B07 The Relative Age Effect presents an opportunity for Scottish football to be “better than FC Barcelona”


  • Thomas P. Craig Liverpool John Moore University
  • Javier Fernandez Navarro Liverpool John Moore University




An overrepresentation of athletes born earlier in the year compared with those born later in the year is known as the relative age effect (RAE). A ten year analysis of professional players across ten of the top European leagues showed the existence of an RAE in the ten years from 2000 (29.3 vs 19.8%, p<0.01) to 2010 (31.9 vs 18.4%, p<0.01) with the RAE becoming more pronounced with time. A sample from the FC Barcelona Model (Doncaster et al., 2020. Front Sports Act Liv, 2, 91) showed a strong RAE within their male football academy in all youth groups becoming less prevalent with increasing age (Q1 Jan-Mar = 0.53 Q2 Apr-Jun = 0.27; Q3 Jul-Sep = 0.14; and Q4 Oct – Dec = 0.06 [χ_3^2= 53.6, p<0.001]).  Despite solutions being proposed in the literature, this indicates these solutions are not being utilised effectively within Europe’s top clubs such as FC Barcelona. Our previous work (Craig and Swinton, 2020, Eur J Sports Sci, 21, 1101-1110) identified strong relative age bias in players awarded professional contracts between 2006 and 2016 in a Scottish academy (Q1 = 0.50; Q2 = 0.26; Q3 = 0.20; and Q4 = 0.05 [χ_3^2= 40.9, p<0.001]). Scottish clubs have limited resources in comparison with Barcelona meaning academy efficiency is paramount. The main study aim was therefore to assess any changes in the relative age effect over a ten-year period in an elite Scottish football academy within the academy player pool. A secondary aim was to establish if physical differences exist across each quarter to assess the impact of any potential RAE. Following ethical approval, a retrospective analysis of 512 academy players (from 2006 to 2016) from a Scottish Academy was assessed for anthropometric, physical performance and RAE impact.  The range of players in each quarter was Q1 37.0-42.9% versus Q2 22.8-32.4%, Q3 11.9-26.0% and Q4 7.1-14.3%. Odds Ratio analysis indicate a greater chance of selection within the academy when assessing Q1 vs Q4 players quarter comparisons (ranging 3.2-5.2 time more likely to be part of the academy).  There was no impact of time on the RAE over the ten years (p=0.3127). When controlling for age group multilevel modelling showed there were no significant differences across quarters in physical measures. Underrepresented Q4 players who transition through academy soccer can match physically their older peers. The finding that there is no improvement in the RAE with time underpins an efficiency that can be integrated.  Using established interventions and corrective procedures can ensure no potential is being removed unnecessarily from the development pathway on the basis of RAE, addressing challenges in financially restricted environments such as Scottish football that resource rich environments such as FC Barcelona have not yet overcome.

Author Biography

Thomas P. Craig, Liverpool John Moore University

Twitter/X handle: @ThoCra83