8 things you didn’t know you didn’t know about European football this season
1. Which clubs look abroad the most?
The top-tier club with the most Englishmen is in the Premier League. The second-placed club isn't. Who are they?
Something you won't be surprised to hear: the Premier League has the second-highest percentage of expatriates of any of the top 31 leagues in Europe, according to statistics released this week by the CIES Football Observatory and their Digital Atlas. Less expected news: the club with the highest percentage is a mid-table team from Slovenia.
They might not have been getting many headlines across Europe – in fact we'll rephrase that, they haven't been getting any headlines across Europe – but NK Zavrc have quietly been amassing players from countries around the continent. Well, one country mainly: 18 of their squad hail from Croatia, an arduous journey of all 300 metres from the border to Zavrc's home stadium, just inside Slovenia. They have recruited from elsewhere too – from Bosnia, Albania, Montenegro, Slovakia, Austria and Spain, with former Liverpool and Manchester City winger Albert Riera on the books for a reported wage of €2,000 a month. Don't spend it all at once, Albert.
— Fútbol Internacional (@MarcaFutbolint) November 3, 2015
To be fair to NK Zavrc, they do have four Slovenian players too, meaning their expat ratio is only 88%. Roma are next with 85.2%, while Chelsea (83.3%) are third. Manchester City (74.1%) are 12th, three places behind Slovakian side ViOn Zlate Moravce (76%), whose squad contains six more of the marauding Croatians and three of the Slovenians who maybe might have preferred to play for NK Zavrc.
Arsenal (72%) are 19th on the list, just behind Inverness Caledonian Thistle (73.1%), a club with 14 Englishmen and only six Scots. Bournemouth are the only Premier League club with more Englishman in their first-team squad, of which 33.3% are expats.
The Premier League's overall proportion of foreign players (59.9%) is surpassed only by Cyprus, where 66.4% of players have come from overseas. Serbia (15.7%) have the lowest levels of expatriates, while Finland's HIFK, Czech club Pribram and Gomel of Belarus don’t have a single foreigner in their squads.
2. Which team’s got the oldest mob?
Despite their advancing years the first yard of every game is in their heads, Teddy Sheringham style, and they currently sit 14th in Serie A
As of October 1, the date around which the CIES study was based, the oldest squad in European football officially belonged to Serie A side Chievo. Their average age then was a veritably decrepit 30.6 years and scientists have officially calculated that those same players are even older now – by almost two months in fact. That's science for you.
Chievo's average age has much to do with the presence of the likes of Albano Bizzarri (38), Dario Dainelli (36), Sergio Pellissier (36), Gennaro Sardo (36), Massimo Gobbi (35), Alessandro Gamberini (34), Giampero Pinzi (34), Walter Bressan (34) and former West Brom defender Bostjan Cesar (33) among their ranks.
Despite their advancing years the first yard of every game is in their heads, Teddy Sheringham style, and they currently sit 14th in Serie A. That's five places above their city neighbours and second-oldest squad in Italy, Verona, for whom Luca Toni is still attempting to battle on. He's 38, but last season still shared the Capocannoniere with Inter’s Mauro Icardi.
Chievo's average age is a full 1.7 years more than the next highest in Europe, Turkey's Akhisar Belediyespor (28.9), whose squad includes a 34-year-old Lomana LuaLua. Stoke and West Brom (average age 28.7) are the veterans of the Premier League and the joint-ninth oldest squads in Europe.
The pups of Croatia's Hajduk Split and Slovakia's Senica are the joint-youngest squads on the continent, with an average age of 22.7. Tottenham (average age 24.4) are the youngest in the Premier League, just ahead of Liverpool (25). The age of the average Premier League player is 26.9, the fifth-highest in Europe. Turkey (27.3) top the list.
3. Who’s standing tall above the rest?
The Bundesliga club peer over the rest with an average height of 187cm, or nearly 6ft 2in
It will probably come as no shock that Stoke have the tallest squad in the Premier League, with an average height of 184.8 centimetres. Well, Peter Crouch (203cm) does still play for them (just). Chelsea, Crystal Palace and Watford are next, but it's the players of Wolfsburg who find out it's raining first.
The Bundesliga club peer over the rest with an average height of 187cm, or nearly 6ft 2in – meaning that their self-proclaimed best player in the history of the universe, Nicklas Bendtner (194cm), is indeed one of the giants of European football.
Much like John Cleese on The Frost Report, Wolfsburg look down on Czech club Sigma Olomouc and Austrians SV Mattersburg (185.6cm) in joint-second, although Bulgarian side Ludogorets Razgrad are the Ronnie Corbetts of Europe with an average height of only 178cm (about 5ft 8in). Barcelona have the joint-fifth smallest squad at 178.7cm, while Everton and Manchester City are the tiniest in the Premier League.
Overall the Premier League is the 14th tallest in Europe (a proud boast that's surely worth adding to those Sky Sports adverts). Croatia lead the way, while Israel is Europe's smallest league.
Read on for the surprising Premier League side with the fewest percentage of internationals...