if there is any reason that can explain it. This is what the journalist and bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell made in 2008 when he published his book ‘Outliers: The Story of Success’. Gladwell argued that the date of birth of a child who plays football could predict his/her chances of success in adulthood.
Normally, youth academies teams are divided by age, this is by calendar year, so the difference at an early age between a child born on January 1st and one born on December 31st is significant in terms of size, skills or strength. These differences make those who are born in the early months of the year stand out more easily than his teammates, and therefore are more likely to be selected to be moved up to another level and play more. In short, they are more likely to go far, debuting with the first team and, if they are the best of the best, play a European Championship such as France 2016. This difference is called ‘Relative Age Effect (RAE)’, also extrapolated to other areas such as education or the link with certain types of disease. While official figures (Eurostat) indicate a certain balance in the distribution of births in the European Union over the year – with July and August slightly standing out, and February and November have the least occurrence – this distribution does not follow the same line in sports. Euro 2016 is a prime example, with a prevalence of players born in the first half of the year.
Of course, this does not mean that a child born at the end of the year cannot become a football star. The clearest examples are Pelé and Diego Maradona, both born in October. Yet other legends do follow this theory, as Johan Cruyff (April), Michel Platini (June), Ronaldinho (March), Lionel Messi (June) and Cristiano Ronaldo (February) were all born within the first six months of the year.
Photo By: AP Photo/Christophe Ena
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