When do footballers reach their peak?

Sergio Romero

It's often said that footballers are at their peak between the ages of 27 and 29 and World Cup stats provide a startling confirmation.

Historically, the perfect age to be a player in the World Cup is 27.5.

That's the average age of the winning teams in the 19 World Cup finals from 1930 to 2010, from the youngest - Argentina in 1978 (25.7) - to the oldest - Brazil in 1962 (30.7).

World Cup winning teams

Year Winners Average age

1962

Brazil

30.7

2006

Italy

29.6

1934

Italy

29

1954

West Germany

28.5

1994

Brazil

28.5

1998

France

28.3

1982

Italy

27.9

1990

West Germany

27.8

2010

Spain

27.3

1974

West Germany

27.1

1930

Uruguay

27

1970

Brazil

26.9

1966

England

26.7

1986

Argentina

26.7

2002

Brazil

26.6

1958

Brazil

26.3

1938

Italy

26.2

1950

Uruguay

25.9

1978

Argentina

25.7

Average

27.5

Interestingly, this figure, 27.5, also jumps out of the stats from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It's the mean age of the 32 teams that played in the first group matches.

The median age is also very close - if you list all 32 teams in order of age from the youngest (Nigeria, 24.4) to the oldest (USA, 29.5), the two teams in the middle of the table (England and Australia) both have an average age of 27.4.

First group match starting 11 (2014)

Team Average age Team Average age

USA

29.5

England

27.4

Iran

29.5

Uruguay

27.2

Greece

29.3

Chile

27.2

Portugal

29.2

Holland

27.1

Ivory Coast

29.1

Japan

27.1

Honduras

29

Costa Rica

26.9

Russia

28.8

Bosnia

26.7

Argentina

28.7

Switzerland

26.6

Spain

28.7

Ecuador

26.5

Mexico

28.3

France

26.5

Italy

28.2

Germany

26.4

Colombia

28

Algeria

26.1

Croatia

28

Belgium

25.8

Brazil

27.8

Korea

25.7

Cameroon

27.6

Ghana

25.2

Australia

27.4

Nigeria

24.4

In all cases we have taken the starting line-up of 11 players, ignoring substitutions.

More or Less: Behind the stats

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Does this suggest that the perfect age to be a footballer is 27.5? Or that the German team, whose starting line-up in the semi-final had an average age of 27.7, is likely to beat Argentina, whose starting 11 averaged 28.4?

Well, maybe not. Consider Wednesday's semi-final. Argentina beat a team whose starting 11 had an average age of exactly 27.5 - the Netherlands.

Two other conclusions can be drawn from these figures.

Sergio Romero Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero is 27.5 - though goalkeepers peak later than strikers

One is that the headlines about Roy Hodgson picking a very "young" England side for Brazil 2014 were misleading. England's average age was 27.4, which - as mentioned above - is the median age in this competition. (And incidentally the England team's starting 11 in the 1966 World Cup final was a lot younger, averaging 26.7.)

We can also dismiss the idea, widely bandied about on the eve of the competition, that Spain's team was too old to retain the trophy it won in 2010. Spain's average age in its first group match was 28.7 - the same as Argentina's in its first group match.

And note that Argentina beat four of the 10 youngest sides in the competition to reach the semi-finals: Bosnia-Herzegovina (26.7); Nigeria (24.4); Switzerland (26.6); Belgium (25.8). (Again, these numbers are the average age of the starting 11 of the first group match.)

Semi-final starting 11 (2014)

Team Average age

Brazil

28.3

Germany

27.7

Holland

27.5

Argentina

28.4

Average

28

It's also worth mentioning that Brazil's 1958 World Cup winning team was one of the youngest (26.3) but their 1962 winning team was the oldest by a long way (30.7). The huge difference in average age is explained by the fact that eight of the team that started in the 1958 final also started in 1962 - which proves that the age of a side is irrelevant if it's simply incredibly talented.

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