There has been a lot of doom and gloom in Bolivia recently regarding the fact that very few young players are coming through the ranks and challenging for places in a national team that many feel has become stale and is in need of fresh blood.
In response to this, I decided to calculate the average ages of players who have played some part in the 2011 Apertura thus far, to see if youth gets more or less of chance in Bolivia’s top flight than in other leagues.
The results were initially quite surprising considering the discontent at the current state of affairs, as the league as a whole has an average age of 26.32, which is below the average age across Europe’s big five leagues – 26.76 in the 2010/11 season. Real Mamore had the lowest average age, at 24.39, while the oldest average age was Aurora at 29.10.
Of course, relatively young players being given a chance doesn’t necessarily mean that players of a requisite standard for international football are emerging, but youngsters are getting no less of a chance to impress than their European counterparts.
Comparing the league as a whole with Europe has its advantages, but it is also important to place Bolivian clubs alongside their counterparts from other South American countries to help further the analysis. To do this I have taken the current top two in Bolivia, those being Oriente Petrolero and Aurora, and compared them to the top twos in other South American leagues.
Aurora have comfortably the oldest average age of the currently successful clubs on the continent, while Oriente Petrolero are around the median. The Uruguayan and Chilean leagues would appear to have the greatest focus on youth at their top end, while Venezuela has the greatest variation between their top two, with Deportivo Lara the second oldest at 28.74 and Caracas the lowest by some distance at 22.41.
The figures of the top two Bolivian clubs are, put together, at the top end of the spectrum, but being above the majority of the continent in this respect is probably to be expected.
The Chilean and Uruguayan leagues, for instance, blood a greater number of young players out of necessity more than choice. The number of top quality players emanating from those leagues is much higher than from the Bolivian league, and thus far more end up in Europe or Mexico than their Bolivian counterparts, opening up spaces for young players to step into.
In Bolivia, the majority of players are not considered good enough to play elsewhere and therefore stay in their domestic league. This means that there is a lesser turnover of players and therefore less opportunities for young prospects to be thrust into the limelight and become an integral part of the top sides at a young age.
This would probably go some way to explaining the relatively high average ages of the Bolivian clubs compared to their continental counterparts and the frustration of the locals who feel that young players don’t get the same opportunities to impress as those in other countries in South America. The numbers may compare favourably with Europe’s top leagues, but against those in their own continent it becomes clear that there is indeed a problem to be addressed.