“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it”
Wisdom, it is suggested, comes with age. It is therefore not surprising that next year the average age of a Premier League manager will be 51. The newest addition has dragged that average down significantly. Chelsea’s new boss André Villas-Boas is just 33 years old. When he entered this world, the Premier League’s eldest statesman Sir Alex Ferguson was managing St Mirren at 35.
Wisdom may come with age but more importantly it comes with experience and Villas-Boas already has 16 years experience in this managerial game. He took his first UEFA coaching badge at 17. This isn’t an ex player dipping a tentative toe in one of club management’s biggest pools. This is a confident, assured man who possesses a football brain that bellies his tender years.
So Villas-Boas’ age shouldn’t be a problem. In fact, if you look at this Chelsea team, it may even be beneficial.
Whilst Carlo Ancelotti and Guus Hiddink enjoyed success, other experienced hands, Luiz Felipe Scolari and Avram Grant, struggled to control a difficult group of players with enormous egos. The last man who truly knew how to get the best out of this group of Chelsea players was a certain José Mourinho and one of the reasons for this was that he understood them. Comparisons between Mourinho and Villas-Boas are somewhat inevitable if not lazy and tedious. Their approaches to the game vastly differ but the important thing to note is that both were young when they made the move from Porto to Chelsea.
Portuguese agent Jorge Mendes said Mourinho’s age was paramount to his success as it “means he speaks the same language as the players”. He was just 41 when he joined Chelsea but players enjoy playing for him and as a result they give their all every time he sends them out to play. It was under Mourinho that we saw the best of Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba. They are now Chelsea’s oldest outfield players and are the same age as Villas-Boas.
Some may think Villas-Boas’ age will work against him. They will point to Lampard and Drogba and they will question whether he can command their respect. But it’s a short-sighted view which completely overlooks the fact that his age makes him more likely to understand his group of players. The trimmings of modern football continue to perplex most but like his players, it is all Villas-Boas has known.
The NFL provides a couple of interesting examples of younger head coaches. The first, Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, is the youngest head coach to win a Super Bowl when he triumphed in 2009, aged just 36.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are, it’s what you know. To me, it’s like he’s been a head coach for 20 years,” said tackle Flozell Adams.
And if Villas-Boas is looking for advice, he should consider these words from Hines Ward on Tomlin’s induction:
“They don’t give you a book to show you how to be a head coach. When he first got here, there were some veteran guys that challenged his authority, and they’re no longer here.”
Raheem Morris, head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is the league’s youngest coach at 34 and he began coaching at 22. Morris is intriguing because his team currently ranks as the second youngest in the league. Last year, with a team littered full of rookies, he narrowly missed out on the play-offs.
Hiring youthful minds is a trend that the league moved towards after Tomlin’s Super Bowl victory but it has since moved away from it. In recent years the departures of Josh McDaniels, Mike Singletary, Tom Cable, Jim Mora, Eric Mangini and Romeo Crennel have raised the average age.
That figure now stands at 50, surprisingly close to that of the Premier League.
But age is primarily just a number. Villas-Boas has the experience; he has the credentials to succeed at Chelsea. He has the chance to relate to players in the same way Mourinho did before him and the same way Mike Tomlin did in Pittsburgh. Don’t be deterred by his age.
By Callum O”Toole
This one will probably be the most recent game featured in the series but it’s likely that it’ll be talked about for years and Callum was fortunate enough to be there. One of if not the greatest club side of all time were taking on a Real Madrid side swamped with talent. Featuring were a dozen World Cup winners , the winners of the previous two World Player of the Year awards and the world’s most expensive player. Then there was the added factor of one Jose Mourinho. But it was Barcelona who lived up to the hype. You can follow Callum on Twitter @cotoole17 and read more of his articles on Bleacher Report.
Drama or excellence? Sport throws up many questions like this, not least in its modern form where administrators and organisers frequently refer to matches as “entertainment”. Contrary to popular belief, sport is not a part of the entertainment industry. Sportsmen should not aspire to be entertainers, but to achieve the ultimate expression of their event – to be the incarnation of greatness for their sport. If this can be done in a dramatic fashion, like Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal so often achieve, then it is an added bonus. Yet, often, to achieve so highly necessitates the suspension of drama, as opponents are swept aside in a predictable, almost inevitable fashion.
I was fortunate enough to have been present in the Nou Camp on Monday, 29th November 2010, when Barcelona gave, arguably, the most complete single performance in the history of football, in El Gran Clasico against their great rivals Real Madrid. While there have been more significant performances before, notably Brazil in the 1970 World Cup Final and AC Milan in the 1994 Champions League final, these are set in the context of their achievements. Both these sides played brilliantly, and the performances were greater in that they won trophies as a result. But in terms of the highest expression of their sport, they fell just short. What Barcelona provided was a near flawless display of footballing prowess in the biggest club game in the world.
Prior to the game the excitement was tangible, and it was being billed as the greatest club game in history. Twelve world cup winners were to make an appearance as were the previous two winners of the Ballon d’Or (and the winner before that, Kaka, only missed out through injury). The clash between the two dominant sides in Spain often decides the title, so there was also a significant prize to be had. A tight, unpredictable affair was expected. What we got was a sumptuous showcase of footballing prowess from Barcelona, who demolished their rivals 5-0 in front of an ecstatic Camp Nou faithful.
It was not just the margin of victory which shocked that night, but the way the Catalans set about their task. There have been big wins in El Clasico before – two seasons ago Barca scored six in the Bernabeu on their way to a 19th La Liga title, while Real had a 4-1 victory in the May 2008 fixture. What was striking was how Barcelona made their opponents submit to the inevitability of defeat by keeping possession and forcing Madrid to chase shadows.
Barcelona’s style is a subtle mix of fast-paced possession football when attacking, and a highly organised pressing game when without the ball. The two often complement each other beautifully, and they were used to devastating effect as Real were penned back in their own half for long periods. The Madrid attacking threat was virtually non-existent, with Cristiano Ronaldo starved of service and brilliantly shackled by Carles Puyol. Until his half-time substitution most in the stadium were unaware of Karim Benzema’s presence on the pitch.
Barcelona had the ball for more than two-thirds of the game. They weaved, they shimmied, they toyed. Xavi Hernandez was metronomic with his passing, Lionel Messi balletic with his runs and David Villa lethal in scoring a brace. But the game was about far more than mere individuals. Barcelona’s enchanting display was as close to perfection as team sport can be and it may influence the way the game is played in the future.
The performance, and the success of Barcelona and the Spanish national side in recent seasons, has shifted the balance of football heavily in favour of the technicians. For the last few seasons, many sides have attempted to compensate for a lack of skill and guile with physical power. But Barca’s dedication to their traditions has made other clubs take note of the benefits from youth development and attacking football.
Barcelona’s artistry and invention are means to an end. They are not the end in itself, just what the club regard as the most reliable and effective way of achieving victory. Without the success they would be dismissed as “lightweight” as their imitators at Arsenal so often are. Yet results like that against Madrid help to shape the views of a generation. No one watching could deny Barcelona’s prowess and dominance of the game, yet they also thrilled with their mesmeric patterns.
So, while it was not dramatic in the sense of being a one sided game, Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid was exciting nonetheless as it could, perhaps, have heralded a revolution in how the game is played for the next decade.
If you would like to be involved in the ‘My Favourite Match’ series, read this post to find out more.
“Many of us believe that wrongs aren’t wrong if they are done by nice people like ourselves”
Every now and again, Sir Alex Ferguson will come out with a piece of pure hypocrisy which surprises me. Usually it will involve the F.A. or referees. This time, it involves transfer fees, wages and the new lofty heights they continue to reach:
“The enormous amounts of money that are paid, not just the transfer fees, but for salaries; I don’t think it rests easy with supporters.”
This truthful titbit comes from the Manchester United boss who has smashed the British transfer fee for Gary Pallister, Roy Keane, Andy Cole, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Juan Sebastian Veron and Rio Ferdinand. Add in Wayne Rooney, the world’s most expensive teenager at the time and Dimitar Berbatov, who would be Britain’s most expensive player were it not for Robinho. Last January, Ferguson agreed to pay Fulham £10 million for Chris Smalling who had only made three Premier League appearances at the time of the transfer. Moreover, the biggest winners of inflated prices were the club who profited from the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo, the world’s most expensive player. That club and the beneficiaries of £80 million were Manchester United.
Ferguson isn’t in a position to complain about escalating fees. More than any other manager in the Premier League era, he has raised the bar for transfer fees and wages. But now with Manchester City, Chelsea and Real Madrid all able to freely spend, Ferguson claims he has been “hamstrung” by the competitive market. What the Scot is experiencing now is a taste of his own brutal medicine. The rest of the Premier League have been continually frustrated when United have ramped up the prices. Roles haven’t entirely reversed but Ferguson certainly feels belittled by City in particular.
Even in a World Cup year, there is a good value to be found in this transfer market. Joe Cole, held in high regard by Ferguson as a teenager, was available on a free. Germany’s young World Cup stars Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira were available on the cheap as both had only one year left on their deals. Khedira may well have rebuffed any approaches from England as soon as Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid threw their hat into the ring. But Özil’s name continues to be linked with a plethora of European giants and the playmaker, who tormented England at the World Cup, is reportedly available at somewhere between £10-£15 million. United need a goal-scoring, creative midfielder along with a dominant holding player and all three of these players would fill voids in Ferguson’s team without breaking the bank. Wesley Sneijder has been linked with a move to Old Trafford but he was superb value 12 months ago and Ferguson missed out. There is a real danger that in a year’s time, Özil could be the next one that got away.
If you can’t keep up with the market, you have to be happy with what you’ve got. This is where Ferguson, an expert at handling the media, comes into his own. He claims he is very happy with his young charges. It would be wrong to question Ferguson’s faith in youth. Nobody has dared attempt to do so since Alan Hansen scoffed humble pie back in 1996. If nothing else, we know these players will have a winning mentality drummed into them. But will this next batch of youngsters reach the same heights as the class of 1992? There have been flashes of brilliance from Danny Welbeck, Gabriel Obertan, Fabio et al, but replacing club legends like Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville is a tall order.
Perhaps Ferguson has been stung by his last acquisition to carry a large price tag. I remain a big fan of Dimitar Berbatov but he was grossly over-priced at £30 million particularly considering his age. Perhaps, as most fans believe, Ferguson’s hands are tied by the heavy debts that the Glazer family have burdened the club with. Perhaps Ferguson hides behind the ‘no value in the market’ line to protect his employers. It is a theory which Ferguson frequently rejects much to the fans’ dismay.
Whatever the case, Ferguson’s criticism of inflated transfer fees is hypocritical. He is right to insist that fans are dismayed at transfer fees and wages but this phoney empathy has never stopped him breaking the bank beforehand.