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Manchester City & Contract Length

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With a rash of recent contract renewals for Manchester City's star players, let's look at the wisdom of the length of some of these new contracts. Yesterday, praise was rightly heaped upon Txiki Begiristain for some of the sterling work he has done during his time at Man City, today's post may contain some criticism.

On the face of it renewing the contracts for star players such as Vincent Kompany, David Silva, Samir Nasri seems like the best course of action. But how wise is it to give long deals - 5 year deals in some cases - to players who will be well into their 30's by the time those deals expire?

Thing is, it's not just those three star players who are on long contracts well into their 30's, it is the majority of the squad who will be well past their peak years by the time their contracts expire.

Age & Expiry Age

Age Expires 2015 Expires 2016 Expires 2017 Expires 2018 Expires 2019 Expires 2020
Hart 27 30
Caballero 32 36
Wright 36 37
Kompany 28 34
Mangala 23 29
Nastasic 21 25
Rekik 19 22
Demichelis 33 34
Boyata 23 26
Kolarov 28 33
Clichy 29 32
Zabaleta 29 33
Sagna 31 35
Richards 26 27
Fernando 27 32
Fernandinho 29 32
Toure 31 35
Zuculini 21 27
Lampard 36
Milner 28 29
Nasri 27 32
Silva 28 34
Navas 28 32
Sinclair 25 28
Jovetic 24 29
Aguero 26 30
Negredo 28 31
Dzeko 28 29
Guidetti 22 23

17 of Man City's squad have contracts that expire in their 30's. Now, one can never be certain but I do not think it is common to have this many players contracted well into their 30's, nor is it likely the best plan going forward.

Number Of Expired Contracts By Age

Expired_contracts_man_city_medium

Players who will be 32 or over when their contracts are due to expire: Zabaleta, Sagna, Kolarov, Clichy, Kompany, Demichelis, Silva, Nasri, Toure, Fernandinho, Navas and Fernando. Dzeko also is likely to be a given a new 3 or 4 year contract so we can add that player to the list.

That list contains Manchester City's entire first XI save for Joe Hart and Sergio Aguero. This is not a good plan going forward.

Issues & Problems

Man City have a very talented squad, probably the most talented in their entire history, but there are some problems with the charts above: Age and contract length.

Man City's average age is currently ~27 years old which is fine, but so many of these players - important players - are contracted well into their 30's. Why is this a problem?

Players have many different levels of performance during their careers. There are development years in their late teens/early 20's. Then come the peak years during the ages of, say, 23 to 28, then we come to the post peak years from age 30 onward. Now, not every player fits that curve, and each position on the field likely has a different peak - strikers age earlier than defenders, midfielders earlier that GK's etc..

It is also worth noting that players who are excellent in their 20's may still be very good in their 30's, but they won't be better players at age 33 than they were at age 28.

Estimated_age_curve_medium

This is an estimated curve that I came up with using data that I had on forwards in the PL. As stated before, every player ages differently and different positions age at different speeds.

But if we use this estimated curve and say a players peak will be between the ages of 23 to 28 and from that point onward players begin to exhibit decline in their performances. Reasons for this: miles on the clock, injury, loss of pace, loss of physical attributes. Not all players decline like clockwork, but for every Yaya Toure there are 10 Robbie Fowlers. Players age, players rarely get better into their 30's.

What Does This Mean For Man City?

Look at chart #1 and the number of Man City players who are contracted well into their 30's. Is it reasonable to expect our players to be as good at ages 32 as they are today at 27/28? Personally, I don't think it is reasonable.

Some of our players, barring injuries problems, will age well like Toure has. I'd bet Nasri, Silva and the power forward Dzeko will age well, for they are the type of player who rely on craft and movement rather than just speed. I wouldn't be as confident about players like Kompany and Aguero, who both have had significant injury issues which may have chipped away at their speed and durability.

Another worry is City's fullbacks, who will all be at ,or over the age of 32 when their contracts expire. The modern fullback position is incredibly demanding and can take significant toll on players. Cafu was once the huge outlier at the fullback position: a 2-way player equally adept at attacking and defending, who also ran for miles and miles and miles. This description is now a basic requirement for a fullback.

In short: Man City have an awful lot of players who are contracted for years where they will likely be well past their peak. There are questions about whether this is the wisest use of the wage ££'s that Man City have to spend every year; there are questions about the dip in performance levels of some of these players once they are into year 3 of their 5 year contracts.

The Good News

Txiki Begiristain is no fool, the upper management at Man City are no fools. They know players age, they know players peak so why are some of our older star players on such long contracts?

This may give us an idea. Unless I am mistaken, these numbers are at, or lower, than the previous contracts . There are also rumours that Samir Nasri took a substantial cut to his basic wage (higher bonuses) when he signed his new contract.

The players who signed these new contracts may well have accepted pay freezes or pay cuts in order to get more term from the club. The players may have traded richer 3 year contracts for longer deals with a lower basic wage, but with higher appearance or performance bonuses.

The player gets security in terms of contract length while still being able to earn excellent money if bonuses are hit. As for the club they secure the player long term, but the lower basic wage may make it easier to move the player or buy out the player if his performances dip to a level below the required standard.

Begiristain is a smart guy but I worry about the sheer number of players contracted into their 30's, nor am I confident that many of these players will be good value for the life of their contracts. Some will remain very good footballers into their 30's, some won't. Some will still be starters and some will be squad players or worse.

There are two positive aspects to these long, low basic wage/high bonus contracts:

  • Wage inflation should increases as clubs earn more money from TV deals and sponsorship. That means that many of these long deals won't look too bad in 2 or 3 years time.
  • If the wages are set over the life of the contract then moving a Nasri, or a Clichy or a Kompany at age 31 shouldn't be the impossible job it would be if these players were on 200k pw basic.
These long contracts aren't the end of the world, they are merely cause for concern. Players age, players don't get better into their 30's but they can still remain very useful footballers. My main worry is the sheer number of over 30 players Man City will field in a year or two. Football is increasingly a young man's game and it doesn't strike me as a particularly wise idea to have more than 50% of your squad over the age of 30 by 2016.

Squads change, players will come and go, but if in 2 or 3 years time Man City have retained many of the players listed above then at that point the squad will likely need to be completely rebuilt. That will be a ridiculously expensive thing to do and unless Man City are banking on many of the promising youth players actually making it then a rebuild is what it may well come to by 2017 or so.