Tag Archives: Arsenal

Football is now a young man’s game

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.

Emmanuel Eboué is just a small fish in a bigger prawn sandwich

“It was a moment that summed up the vein-bulging temper and perversity of the modern football fan,” begins David Hytner’s review of the Arsenal vs Wigan game  from last Saturday. “It perhaps went even further and offered pointers about society in general.”

Hytner was referring to Arsenal’s own fans booing Emmanuel Eboué for a series of mistakes. Eboué was eventually substituted. Whether the incident offered a broader comment on society is a moot point but I really liked this part of Hytner’s review:

“Blame the credit crunch. Attending matches is not cheap, especially in these parlous times and, after a hard week, some modern fans have no time for underperforming players, particularly not those who earn in a week what they do in a year. They pay their money, they bubble with indignation and they have a right to express their opinions. Loudly. Call it Wembley syndrome. The England players Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole would relate to that. Many supporters no longer feel the duty to support. They are now consumers and, if the product is not up to scratch, they wonder why they should tolerate it.”

Everyone is a consumer now; everyone is obsessed with consuming. Rather than being about cheap boiled sweets and empty stands, football is more about champagne and Sky’s TV money. The ordinary man (or woman) on the stands has been pushed to the side, not just by money-obsessed executives – but also by the game itself and its obsession with ‘markets’ and ‘consumers’. And that is the saddest thing of all.