As any manager will attest, a goalscorer is undoubtedly worth his weight in gold, but how do the top European leagues compare when it comes to this feted art? Which league is producing the best goalscorers and where do these players originate from? Is there an optimum age for a goalscorer and at which clubs are the best goalscorers congregating? In order analyse these points we have examined the top seven* goalscorers each season in the top five European leagues across the last decade to see what patterns emerged.
*the top seven gives us a large enough sample pool and avoids a large number of ties, as is the case with the top 10.
Average number of goals
We begin by examining the average number of goals scored by the top seven goalscorers in Serie A, La Liga, Premier League, Bundesliga, and Ligue 1 to see which league is producing the most prolific goalscorers:
On this front there is a clear winner. The average number of goals scored by the top seven in La Liga score over five goals more than Serie A in second place. The least productive league is the French Ligue 1, with each player in the top seven averaging just over 17 goals, a massive seven goals less than in Spain. The Bundesliga are also lower down the list, however, it should be noted that German teams they play four games less per season on account of their being 18 teams in the top flight.
The season-by-season statistics also make interesting reading in determining how the patterns have developed over the last 10 years:
Looking at these figures it is clear that the La Liga statistics have been heavily influenced by the exploits of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Indeed, with the exception of 2013/2014, every season since 2010/2011 has produced an average of over 27 goals per scorer. However, it is also worth noting that even in the three seasons prior to Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival in Madrid in 2009, La Liga was still a very profitable league for goalscorers, with only the Premier League in 2007/2008 having a higher average than Spain and even then, only marginally. Indeed, La Liga’s overall dominance is reflected by the fact it is has the highest average in 8 out of the 10 seasons we examined. At the other end of the scale, the average in the French Ligue 1 has only exceeded 20 goals once in the last 10 years and this relied heavily on Zlatan Ibrahimović’s 38 goals during the most recent 2015/2016 season. However, there has been a general upwards trend in Ligue 1 since 2010/11, although it will be interesting to see if this continues now that Ibrahimović will no longer be boosting the numbers.
We now move on to look at the average age of the top seven goalscorers to see what patterns emerged and to try and ascertain the optimum age for a goalscorer in each league. Please note, the age was taken as the player’s age in days at the end of each respective seasons. This figure was then converted to years and then averaged out:
In terms of average age Italy’s Serie A comes out with comfortably the highest average, with the average top seven goalscorer being almost 29 years of age. This is over 2 ½ years older than the average top seven goalscorer in the French Ligue 1. It is possible that the higher average age in Serie A perhaps evidences the slight decline in the quality of the league, especially given the fact that strikers well into their 30’s such as Luca Toni and Antonio Di Natale have regularly featured in the top goalscoring charts during this period. Indeed, Luca Toni was 38 when he shared the Capocannoniere award for top scorer in 2014/2015. It is however interesting to note that the general averages across all the leagues are higher than might be expected, especially given the fact many famous goalscorers such as Michael Owen, the Brazilian Ronaldo and Fernando Torres have seemed to lose some of their goalscoring prowess at a relatively young age. The lowest average – which is found in Ligue 1 – is still over 26.5 years old, suggesting that perhaps goalscoring isn’t just a young man’s art after all. Indeed, perhaps the old adage that a striker peaks between the ages of 26-29 still holds true after all, certainly if the data from the last 10 years is anything to go by.
We now look at nationalities of the top seven scorers to see which league has the most players represented from their own country, and whether any other specific nations are particular adept at providing goalscorers amongst the top five European leagues. It should be noted that where a player has played international football for a nation, this is deemed to be his nationality for these purposes. If a player has not represented a particular country then his place of birth has been used:
Looking at the data, Italy’s Serie A has by far the most home nation players in its top scorer’s charts, with 54% being Italian. At the other end of the spectrum is the English Premier League with just 24% of the top 70 scorers in the last decade being English. If England fans are looking for consolation it can perhaps be found in the fact that Harry Kane won the golden boot in 2015/2016, with Jamie Vardy finishing joint second. The general picture however perhaps points to the increased globalisation of the Premier League and the fact the league is well and truly multinational nowadays. Indeed, the high number of Italians in the Serie A goalscoring charts can perhaps be traced to the opposite effect with the league no longer attracting the same foreign global superstars as it once did. In addition – as was mentioned with regards to average age – some of the recurring names on the Italian goalscoring lists are often players who had retired from international football at the time they appeared, so it is perhaps not as simple as believing that the more home grown players in the top scorers chart, the better it will be for the national team. However, it is worth noting that not one English player features in the charts for any of the other European leagues whilst all the other nations have players who have appeared in a “foreign” league’s top scorer’s chart. In this respect, it is fair to conclude the low number of English representatives is a cause for concern, particularly one imagines for new England manager Gareth Southgate.
Having studied which league has the most players represented from their own country, we then examined the nationality of all the players who have been in the top seven scorers across all five leagues during the last 10 years, to see which country is producing the highest number of prolific goalscorers. Initially, what stands out from the data is the sheer number of nations represented, with 48 countries providing a representative at least once during the last 10 seasons, again emphasising the global nature of European football. We then charted the 20 nations to have produced most players during this period:
The country which has provided the most players is France with 43, which includes the 29 occasions a French player has been in the top seven scorers in Ligue 1. Perhaps the most impressive statistic is the 41 occasions an Argentinian has been in the top seven across the five leagues. Of course, this statistic is helped greatly by the recurring presence of Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero, and Gonzalo Higuaín, but there have been 14 separate Argentinians who have appeared in the last decade, demonstrating the strength in depth when it comes to Argentinian goalscorers. It is also surprising that Brazilians have only appeared 16 times. Admittedly, this is only one less than English players despite the lack of “home league effect”, but is perhaps less than one would expect from the famous entertainers of world football, particularly given the number of Brazilian’s plying their trade in the leagues in question. This perhaps emphasises the troubles Brazil have had finding a reliable “number 9” in the recent past and no doubt the statistics may have been somewhat different had the previous decade been examined, when the likes of Ronaldo and Adriano were appearing in the scoring charts regularly.
We then moved on to look at which clubs had provided the most goalscorers across the top five leagues during the last 10 seasons. In total, 92 clubs have had at least one player in the top seven goalscorers during this period. Our graph below details the 63 clubs who have been represented at least three times during the last 10 seasons:
The top position in the chart goes to Barcelona with 17 representatives in the top seven goalscorers during the last 10 seasons. Given they have been the pre-eminent club side during this period, and bearing in mind the quality of the striking talent they have employed, this should come as no real surprise. Indeed, the next two positions also provide no great surprises with Real Madrid and Bayern Munich trailing Barcelona by two and five players respectively. The top English representatives are the old rivals Manchester United and Liverpool with nine players each. As a whole – and as one would expect given the value of goalscorers – the list can be seen as a strong guide as to who the successful club sides were during the last decade, with the top 20 in particular being something of a “who’s who” of European football. Further down the list there are a few more surprising entrants with French sides FC Lorient, Lille OSC, and OGC Nice all having five representatives and from an English perspective, Blackburn’s three representatives is a little surprising given their struggles during this period. Indeed, they only competed in the Premier League for six out of the 10 seasons in the comparison.
Finally, having noted the disappointingly low number of English goalscorers during the last decade, we now compare and contrast our period of analysis with the period from the beginning of the Premier League in 1992/1993, to the end of the season 2005/2006 which was the season before our comparison began. The first two points of comparison in terms of average age and average number of goals scored provided some relatively minor differences, with the average age being slightly lower for the earlier period and the average number of goals being slightly higher:
The difference was however much more marked when we looked at the percentage of English players in the top seven goalscorers during the earlier period:
The contrast in the statistics in this regard is immediately apparent, with 65% of the goalscorers during the earlier period being English as opposed to the figure of 24% for the last decade. This means the percentage of English goalscorers is 63% lower in the period from 2006-2016 than it was in the period from 1992-2006. Of course, as we discussed earlier, this is not necessarily a bad thing for the league per se, or even an indicator of a weak national team. Indeed, no doubt the cosmopolitan nature of the Premier League has contributed to its status as arguably the most entertaining league in the world, and helped some English players develop by playing alongside a wider variety of players. However, the fall in this particular respect has been so steep it must provide some concern to those who wish to promote and celebrate home grown striking talent in England.