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European Under-21 Championships: Senior Caps

16 August 2013

The European Under-21 Championships is billed as a competition designed to give the stars of the future an opportunity represent their national team in front of a significant audience.

But how good are the Championships as a predictor of future success? How many players go on to represent the senior team, if they haven’t done so already? 75%? 50%? Less?

Looking at European Under-21 squads between 1994 and 2006 – a sample of 941 outfield players* – it turns out that 61% of players did eventually win a full international cap. Members of squads in the 2006 Championships are at least 30 now, and therefore are unlikely to be making international debuts in the upcoming years.

The flip side is that nearly 2 in 5 players did not make a senior appearance, despite being recognised as one of the 20-or-so best talents in their age group.

Under-21s: Number of Senior Caps

68% of players made 12 appearances or less; roughly equivalent to a year of international games. Only 1 in 6 achieved prolonged international careers of over 40 caps.

Major European teams – defined as England, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands Portugal and Spain – differ from their continental neighbours. In these seven countries (462 outfield players), 47% of players never made a senior appearance, compared to 32% elsewhere.

Under-21s: Full Senior Caps

This isn’t overly surprising; these major teams have historically had a strong concentration of talent, and it’s not unthinkable that good players will be left out of under-21 squads only to win senior caps later in their career.

The Under-21 Championships have undoubtedly seen some of the game’s finest players, but for the vast majority of squad members a solid senior international career is unlikely, if they even win a cap at all.

*Goalkeepers were omitted on the basis that they’re competing for only one spot in an international team. 57% of goalkeepers in the sample never won a senior cap; nearly three-quarters four caps or less.

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