They say that football is a young man’s game, but players are increasingly playing into their 40s, even at the very top level. We spoke to former golden oldie himself Gordon Strachan to try and find out why…
You kept playing until you were 40 and there currently seems to be a trend for older players excelling, such as Giggs, Scholes, Henry and Friedel. What do you put this down to?
Mine was due to necessity rather than pleasure, to be honest with you. I came to retire at about 37, but I went to Coventry and I was persuaded by Ron Atkinson, then by players at the club, and then by the chairman at the club, that I should keep playing so that was my situation.
The secret of keeping playing for a long time is playing with good players. There have been examples of people playing on – real top, top players – who have gone to a lower level and found it really hard, and then calling it a day. The secret is to have good players around you, you still have to love the game and you have to look after yourself. You will find that the people who have played for a long time have looked after themselves really at an early age – 15 to 21 -so they have got a real base fitness in them. They trained hard at that period of time, and hard work is not hard work to them: it becomes the norm.
How much have improvements in lifestyle, nutrition and other techniques like yoga and pilates helped extend players’ careers?
People talked about my diet when I played: I had porridge, bananas, seaweed tablets. You have to have base fitness though, the drive, the mentality that you can keep going. You drive on. You can have all that pilates, yoga, you name it, but if you don’t have the drive and the base fitness it is no good to you. People would say, ‘Oh you are okay, you had porridge and bananas, pasta, seaweed tablets’. I say, ‘Yes, but I had to do that hard work’. You couldn’t do three nights drinking and then say ‘I’ll have some porridge, bananas and seaweed tablets and I will be fine now!’ The seaweed tablets didn’t make me a better player but I was a better swimmer! (laughs)
Do you expect this trend to continue?
I don’t know. I am looking at the people you are talking about – Scholes, Giggs – they are guys who have worked under Sir Alex Ferguson and have that drive. Teddy Sheringham, 40, worked under Sir Alex Ferguson. Gordon Strachan, 40, worked under Sir Alex Ferguson. There seems to be a common denominator here. I would say it is more the discipline he puts into you as a player. But while he can show you the way, you still need that drive yourself.
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