The Obsession with Youth: The Myth of ‘Zimmerframe’ Chelsea

It seems with football at the moment there is an unhealthy obsession with youth, quick exciting and potential filled youth. If the media articles and fan opinion circling the internet is to believed then only players under the age of 25 are capable of delivering a team success. Perhaps professional footballers should start looking nervously towards retirement or a diminished role within their team once they reach 26, maybe their only hope is to accept the Stannah Stairlift of professional football and take on the role of an impact substitute.

There is currently a stigma around players between the ages of 27 and 31 playing football at the highest level, these players are now to old and that a team full of such players is likely to struggle. As you may now have guessed I have decided to address the lunacy regarding the use of age as a reason to discredit the current Chelsea team as contenders for the title this season.

With a new manager and a new system there are legitimate reasons to question the Chelsea team and its ability to launch a sustained title challenge, however I simply do not understand the logic behind accusations that the team is too old to be competitive this reason.

I believe that for a Premier League footballer the average peak in performance levels is reached between the ages of 25 and 29 with the player maintaining this until around the age of 31 when depending on physical attributes players begin to tail off at varying levels until retirement.

As a young player comes through the ranks they learn with every game and continue to do so throughout their career. Eventually a point is reached where the combined attributes of youth and pace are in balance with the accumulated experience acquired over time. This period of time can be considered a players peak, this peak varies from player to player and is dependant on the various demands of a particular positions.

For example the goalkeeping places more emphasis on experience than pace leading to a much later performance peak of around 33. On the other side of this coin pace orientated positions such as those on the wing or speed dominated attacking roles place more emphasis on speed and physical attributes leading to a earlier peak of 26 or 27, the peaks of the other positions lie somewhere between the two.

I understand that the development and nurturing of young talent is vital to the ongoing success of a youth is secured organically or acquisition. However an abundance of good young players does not guarantee success as proved by the the recent fortunes of Arsenal FC. With few exceptions it has been shown that unless you have a base of experience to start from and supplement good young players that success cannot be obtained no matter how prodigious the talent.

There should be a balance between old and new, a continued replenishment of players from the youth team as and when required/available allowing managers to enjoy the best of both youth and experience.

Even the Manchester United side that Alan Hansen famously stated could ‘win nothing with had a balance of players. The experience of players such as Steve Bruce, Denis Irwin, Peter Schmeichel, Brian Mclair, Eric Cantona and Gary Pallister was supplemented by 4 or 5 first team players aged between 24 and 27 such as; Roy Keane, Andy Cole, Lee Sharpe and Ryan Giggs with 4 or 5 years experience at the highest level.

With this is in mind are Chelsea really as old as has been made out? Whilst there is no argument that it is the oldest team of the main challengers for the title when the key members are analysed I do not think you will be able to argue that the balance is too highly stacked against Chelsea this season.

Predicted Core Chelsea players 2009/2010

Name

Age

Position

Petr Cech

27

Goalkeeper

John Terry

28

Defender

Ricardo Carvalho

31

Defender

Alex

27

Defender

Branislav Ivanovic

25

Defender

Jose Boswinga

27

Defender

Florent Malouda

29

Winger

John Obi Mikel

22

Midfielder

Yuri Zhirkov

26

Winger

Frank Lampard

31

Midfielder

Michael Essien

26

Midfielder

Michael Ballack

32

Midfielder

Deco

32

Midfielder

Joe Cole

27

Winger/Midfielder

Nicholas Anelka

30

Forward

Daniel Sturridge

20

Forward

Didier Drogba

31

Forward

The average age of the players likely to be used the most by Carlo Ancelotti is 27.70 which is far higher than any of the other title challengers, however this is not an accurate way of analysing a squads strengths. Of the 17 players most likely to be selected two are under 25, nine are between 25-29 with only two over the age of 31.

With only two players entering the period where the decline in physical attributes is likely to be have an impact on the role they can play I think it is difficult to argue effectively that this Chelsea team is too old. The number of players at their peak should surely be counted as an advantage rather than a curse.

There are also many players that continue to shine for many years after hitting the big three zero, Brad Freidel, Teddy Sheringham, Tudgay, David Beckham, Paulo Maldini, Zinedine Zidane and Ryan Giggs have proven that with age comes experience and sometimes if the body is willing experience and talent can be enough.

The age of the squad and the focus it has generated should however be a warning shot to the Chelsea management, within the next 2 years the concerns of the critics will become reality, the team cannot be allowed to creak towards retirement. The team will need to rebuilt to gradually replace the players who pass their peak with Carvalho, Ballack and Deco seemingly the most susceptible to the axe despite currently performing at high performance levels.

Therefore I urge you not to write off Chelsea on the basis of their age, as a wise man once said there is nothing but lies, damn lies and statistics.

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10 Comments

  1. BD Condell 27 August, 2009
  2. kaza 27 August, 2009
  3. Ian 27 August, 2009
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  10. Ramana 28 August, 2009