Highest playing time in top five leagues per nationality: Spaniards dominate, Austria and Serbia surprise

Highest playing time in top five leagues per nationality: Spaniards dominate, Austria and Serbia surprise

While the info on which teams produce the most players competing in the top five European leagues, with Ajax, Manchester United, Chelsea, and Benfica excelling, we rarely see the international breakdown. Hence this breakdown of playing time in the top five European leagues based on the nationality of the player. By both the number of players competing in the Serie A, Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, and Ligue 1, but also their aggregate minutes. Looking at the numbers from the previous, 2019/2020 season.

Starting with the most impressive nation in this regard - Spain. While the team doesn't have the bonafide superstars it had when they were ruling Europe and Earth in the period between 2008 and 2012, apart from the ageing Sergio Ramos, the team is devoid of huge names. David De Gea is the second biggest player but his reputation suffered a striker in recent years. But what the Spaniards lack in superstars, they make up in quantity.

Not to say that the Spanish team is lacking in quality, as their national team is still one of the strongest and is comprised of elite players. That's why they dominate the top European leagues with 477 players in them! These players combined for a total of 530,380 minutes of playing time across the best divisions, mostly in their own La Liga.

Luis Alberto being one of the players who played in Italy, being a key screw for Lazio in their Champions League securing campaign with 3,113 minutes played. Mikel Oyarzabal of Real Sociedad played for 3,051 minutes in the previous season.

Not the biggest, but the most impressive stat line of Spanish players belongs to the now 36-year-old Santi Cazorla who played for 2,450 minutes after horrid injury problems that put his career on hold for years. With doctors even questioning his ability to play ever again.

Spanish are the most numerous group of foreigners in the English Premier League.

The second nationality in terms of playing time in European top five leagues is France, with 406 players in top five leagues. Ligue 1 players have become a hot commodity in recent years with English and Italian teams giving out tens of millions of euros to purchase some of them. 

The French have combined for 404,091 minutes of playing time and Karim Benzema contributed 3,141 minutes at Real Madrid. Antony Martial has improved on his previous outings with 2,624 minutes on the pitch for Manchester United after suffering through injuries most of the previous seasons.

Although, it has to be noted that the French being second is a massive success considering their league was cut short. But at the same time, their league is not the least desirable of the big ones for European foreigners apart from Paris Saint-Germain.

The French are second-most numerous foreigners in the Bundesliga and La Liga, being third in the Premier League.

Italians hold the third spot with 328 players and 300,211 minutes played in European top five leagues. But mostly in Serie A. Jorginho being the main representative in England, while Marco Veratti couldn't contribute fully at PSG due to injuries and league cancellation.

Fourth place is reserved for the Germans, who have 289 players in top five divisions and seem to have the best balance between keeping players at home and selling them to top leagues abroad. The contingent played 282,402 minutes in the previous campaign across the best leagues of the Old Continent.

Ilkay Gundogan and Bernd Leno were the most active of the 16 compatriots in the Premier League in 2019/2020, while La Liga has only two Germans, Toni Kroos and Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Naturally, the top five is topped off with the remaining member of the top five leagues - England. With the most spending power, the clubs are inclined to bring in players from abroad limiting the area for chances for young domestic players to breakthrough. Yet, that trend is changing as even the biggest teams now give English youth considerable chances.

The 250 English players in top five European leagues got to 281,360 minutes of playing time, just one thousand minutes fewer than the numerically superior Germans. Jadon Sancho and Jonjoe Kenny battled the idea that Englishmen don't go abroad in the Bundesliga. Kieran Trippier moved to Spain and Chris Smalling and Ashley Young played in Italy.

Also seemingly expected, is the number of Brazilians in the best European leagues. They are the most numerous group of foreigners in both Ligue 1 and Serie A, with 30 and 42 players respectfully. Overall, there are 129 Brazilians in best leagues of the continent with the highest level of competition, accounting for 164,434 minutes of playing time.

Also not surprisingly, Argentinians are next in line, seventh. They are the most numerous foreign group in La Liga, as the language barrier helps. Leo Messi naturally being one of the most employed of the 79 players that gathered 103,940 minutes. Argentinians are the second most numerous group of foreigners in Italy, also expectedly as they often don't count as foreigners due to their heritage.

The Dutch factories of football provide 63 players in the best leagues of the continent. Virgil van Dijk, Stefan de Vrij, Georginio Wijnaldum, Tim Krul, and others gathered for 78,812 minutes of playing time.

Portugal is ninth with their 59 players in the best leagues, the machine Cristiano Ronaldo leading the charge and the Portuguese are the likeliest to climb up on the list for the current season and get more than 76,882 minutes.

Holding the number 10 spot is Belgium with 44 players. Their golden generation might seem even more numerous but some players have moved to China or elsewhere. Kevin de Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Toby Alderweireld, Dries Mertens, Thibault Courtois and others have played 63,295 minutes in the best leagues of Europe.

Winning the 11th spot is the first African nation on the list, Senegal, who while not the most numerous of the country from the list by a long shot, had 41 players in the elite leagues. Sadio Mane, Ismaila Sarr, Kalidou Koulibaly have played for 37,908 minutes.

While having one player fewer than Senegal, Serbians played 20,000 minutes more in the 2019/2020 season with 58,925. A surprising inclusion on the list from the point of the national team and their struggle to reach the European championship but Serbian players have done well individually. Filip Kostić, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Nemanja Matic, Marko Dmitrovic, and Luka Milivojevic to name a few.

Another surprising inclusion on the list is Austria with 37 players and 44,938 minutes of Marcel Sabitzer, Stefan Lainer, David Alaba. Naturally, mostly in the German Bundesliga.

The last country on the list is Georgia, with one player who played four minutes in two games for Levante in La Liga. First one in July, second in December.

But the biggest surprise and the biggest lesson or at least a question is the position of Croatia. The 2018 World Cup finalists had 32 players in the top five European leagues. Fewer than Ivory Coast, Denmark, and Switzerland, and on par with Uruguay.

Yet, Uruguay and Croatia being level also shows that it's perhaps even more so about the quality of the players when looking at the interest of the national team. Although, the value of having many players working and respected in the best leagues of the world has its personal merit. For the reputation of players to come, for the stature of their forming clubs, for the prestige.


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