Those born at the beginning of the year have up to three times the chance of reaching the football elite

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How many Brazilian boys dream of being a new Neymar? In Portugal, how many people do not want to repeat the success of Cristiano Ronaldo? Or, among Uruguayan boys, that of Luis Suárez?

Getting into professional football is tough, but it can be even more of a challenge for some. Players born in the first months of the year, like the aforementioned stars, have up to three times the chance of those who celebrate their birthdays in the final pages of the calendar.

Analysis of Sheet with data from almost 13 thousand athletes shows that this pattern is repeated in Brazil and in several countries. It was also observed in the last World Cup, in Qatar.

According to the CBF (Brazilian Football Confederation), 851 players participated in the first division of the Brazilian Championship last year. Of these, 304 were born in the first quarter, such as top scorer Germán Cano, from Fluminense, and midfielder Gustavo Scarpa, elected the star of the competition before leaving for English football.

This portion represents more than a third of the total (36%). Or more than double compared to the 135 athletes from the national elite who blow out the candles in the last quarter (16%).

The ladder is almost identical in Série B. 307 players born between January and March, 239 between April and June, 196 between July and September and 126 between October and December competed in the second division.

It is not mere coincidence, but the reflection of a reality present from the lower categories.

In the current São Paulo Junior Cup, 13% of participants were born in January, and this percentage gradually drops to 5% in each of the last three months of the year.

Played until next Wednesday (25), the tournament is the biggest showcase of the base in the country, with 128 teams and 3,742 athletes in this edition.

Data from the IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) rule out the hypothesis of an abnormal concentration of births in January, February and March. The total number of registrations in the country ranged between 8% and 9% in each of the months from 2002 to 2007, the birth years of those enrolled in Copinha.

Why, then, does this happen? Would Aquarius and Pisces athletes have more skill than Scorpio or Sagittarius?

The explanation has nothing esoteric. This is a phenomenon already known and investigated by science —not just in sports—, called the Relative Age Effect (RAE).

In soccer schools and youth teams, activities are almost always organized by year of birth. At the extreme points, birthdays in January accumulate up to 12 months of physical development more than those in December. That way, it increases the likelihood that they will excel in training and games.

Such distortion causes evaluation errors and loss of promising talents, says the Sheet Júlio Garganta, professor at the University of Porto, consultant to the Portuguese Football Federation and one of the world’s leading researchers in the area.

“The tendency or pattern that gives an advantage to those born in the first months is not a chronological fatality. It is, rather, a perverse effect that leads us to a high probability of being deceived by the effect of maturation”, says Garganta.

The relative age difference also leads to distinct stages of intellectual and emotional maturation —studies show a similar effect on student performance in the school environment.

“When we divide children by age, there ends up unintentionally having an initial sieve in relation to balance, strength, agility, motor coordination and even the technique acquired with these months of advantage”, says doctor Karina Hatano, from Espaço Einstein de Esporte and Rehabilitation.

The mismatch extends into adolescence, when aspirants already face high competition for space in clubs — for comparison, the pattern is not repeated in the Brazilian women’s Championship.

“There are five stages of sexual maturation. A boy with maturation 1 or 2, in pre-puberty, may compete with another who already has advanced hormonal development. This can also lead to more dropouts or indirect selection due to the greater occurrence of injuries “, adds Hatano.

Douglas Gramani, a technical observer at the Palmeiras base, denies that clubs are wasting gems born at the end of the year, but admits that these youngsters need to demonstrate more skills.

“It tends to be a medium and long term bet, which will generally give a better response up front, from the under-17s onwards. The club will bet and enhance this athlete. technical part, intelligence, improvisation, dynamics…”, says Gramani.

Corinthians recruitment coordinator, Alysson Marins, criticizes the “inversion of values” caused by the demand for performance at the base. He claims, however, that clubs are more aware of the phenomenon and investing in new methodologies.

“I believe there is a trend towards more careful and patient evaluation, with protocols to measure performance and evolution beyond the sporting result. Drawing up a plan with goals, evaluation and follow-up criteria can minimize possible losses during the process”, says Marins .

The lifting of Sheet shows that the default is international. In the current Spanish Championship, 14% of athletes were born in January, and only 5% in December, a trend already observed by the newspaper El País. The numbers are similar in Uruguay and Argentina, showed El Observador.

In the main European leagues, the only exception is the Premier League, in England. An article by the International Center for Sports Studies (CIES) explains that this happens because the categories are cut in September, not in January, as in the school calendar in the country.

The English Championship is one of the most absorbing foreign players, but the natives are almost half of the total (47%). This mixture may help explain the singular pattern.

“It is precisely the various exceptions that demystify the apparent chronological fatality. As, incidentally, happens with many excellent players [nascidos no segundo semestre]like Pelé, Maradona, Garrincha, Ibrahimovich, Mbappé, Benzema… Any month can be a good month to be born, and that doesn’t stop you from going far, as long as the right conditions are created”, concludes Júlio Garganta.

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