Experience is often seen as a vital commodity in football, whether it be in the form of managerial or playing, with many often choosing to see this as the ‘safe’ option. However, now that the age structure of football has changed, players are beginning to break through at an earlier age than even just a decade ago, while at coaching level, in the quest for new ideas and methods, many clubs have begun to turn to younger, more idea logical-based managers.
Roy Hodgson and Harry Redknapp were the front-runners for the England job after Fabio Capello vacated it prior to Euro 2012 after he resigned over the whole John Terry/captaincy debacle. Hodgson is 64 years-old, Redknapp is 65 years-old and Capello is 66 years-old. Hardly some form of new-wave thinking, more ingrained tactical nous – you know what you’re getting with them when you appoint them, which isn’t especially a bad thing, it just means that they’re less prone to trying new things and stubbornness, as Arsene Wenger has shown in recent years, is as much of a hindrance than help.
At Euro 2012, though, to throw a spanner in the works when it comes to my theory, Hodgson threw an absolute curve ball by selecting the raw but incredibly talented Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to start England’s opening group game against France. Although his performance was hardly barnstorming, he put in a decent shift and showed enough tactical discipline to warrant repeated selection, but Hodgson resorted to the status quo and kept faith in the more experienced duo of James Milner and Ashley Young for the remained of the tournament and they both looked cream crackered by the Italy game when perhaps more rotation would have helped.
All across Europe, the likes of Mario Gotze, Eden Hazard and Neymar have taken their respective leagues by storm in recent seasons precisely because of their relative youth and their lack of fear as much as their talent. Jack Wilshere, if he returns to the sort of form he displayed prior to his season-ending injury last term, then it looks as if Arsenal and England are comfortable basing their sides around him for the long-term future.
It’s filtered through into the managerial sphere too, with 45 year-old Jurgen Klopp, 41 year-old Pep Guardiola and 34 year-old Andre Villas-Boas all commanding huge jobs in recent times despite their age, while the likes of Benitez and Capello are all still unemployed. Experience often comes with age, but the aforementioned trio have bucked the trend in recent times to the extent that having a young, media-friendly and dynamic boss in now the ‘in’ thing.
Liverpool have appointed 39 year-old Brendan Rodgers after just one full season of top flight football under his belt, with the club’s hierarchy clearly having bought into all the talk about principles and ‘philosophy’. Tito Vilanova at Barcelona has benefited from promotion from within after a mediocre playing career and at 42 years of age, and with just five seasons as an assistant behind him, one of which was with the Barcelona B team, he’s now in charge of perhaps the biggest football club in the world and tasked with coaching the world’s greatest player, Lionel Messi.
Roberto Martinez has acquired a burgeoning reputation in recent seasons more to do with what he represents as opposed to any tangible results out on the pitch. It seems as if more club are willing to take the leap and appoint a manager based on their principles as opposed to their past experience, which is a risky strategy to take, but the current trend has shown some huge success if the right appointment is made.
To get by in the game now, experience is now not as vital as it has been in the past. Being tactically aware will of course always be of paramount importance, but it isn’t defined solely by past endeavours and blocked off to an extent by a person’s age. The average age of every major squad across Europe has reduced significantly over the past five years or so and that is to do with the quality coming through as much as it is club’s gambling on their futures. Experience will always play a key part in the beautiful game, but its importance has definitely lessened somewhat in recent years.