Manchester United recorded a valuable 1 -0 victory at Stamford bridge last night. Wayne Rooney’s goal will no doubt cast him into the spotlight once again, but rather than focusing on the man everyone loves to hate, I want to praise the ever-present Ryan Giggs. What a fantastic touch. What fantastic vision. What a fantastic player. He might be 37, but he shows no signs of fading away. His involvement in Rooney’s goal was crucial, I hope everyone remembers that.
On Saturday too, Giggs was instrumental in the comeback Manchester United recorded at Upton Park. This time from left back. His ability to do the right thing at the right time make him, still, one of United’s best players and one that they would sorely miss. United fans, then, must be thankful of the longevity of the Welshman’s career. The point I want to make today is that, whereas ten years ago, it was a rare thing for an outfield player to continue playing after 32, in the modern game it is becoming increasingly common. 35 is the new 30.
In the past, fitness regimes and player’s diets would have been less strict and so it is no wonder players retired earlier. Furthermore, in a ten year career it is very rare for a player not to pick up injuries. These days however, cutting edge medical treatment allows players to recover as if they never came to any harm. This, coupled with more professional lifestyle of some players, allows them to carry on playing to an older age. It is a credit to managers that they recognise the value of experience and keep players like Giggs in their squad.
Whereas a striker used to peak between 26-28 (it varies on position), they are now more likely to play at their best between 28-30. Giggs’ team mates Scholes, the recently retired Neville and Van der Sar have long been the ‘wrong’ side of 30, but their performances have hardly dropped. And let’s not forget David Beckham. Away from Old Trafford, the trend for outfield players to carry on playing into their mid thirties is becoming more common too. This year has been arguably Kevin Davies’ best year of his career, he is 34. Players like Phil Neville, Didier Drogba, Danny Murphy and William Gallas have all shown that despite being over 33, they have maintained their high standards. You could all, I’m sure, add to the list. Even Barcelona have Xavi (31) and Puyol (32) who play in every game.
So what was previously the ‘wrong’ side of 30, might just be becoming the ‘right’ side of 30. Experience is the absolute key these days. Increased money in the game has put players under more scrutiny and they are under more pressure to perform, the best players at dealing with this are the ones who have had to do so for 15 years. While youthful exuberance and fearlessness would be welcomed by most managers, there is just no substitute for experience, leadership and composure. These are all attributes that come with age.
Interestingly enough, Manchester City and Arsenal are the only two sides who do not regularly start with a outfield player over 30 in their team. Maybe their preference for youth over experience is why they have found success more difficult to come by than Manchester United and Chelsea.