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How Manchester United Are Outliers

man united chelsea How Manchester United Are Outliers

To be one of the top footballers, it takes more than just skill. As peculiar as it may sound, it also makes a difference when you’re born.

Take, for example, the eleven Manchester United players who started against Chelsea on January 11, 2009: Edwin van der Sar, Gary Neville, Nemanja Vidic, Jonny Evans, Patrice Evra, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs, Darren Fletcher, Ji-Sung Park, Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney.

Other than all being excellent professional footballers, they have something else in common. Incredibly, nearly all of them were born around the same time of the year. Consider that:

  • Ten of the eleven players (91%) were born in October, November, January or February (Patrice Evra is the exception; he was born in May).
  • Six of those ten were born in either January or February.
  • Four of those six were born in February (Neville, Fletcher, Ronaldo and Park), and
  • Of the six born in January or February, three of them have birthdays in the same week (Dimitar Berbatov, January 30; Darren Fletcher, February 1; and Cristiano Ronaldo, February 5).
  • Fifty four percent of the starting eleven were born in January or February, and
  • Ninety percent of the Man United players were born between October and February.

The similarity in the birthdays is even more pronounced when, instead of reading the names of the starting eleven, you see what their birthdays are:

  • October 29
  • February 18
  • January 2
  • October 21
  • February 1
  • November 29
  • February 5
  • February 25
  • May 15
  • January 30
  • October 24

And who were the goalscorers in this 3-0 victory against Chelsea? None other than October 21 (Vidic), October 24 (Rooney) and January 30 (Berbatov).

And what about fellow Manchester United players? Wes Brown, born October 13. Rio Ferdinand, November 7. Paul Scholes, November 16. Nani, November 17. Owen Hargreaves, January 20. Carlos Tevez, February 5.

So, is this all just a coincidence?

Certainly not according to author Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers, one of the most eye-opening books released in the past twelve months. While Gladwell doesn’t mention the Manchester United example in his book (the United example above is compiled by research done by me), Gladwell argues in his book that when you’re born has a profound impact on how successful you can be.

It has nothing to do with astrology or that people born in the winter months are luckier than others. It’s simply that the eligibility cutoff for soccer in Europe is often September 1. That means that if you turned age 10 on September 2nd, you’d be playing with some boys that don’t turn 10 years old until the end of August. That sort of advantage constitutes an enormous difference in physical and mental maturity.

Hence, players born between October and February would have a huge advantage over players born between March and August. They’d be more likely to play more often at such a critical age, and be more likely to make it into professional leagues.

Gladwell found that in the Premier League at one point in the 1990′s, there were 288 players born between September and November, and only 136 born between June and August.

What is an outlier? It’s a scientific term to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience. Gladwell spends the entire book describing stories of outliers — men and women who, for one reason or another, are so accomplished and so extraordinary and so outside of ordinary experience.

Now you see how Manchester United are outliers.

Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers: The Story of Success How Manchester United Are Outliers, is available from Amazon. Outliers: The Story of Success [AUDIOBOOK] [UNABRIDGED] How Manchester United Are Outliers is also available as an audiobook, which is highly recommended.

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About Christopher Harris

Founder and publisher of World Soccer Talk, Christopher Harris is the managing editor of the site. He has been interviewed by The New York Times, The Guardian and several other publications. Plus he has made appearances on NPR, BBC World, CBC, BBC Five Live, talkSPORT and beIN SPORT. Harris, who has lived in Florida since 1984, has supported Swansea City since 1979. He's also an expert on soccer in South Florida, and got engaged during half-time of a MLS game. Harris launched EPL Talk in 2005, which was rebranded as World Soccer Talk in 2013.
View all posts by Christopher Harris →

7 Responses to How Manchester United Are Outliers

  1. Robin says:

    I'm just starting to read the book, glad to see there's connection already in Manchester United team with Gladwell's research. Thanks for sharing.

  2. If Gadwell found that over two thirds of all Premiership players are born within a six month stretch, and the majority of Manchester United players were born within those same six months, Manchester United are not outliers.

    They're the exact opposite.

  3. RVP4me says:

    None of them are outliers because most people in general are born between those months….

  4. The Gaffer says:

    The Manchester United players are outliers if you compare them to the kids who were growing up and wanted to be professional footballers, but couldn't make it at the top level.

    What you end up with are eleven outliers.

    The Gaffer

  5. arsefan says:

    footballers ive come across that were born b/w march and september….zidane, henry, cruyff, ronaldinho, kaka, alfredo di stefano, george best, platini, patrick viera, ribery, van persie, fabregas, van nistelrooy, messi,deco,nesta, danny alves maldini, wesley sneijder, rivaldo, lampard, gerrard, beckham, fernando torres, raul, senna, puyol, sergio ramos, riera,inesta, dani guiza, pepe riena, iker most of the winning spanish national team from euro 2008…eto, bojan,..van persie, nasri, clichy, gallas, almunia, and with fabregas means most of the arsenal 11 that beat man united this year,..crespo, zanetti, carlos alberto, cafu, nedved, alan shearer, eric cantona, oliver kahn, klinsmann, roy keane, christian vieri, hugo sanchez, dennis bergkamp, patrick kluivert, edgar davids, martin keown, robbie fowler, david james, seedorf, jay jay okocha, kenny dalglish, luis enrique, david o'leary, alan ball, pat rice, 11 of the 22 players from the 1966 world cup winning team for england..15 of the 23 players from the 2002 world cup winning brazil squad point is this is all coincidence,

  6. Horhay says:

    Whether it is coincidence or not, it is some pretty freaky stuff and very interesting. Me & my lady are going to have to plan a date so I can “plant the seed” so Horhay Jr can be a future footballer and give the little kid a chance.

  7. ls7 says:

    For me, it's all in the way you choose to spin these sorts of things. And do we really want to be relying on astrology or birthdate as a signpost for success? I thought the middle ages were over ! :)

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