Arsenal youngest, Manchester United oldest? It’s all relative…

Is it possible to be too old to win a title?

Sir Alex Ferguson certainly thinks so. According to him, Chelsea are too old to win a title. At least, that’s how the Guardian interpreted Sir Alex’s comments (and far be it for someone to suggest that a British newspaper somehow blew an innocuous quote completely out of proportion in order to stir up a controversy that doesn’t really exist).

If anything, all he said was that Chelsea’s key players had probably already peaked while many of his key players still had some potential for improvement (not sure if that makes it better or worse — I’m sure Ballack, Lampard, Drogba, and the others appreciated being told that they weren’t going to get any better). Still, for the purposes of this article, let’s look at the Big Four teams in the Premiership and compare the average ages of their respective starting XI’s.

You would think that Sir Alex’s claims would be ludicrous, especially in light of the fact that he has a 37 year-old goalkeeper, a 33 year-old captain coming off a career-threatening injury, and a vice-captain who just broke the club record for most appearances. A quick look at Manchester United’s projected Starting XI would seem to confirm that notion:

GK — Van der Sar — 37
D — Neville — 33
D — Ferdinand — 29
D — Vidic — 26
D — Evra — 27
M — Carrick — 26
M — Hargreaves — 27
M — Scholes — 33
M — Ronaldo — 23
F — Rooney — 22
F — Tevez — 24
Average age: 27.91

Of course, we’re assuming that Neville reclaims his starting place from Wes Brown (who’s 28), a safe assumption considering that Ferguson is on record saying that Neville will get every opportunity to win back his job. Then again, I’m sure Wes Brown didn’t sign that brand new contract so that he could go back to being Gary Neville’s backup. Either way, the situation bears watching. With Brown in the lineup, the average age decreases to 27.45.

We’re also assuming that Ronaldo stays at Man Utd for the upcoming season, and that situation seems to change depending on what day it is. Otherwise, they could be looking at a Nani/Giggs platoon to fill that wing. Plus, if they ever get Berbatov, then they’ll have to factor him into the equation (and at 27, he’s not exactly a neophyte). Ferguson might have been right in that his difference makers (i.e. Rooney, Ronaldo, Tevez, Vidic, Evra, and Carrick) certainly are young enough to grow and improve dramatically. Still, it’s not like he has a team full of spring chickens. Then again, that might be a good thing. After all, look what happened to Arsenal last year.

Let’s take a look at Chelsea’s projected lineup:

GK- Cech — 26
D — Bosingwa — 25
D — Terry — 27
D — Carvalho — 30
D — A. Cole — 27
M — Essien — 25
M — Lampard — 30
M — Ballack — 31
M — J. Cole — 26
M — Deco — 30
F — Drogba — 30
Average age: 27.91

It looks like Lampard is staying, at least for the next year, while the only way Kaka and Robinho will see the inside of Stamford Bridge next season will be if AC Milan or Real Madrid come for a visit. If Drogba ends up leaving before the season starts and Anelka has to start the season as the lone striker (I’d bet my life savings — and, granted, that’s not much these days — that Abramovich would go out and acquire someone better), then the average age dips slightly to 27.82.

That’s right. Chelsea’s projected starting lineup has the same average age as Man Utd. One big difference, however, is that there is much less deviation with regards to the respective ages of each player. No one is younger than 25 or older than 31. As such, Ferguson might have been right in saying that all of Chelsea’s key players have either reached their peak or are fast approaching it. Still, there is something to be said for having a balanced team. If so, then Chelsea definitely have it.

Let’s look at Arsenal:

GK — Almunia — 31
D — Sagna — 25
D — Toure — 27
D — Gallas — 30
D — Clichy — 22
M — Eboue — 25
M — Rosicky — 27
M — Diaby — 22
M — Fabregas — 21
F — Adebayor — 24
F — Van Persie — 24
Average age: 25.27

As expected, they have the youngest average age amongst the Big Four. In fact, the number may go down even more if Rosicky, as expected, sits out the first month of the season. If so, then we could see Nasri move into the lineup, and he’s only 21. Diaby is in a battle with Song and Denilson (both 20 years old) for the spot being vacated by Flamini, so if either of the latter two win the job, then the average age will go down even more.

No one really expects Arsenal to splurge the 18 million or so that it will take to pry Gareth Barry (27 years old) from Martin O’Neill’s cold, dead hands, but even if they do, it won’t raise their average that much. They’d still be youngest team out of the Big Four by a landslide. Now, if only Arsene Wenger could find someone who can lead these youngsters on the field….

Finally, let’s look at Liverpool:

GK — Reina — 25
D — Carragher — 30
D — Skrtel — 23
D — Hyypia — 34
D — Aurelio — 28
M — Mascherano — 24
M — Babel — 21
M — Alonso — 26
M — Gerrard — 28
F — Keane — 28
F — Torres — 24
Average age: 26.45

Like Man Utd, Liverpool has a mixture of young and old in their lineup. Obviously, Benitez loves to rotate his lineup, meaning that players like Kuyt (age 28), Lucas (21), Voronin (29), Pennant (25), Benayoun (28), and Arbeloa (25) will all get significant playing time. And, of course, there’s the never-ending Gareth Barry saga that would be the summer’s biggest Will-He-Or-Won’t-He story if it weren’t for a certain fellow over at Old Trafford. Substituting Barry for Alonso (who knows all about the waiting game as far as transfers go), would only raise the average age of the lineup slightly.

In any event, it certainly looks as if Manchester United has the oldest starting lineup amongst the Big Four in the Premiership. However, Ferguson is correct in saying that his key players are younger than Chelsea’s key players and, as such, it stands to reason that they still have their best years ahead of them.

Ferguson’s comment raises an interesting question. All teams are looking for balance. But what kind of balance is the best? Is it where everyone is about the same age and has the same level of experience (like Chelsea or Arsenal)? Or is it where you have seasoned veterans and young starlets working together and feeding off one another (like Liverpool and Manchester United)?

Transfer Rumors (29 July 08): Liverpool tie up Keane, Man United to bid for Henry, Arsenal move for Udinese's Inler, and more
Serie A 2008-2009 Fixtures

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