Usually there is talk about the obsession with youth in football but when I look at Chelsea’s squad it seems to be the opposite of that. Players over 30 are deemed to be old and no longer the same players as they once were, but even though Chelsea are defying that belief with players in that age bracket performing at the top of their game how long can this last? I believe these players are likely to struggle from next season onwards because their age will catch up with them and it remains to be seen whether they start nurturing their youth, by throwing them in the deep end, or if Roman Abramovich decides it is time to flash the cash.
Peak ages are often talked about and this is even more of a crucial aspect in the world’s most action packed league- the Premiership. If 25-29 years old is a supposed peak then surely the physical attributes of a player begins to get weaker once he passes that 30 barrier. Six of Chelsea’s first team squad are over 30 and the problem is that at least five out of the six can be considered regular starters. Those are Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack, Didier Drogba, Nicholas Anelka and Ricardo Carvalho. The other man in the list of six is Deco but his days seem numbered at Stamford Bridge as it is. I suppose the one exception to the rule is Drogba because even at his age, 31, he is firmly on top of his game and is easily one of the best strikers in the world at the moment.
All of these players have been fundamental in terms of Chelsea being the only one of the top three teams that has the chance to win the treble. Whenever Chelsea decide to replace them then it would represent one of Carlo Ancelotti’s toughest assignments because we are talking about half the team here. You can look around the rest of the squad and point to players who could fill their vacant spaces but would it be of the same standard? With age comes experience but it is rare to see players playing at the highest level well into your thirties- and doing it well. A true test of their ageing squad will come in the final months of this season. Should Chelsea reach the final of every competition they are involved in then there will be 18 games for them to play. With approximately nine weeks of the campaign left, it would mean the south-west London club would be required to play more games than anyone in the top four.
Ancelotti is a manager who clearly prefers experience over youth. Looking at the age of his AC Milan team you would have thought that the name that has been referred to Chelsea, The Pensioners, was more appropriate to the Italian club! So it comes as no surprise that Ancelotti seems intent on playing the same names week in week out, along with the same system. He is a manager for the present, presumably thinking that the future will take care of itself. When Guus Hiddink departed Stamford Bridge last summer he left with a message that is worth pin-pointing. He said: “A club needs young players with their heart in the project to have a spirit; this has obviously been a problem for Chelsea because they have a lot of players in the 30-plus category and not so many in the young and promising age range. I have mentioned to the people at Chelsea that they need to address the issue as youth development is vital to any club. You don’t want to be viewed as a team that merely buys ready made players, but this is the perception some have of Chelsea just now.”
There is every right to look at Manchester United and point to the fact that they also have many experienced and old players but there is a difference. Whereas the champions’ youth policy continues to produce quality youngsters, there is little sign that Chelsea’s youth system can bring in young players that can potentially grow in to the roles of the experienced pros in front of them. In addition to this, there is every chance that the aged players at Stamford Bridge will pick up more injuries.
Chelsea have changed their management structure enough in the last three years for it to be evident that every new manager does not have time to plan for the future. If Ancelotti remains in the hot seat for a long time than I think trophies will be hard to come by with this pool of players. When Chelsea had their successful period with Jose Mourinho it was with the players that are now over 30. So now that they are getting older surely it becomes that much harder to replicate the titles they won in 2005 and 2006? Chelsea’s ageing squad, combined with the intensity of the matches and the league, looks like it will catch up with them should they not invest in youngsters or offload players approaching their sell-by date.
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