In the last of our multi-part series, we dive back into the world of A-League football stats; unearthing some more statistical gems that reflect the Club's overall performance this past season - and the downright craziness of the 2020/21 A-League season.
Kiwis, Youth and the Academy Effect
The numbers this past season have supported a rising trend for the Wellington Phoenix; that the Club has been playing more young players - including more Kiwi players and more Academy graduates – in recent seasons. This could be viewed as surprising, given the Club was forced to base itself from Australia for the 2020/21 campaign and was without its usual access to players to call up from the Phoenix Academy.
Kiwis in Action:
The 2020/21 Season saw 12 New Zealand-born players in the Phoenix squad, which accounted for 50% of the overall team. While that isn’t amazing in itself – the Club typically averages 11 Kiwi players per season over its 14-year history as a 47% clip of its overall squad makeup – the usage of these players is what sets them apart from previous seasons.
These 12 Kiwi players registered a combined 191 appearances this season – setting the all-time Club record for most Appearances in a season by New Zealand-born players – and 151 Starts; second only to the Nix’s 2012/13 squad which featured a Kiwi-heavy squad (177 Starts made by a Club-record 14 different Kiwi players).
Last season’s Kiwi lads played a combined 13,353 minutes, again second only in Club history to that 2012/13 ‘Nix team – which featured Nix stalwarts Ben Sigmund, Andrew Durante, Jeremy Brockie and Tony Lochhead.
This also reflected a broader trend in the A-League of more Kiwi players playing more minutes; this past season saw 21 Kiwis playing a combined 23,543 minutes across the 12 Clubs in the competition, the latter the most ever in A-League history.
And in the season prior, a record-setting 22 Kiwi players appeared in the competition – an A-League record – with the past two seasons the only times the A-League has fielded 20 or more New Zealand players across a season.
Age is But a Number:
Based on the ages of all Starting XIs over the course of the 2020/21 season, Wellington Phoenix registered the second-youngest average Starting XI in the A-League last season at 26.35 years - behind only Adelaide United (25.67).
In terms of overall age over the course of the season, Wellington also came in as the second-youngest squad (26.5 years); Adelaide again leading with their 25.8 average age.
The youngest ‘Nix player last season was Ben Old (18 years) with then-18-year-old Sam Sutton the youngest to make a Starting XI and Ben Waine the youngest goal scorer at 19 years – all three players also Academy graduates. Waine also holds the record for youngest ever goal scorer for the Phoenix, a record he set in the 2019/20 season at 18 years old.
Sutton and Waine were part of the 10 Phoenix players in the squad aged 23 years or less at the start of the 2020/21 season (not counting Old who joined the squad in May 2021); this is well above the Club’s season average of 8.3 x U23 players per squad over the previous 13 seasons.
The Academy Effect
Phoenix Academy graduates played a key role in the squad last season with Waine, Sutton and Old joined by fellow Academy graduates James McGarry and Louis Fenton.
Combined, these five ex-Academy players combine to impact on the Club at a near-historic level; with the number of Matches Played (80), Starts (57) and Minutes Played (5,174) coming in second all-time in Phoenix history behind the 2018/19 squad - which featured a record-equalling 6 Academy graduates.
Production-wise, last season these 5 Academy players combined to produce 9 goals (tied for first all-time with the 2018/19 squad) and second in assists with 7 – again trailing that Academy-heavy 2018/19 team. But - because that 2018/19 squad played 7,532 minutes to 5,174 minutes by last season’s Academy players - the Phoenix last season set a new Club record with 0.17 goals per minute by Academy graduates.
Unsurprisingly, Waine’s 7 goals this past season set the all-time record for goals scored by an Academy graduate in a season; besting Sarpreet Singh’s 5 goals in the 2018/19 season. Waine set also a pair of Club records last season; becoming the youngest ‘Nix player both to score four consecutive goals in a campaign and to first U-20 player to register five goals or more in total.
However Singh’s seven assists – also set in that 2018/19 season - have never been beaten; the closest Academy player being the 3 assists registered by McGarry in the 2020/21 season.