Common consensus has it that a player peaks at about 27 or 28. Clubs traditionally look to buy players in their mid-to-late 20s, knowing they’ll have four years at the top of their game. That pattern is slowly changing.
Arsene Wenger has made a career of selling players in their late 20s at the Arsenal. When he sold Thierry Henry to Barcelona in 2007, it was a controversial move – Henry was at the top of his game. Now, three years later, the sale of the then-29-year-old seems like a master stroke. Henry has never recaptured his best form for Arsenal.
Now look at the England team. The average age of the England squad at the 2010 World Cup was over 28; they were well-beaten by a team (and that word in the case of England’s defeat is also an explanation) that was on average four years younger. Even England’s younger players – such as Rooney and Milner – are experienced; both started their first team careers at 16.
The peak in football is no longer 28. It’s more like 26, possibly younger. England need to freshen their team up but the problem is that there are few talented youngsters coming through. Just James Milner was a member of England’s 2009 U21 European Championship team, a side that lost 4-0 to Germany in the final. Four of Germany’s side yesterday came from that triumphant team.
England need a younger team. But while Lampard et al might look spent at international level, there are no young replacements coming through. Once again, it comes back to the way we produce football players – and the bad news for England is that the talent simply isn’t there. Welcome to the international wilderness. We might have to get used to it.