Fact-Check: How old are the Under-23s?

Among a number of accusations made against him during the season, one comment that cropped up more than a couple of times claimed that David Unsworth had been padding his Under-23 squad with older players who should have been let go.

The thrust of the claim was that Unsworth had been retaining the more experienced players too long so that he could win trophies, at the expense of giving younger players game-time to get them ready to step up to the first team.

I found the comment more than a little annoying – not just because I thought it was a cheap and relatively easy shot, but that it was almost certainly based on some preconceived notion rather than any facts – common enough of course in this blighted era of 'fake news'.

But how do you counter that? Well, I had the tools to hand in the form of a spreadsheet. The only thing missing (until now!) was the time to waste compiling the data, running the numbers, and calculating some super-accurate results.

So: Just how old are the Under-23s?

Maybe we should have an online quiz to see what people think or believe... but intuitively you would expect them to fall somewhere between 18 and 23, surely?

The table below lists the games from the aborted Premier League 2 season, with the average age of the 11-man starting line-up provided for each game:

Date Opponent Venue Score Age
Aug 12 Leicester C H 0 - 0 20.2
Aug 18 Wolves A 0 - 0 21.5
Aug 23 Arsenal A 2 - 2 20.0
Aug 30 Southampton H 8 - 2 20.2
Sep 16 Blackburn R H 2 - 1 20.3
Sep 20 Brighton A 2 - 1 20.0
Sep 27 Man City H 2 - 2 20.2
Oct 18 Derby C A 1 - 4 20.1
Nov 2 Liverpool A 1 - 2 19.5
Nov 22 Tottenham H H 1 - 3 19.8
Dec 9 Leicester C A 1 - 2 19.5
Dec 16 Wolves H 3 - 2 19.2
Jan 6 Southampton A 1 - 1 20.0
Jan 13 Arsenal H 3 - 3 20.3
Jan 24 Chelsea H 2 - 2 20.3
Jan 31 Man City A 3 - 4 19.7
Feb 17 Derby C H 2 - 1 20.1
Mar 2 Chelsea A 0 - 1 19.8

If you go further and take the season average for all those games, you come up with just 20.0 years. Surely bang on the money, I would have thought?

Players' ages are calculated from their birth date to the day of the match. This is not strictly the same as the league's Under-18 or Under-23 criterion, which is defined by a player's age on January 1.

The highest average age, against Wolves, was indeed the result of David Unsworth selecting an older player: Cuco Martina, whose advanced age of 29.9 years on the day certainly skewed things. But that was in just one match.

The only other occasion when a player older than 23 appeared was Harry Charsely, in his last appearance against Spurs before being released in January. Most will remember Charsley being a special charity case where the club rather generously extended his contract for 6 months to allow him to fully recover from injury and regain match fitness before he was moved on.

The accusation is really so far off the mark. If anything, Unsworth has utilized players who are younger than you might expect, with Under-18s in the starting line-up on no less than 14 occasions.

So, case closed.

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Reader Comments (32)

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Dave Williams
1 Posted 31/03/2020 at 13:47:07
Great article, Michael, providing hard facts to ram the armchair critics allegations down their throats.

I guess they might come back alleging that this year is different as indicated by a much less successful season. I wonder if the average age last year was significantly higher when we won trophies?

Steve Brown
2 Posted 31/03/2020 at 14:30:40
Excellent piece from the editor, dispels the myth that David Unsworth is keeping players in the U-23 squad beyond the age when they should be promoted to the first team, loaned or sold.
Michael Kenrick
Editorial Team
3 Posted 31/03/2020 at 14:55:11
Thanks guys,

I was pondering that question, Dave: I think you're right. I'll have to go back and do it for the previous three seasons too!

Alan J Thompson
4 Posted 31/03/2020 at 15:15:55
Quite interesting but the question really is why so few make the 1st team squad after being part of a winning age group at club and some also at international level. What is it, 3 years, since Royle and Unsworth put out an almost full team for the last game of a season and won handsomely albeit against a team already relegated.

Oh, and what effect, if any, has a steady stream of different managers had on this age level?

James Flynn
5 Posted 31/03/2020 at 16:06:41
Well, not just our youth set up, how many pro players of the last 20 years are from Liverpool at all, or from the Greater Liverpool area?

It can't all just be, "Everton are shitty at producing..."

Tommy Surgenor
6 Posted 31/03/2020 at 16:15:54
Alan #4. Believe it or not, it's 4 years. On that occasion, the BBC awarded Dowell the MotM.
Alan J Thompson
7 Posted 31/03/2020 at 17:00:46
James (#5); Why local youngsters when we are signing them from America, Australia, all over Europe and Britain and not just recently but for the last 10 years at least? I suppose you have to look at what percentage make it at any top flight club but, in our case, Everton is the common denominator, without picking on any one individual and when we do find some who make it we seem only too quick to move them on (eg, Rooney, Barkley, Stones).

Tommy (#6); and what further chances has Dowell been given with us? I'm not entirely a believer that, if they don't make it on loan they wouldn't have made it with us, but I would like to see us take a chance at some time.

John Raftery
8 Posted 31/03/2020 at 17:14:39
Good to have totally inaccurate assumptions corrected.

Alan (4) In response to your last question, I think the rapid turnover has had a significant effect along with the plethora of new players flooding into the club every summer. Struggling managers have wrestled with how best to use the expensive imports. Expecting them also to familiarise themselves with the Under 23s and work out how any of them might fit into the first team set-up was almost a non-starter.

The players who have stepped up, principally Davies, Holgate and Calvert-Lewin, have done so because there were gaps which could not be filled by any other means. Hence the likes of Kieran Dowell who has had two league cup appearances in the last three seasons have had little or no opportunity to progress. In front of him in August 2017 were Rooney, Sigurdsson and Klaassen. Koeman, Unsworth and Allardyce never did work out how to use those three. In the meantime, Dowell was farmed out to an average Nottm Forest team for whom he started well but fell away after a change of manager.

Mike Gaynes
9 Posted 31/03/2020 at 17:51:23
Michael, I have no opinion on this issue but I want to say you're doing a great job creating enjoyable content out of nothing to keep us entertained in this trying time. This piece and the Mystery Men series are perfect examples. Hope you and yours are keeping safe and sane.

For those not aware, Michael lives in the Seattle area, which has been Ground Zero for the virus in the US. New York City may be getting all the headlines now, but Seattle has been under the cosh since late January, a week after Wuhan blew up.

Robert Tressell
10 Posted 31/03/2020 at 18:40:13
Mike G. Did not know Michael K was US-based like yourself. Thanks from me too because the distraction of football is helping – even though there's no football as such. Hope you're all okay too. Mike, I think your wife is / was in Wuhan so hope all is well and you now have her home.

Back on the football, I'd love us to really focus on local youth. The quality is there I am convinced (and just as convinced of the abject shitness of foreign / has been players we spend a fortune on). Football is about identity and purpose and we need to regain ours – with the academy as the best place to start.

Mike Gaynes
11 Posted 31/03/2020 at 19:14:36
Thanks for asking, Robert. Unfortunately she's still there and locked down. With the current travel restrictions, it will likely be months more before they can come home.

As for me in Oregon, I'm in an area not yet touched by the virus -- the nearest confirmed case is 100 miles away. Hope you and yours are keeping safe as well.

Tony Abrahams
12 Posted 31/03/2020 at 19:39:27
Echo what Mike G says, Michael, because keeping this website open in such testing times, has helped a lot of people, I'm sure.

Thanks Michael, I didn't know where you lived and how bad your city has been affected, but ToffeeWeb has been a godsend at times mate — so thank you very much, to both yourself and LL!

Alan McKie
13 Posted 31/03/2020 at 19:40:49
When we won the league in 69-70 we had Wright, Labone, Harvey, Royle, Morrissey, Whittle, who were local lads. Plus, Husband, Hurst and Kenyon who came through the ranks. Add West, Brown, Kendall and Ball, plus standby Tommy Jackson and you have Champions.

Why?? Couldn't it happen again??? Them days, you had time to cultivate players and mould them. Now, everyone wants instant success. We were once called the Millionaires Club. But even then, we could only afford one star a season, be it, West, Kendall or a Ball.

Brian Williams
14 Posted 31/03/2020 at 19:43:58
Mike #11.

Mate, have you found the washing machine yet? 😂

Alan McKie
15 Posted 31/03/2020 at 19:58:11
Bring back the Central League. I used to watch them when Everton were away, along with thousands of others, trying to spot the next 'star'. Except when my RS mates used to tempt me to Mordor. When Best, Law, Charlton, Greaves, Gilzean or my personal favourite Charlie Cooke, played the RS.
Rob Halligan
16 Posted 31/03/2020 at 20:01:07
Brian, #14. What's one of them??
Brian Williams
17 Posted 31/03/2020 at 20:16:02
Rob. Not sure but it's bloody noisy!
Phil (Kelsall) Roberts
18 Posted 31/03/2020 at 20:25:24
When you have a lot of time and you are a spreadsheet geek - or should that be nerd? - you end up doing countless stats which are great for you - but maybe nobody else.

One I like (I'll get back to the topic in a second. We are not in a rush to do something are we?) is comparing results this season to last. Consistently, season after season between 45-55% of results are exactly the same. So whilst it is often decried as rubbish, it has some sense of predictability.

But back to the topic, I have a spreadsheet of players minutes on the pitch going back to the 1984-85 season (how sad is that? Very!! I hear you cry). Now it was in the day of 1 sub, not the any 3 from 7 and maybe not a squad game like today, but the first choice team started 92% of the games. But the average age of the team running out was 24 years 4 months. And they aged 9 months over the season! That means 24y at the start of the season and 24y9m at the end gives an average of 24y4m.

Compare that against the current squad. The last 38 game is a team with an average age of almost 26y4m. 2 years older on average than the team that walked away with the League Championship.

Perhaps that makes 29th May 1985 even more of tragedy for our club. It was a very young side. Even Andy Gray was 29 and Peter Reid 28 when we collected the trophy.

And the oldest - during 2011, the average age was 30 years 8 months. Howard, Hibbert, Distin, Neville, Osman, Saha, Cahill all over 30 and Jagielka 29.

Michael Kenrick
Editorial Team
19 Posted 31/03/2020 at 20:34:41
Thanks guys, especially Mike (11) and Tony (12). I have to let you into a little secret... we abandoned the Left Coast, sold up and moved back to Limeyland at the turn of the year. It's tempting to say The Donald forced our hand... couldn't face another 4 years!!!

We are currently renting a place just outside Tiverton in Devon, and what a lovely part of the British countryside this is!

The huge irony is that I had to persuade my US firm that I could be just as effective working remotely (this was a month or two before Covod-19 hit)... and now the whole company is doing it!

But yea, we were actually living in downtown Kirkland, which is at the heart of the King County epicentre. I guess you could say we did a runner.

Michael Kenrick
20 Posted 31/03/2020 at 20:55:50
Phil (18),

Forgive me if we've discussed this before, we did have a Comparisions thing going a few years back, doing what you described. I'd modelled it on something from the matchday programme that gave this information.

It's been a few years and I found updating it from one season to the next especially taxing of my limited spreadsheet skills... But my desire was to include it on the site.

Here's a link to the last one: 2006-07 Comparisons.

If you have something that fits the bill and would be okay having us publish it... just saying!!!

Mike Gaynes
21 Posted 31/03/2020 at 20:56:52
Wow, Michael, didn't know that. No wonder the property values up there have dropped. Congrats on a well-timed move. (Glad we didn't buy your house!) And don't worry about President I-Take-No-Responsibility. He'll be taken care of.

Brian #14, yes I have, and she is quite noisy. I'd tell you her name but I'm afraid it would get back to my wife. (Kidding! Kidding!)

Tony Abrahams
22 Posted 31/03/2020 at 21:08:10
I hope he’s taken care of sooner rather than later Mike G, but I think it’s better to listen to Michael, because it looks like he’s turned into a clairvoyant, with some of the moves he’s been making lately!
Robert Tressell
23 Posted 31/03/2020 at 22:36:51
Phil Roberts. Just chuckling at your dedication to spreadsheets. That is some going.

I like to maintain a spreadsheet of all the players I would like Everton to buy. This has become immensely detailed over the years (been doing it since I was about 13). I use it to 'scout' players from across the globe and to spend (in my own warped version of reality) Moshiri's money wisely.

Obviously it is a complete waste of my time. It is interesting to no-one but me. But I am glad I have a kindred spirit with his own utterly pointless spreadsheet that (and I'm biased) sounds even less interesting to the average fan than my own. Thank god for ToffeeWeb.

Andy Crooks
24 Posted 31/03/2020 at 23:48:30
Mike @21, I fear that he won't be taken care of. He seems pretty popular. What is it that makes this so? He seems, in my view, to be a monster who, if not held to account by the American press and decent politicians, would be a new Hitler.

Thankfully, Mike, I know that the good guys like you and Jamie and many, many others are keeping watch. Who will vote for him in November?

I fear the virus in US will peak around then and we will have an unelected Trump with special powers. I prefer Putin, mainly because he humiliated Trump and exposed him as a coward.

Sorry about the rant. Love USA, hate Trump and the cowards who stand behind him.

Andy Crooks
25 Posted 31/03/2020 at 23:52:10
Apologies, Michael K. I think I have, ever so slightly, moved off topic. Just watched Newsnight and saw a vile republican apologist for Trump and have spontaneously combusted.
Si Cooper
26 Posted 01/04/2020 at 03:09:36
Andy Crooks, you prefer Putin? And you call Trump a monster? Trump is a selfish buffoon whose narcissism enables him to be an apparently successful snake oil salesman (bit like BoJo but writ large) but Putin is genuinely dangerous on a whole other level, using dangerous-to-all substances like Polonium and nerve agents to get his revenge.

With the likes of this pandemic, climate change and leaders like Putin and Trump being popular despite their flaws being well known, things have a very End of Days feel at the moment!

Mike Gaynes
27 Posted 01/04/2020 at 04:00:10
No worries, Andy. He's not popular at all. And when the recession settles in this summer (the virus should peak in May), even his business allies will abandon him.

But you'd better backpedal on that Putin comment, dude. Trump is a megalomaniac clown, but he's not assassinating opponents, invading other countries and sabotaging democracies.

Alan J Thompson
28 Posted 01/04/2020 at 05:42:15
M (#27); And you railed against me exposing your Directorship! From your own cold hand...
Andy Crooks
29 Posted 01/04/2020 at 10:31:03
Fair comment, Si, stupid remark made during wine induced rant. Withdrawn.

Harry Williams
30 Posted 01/04/2020 at 00:02:33
Are you saying that's not an old team??!! Also the two years when they won the league how old were the players? This year they are crap because the team is a bit younger, but for a team to average over 20 is a joke. These players should have been gone years ago, and younger players should be brought through.

Who has Unsworth actually developed, only Tom Davis has broken through and he's been with the first team for years... Everybody in football laughs at Everton's U23s because they put results before development. They won things in the past with Oumar Niasse playing centre-forward, fact. Hilarious.

Mary Coleman
31 Posted 02/04/2020 at 16:45:38
Good point #30

U23s have not won anything this year, they have also not won many games, so you need to research the years that they did win, and I am sure they played with prominently older players than the opposition, Omar Niasse, Jose Baxter, Brendon Galloway, Tyas Browning, Harry Charsley etc etc

This year they haven’t been much good at all, why? Because the team is slightly younger than previous seasons, but still players are over 20...

Player’s over the age of 20 should be moved up to the first team or sold or released, not playing in a what’s described as a Mickey Mouse league!!!

Alan J Thompson
32 Posted 02/04/2020 at 17:51:03
If sending players out on loan is considered a good way of getting young players experience then there must be an argument for bringing back the Central League set up where youngsters played with and against more experienced players.

After all, clubs do name squads of 25 players of which no more than 14 of the 18 named are going to run on in any given week.

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