We’ll never be able to run away from those now-famous words from Alan Hansen. But the whole logic behind not being able to win trophies with a young squad was as pointless then as it should be now. The fact is, if players are good enough—and I mean really good—then why does their date of birth prevent them having any meaningful contribution on a football pitch?
It’s all about experience they say, and I can somewhat understand that. But experience doesn’t necessarily equate to a better player. The veterans in the squad are there to guide younger players through those difficult games where holding a 1-goal lead for the next 15-minutes is absolutely key. But surely that should come from the manager and the need for the team to be disciplined?
Many will point to Arsenal’s failings over the years that their project youth never brought any silverware. Well, there is an obvious collection of problems that have arisen for Arsenal in recent years, but one of the clear hurdles was that many of the young players were simply not good enough. I’m not buying the whole issue behind Denilson’s ineffective role in the side laying at the door of his age; he really wasn’t good enough. And even if he did have some technical ability, he rarely showed any passion or fight to better himself.
Look at the squad Jurgen Klopp has assembled at Dortmund. Roman Weidenfeller and Sebastian Kehl are the only obvious ‘veterans’ in the side, while the club’s success was founded on the talent of young players like Mario Gotze, Shinji Kagawa, Robert Lewandowski and Nuri Sahin. Gotze and Kagawa are particularly interesting as both had just arrived onto the scene in their first full season in a major European league when Dortmund won their first of two consecutive titles. Rarely was either player held down by the weight of the occasion, but rather there was an excellent unity among the young core of players at the club.
But football really does have an unhealthy obsession with buying proven and experienced players.
Look at the sports in America and how franchises build new and successful eras off the back of youth. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin brought success back to Pittsburgh when both were drafted by the NHL team in 2005 an 2004 respectively. Crosby is still only 25 but is the current captain of the side and led the team to the Stanley Cup in 2009—the team’s second Stanley Cup Finals in back-to-back years.
Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes was drafted and thrown into the major leagues in his first year with the organisation because he was good enough. As a teenager in his rookie year, Skinner finished the season with 63pts and 31 goals, while also going on to be the youngest player ever selected for an All-Star game.
Meanwhile in the NFL, the Washington Redskins are looking to Robert Griffin III to lead the franchise into a new and successful dawn. The current holder of the Heisman trophy (awarded to the best college football player) has won over many fans both in Washington and around the U.S due to his commitment and humility. There is an overwhelming sense of hope on this 22-year-old’s shoulders, but he has all the right ingredients to become a phenomenal quarterback.
So where did football become so distorted in it’s views? It’s quite plain to see that the very best youngsters can make unbelievable contributions to football teams. Look at Wayne Rooney and his price tag with Manchester United. Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Aguero. If the player is good enough, why worry about their age?
Of course, all of these players haven’t had to do it own their own, and there is an obvious necessity for some form of veteran presence. But I can’t help but find the need to shake that notion that you can’t win trophies with kids.