In football (or any sport), there is would be nothing more humbling and sobering than to have a 18-year-old take the place of a 28-year-old in the first 11. And it is because of this youth threat that teams like Manchester United, Barcelona and Arsenal would always be ahead of the pack in the longer run. Both teams do it differently – United and Barcelona are not afraid to blood their own youngsters by replacing senior players in the big games while Arsenal is simply a youth team with a couple of senior players.
That has to be the greatest vote of confidence that Sir Alex Ferguson, Josep Guardiola or Arsene Wenger could give to the younger ones. This “I believe in you” that the vastly experienced managers tell the vastly inexperienced kids give them the drive to succeed and the belief that they are actually good enough. This realisation probably sounds like this, “Wow, this world-class manager actually believes that I can go on and help team win. I cannot disappoint him!” And the introduction of youth forces the senior and more established players to sit up, roll up their socks, get their act together and start to pull their weight and measure their contribution to the team like multimillion-dollar paid players.
The introduction of youth brings a certain amount of vigour and reinvigoration to a team. I’m sure the older and slightly more jaded players get refreshed by the sheer enthusiasm and energy that these youths have for football. That is the reason why we enjoy watching the three teams that I’ve mentioned and we tend to switch off when we watch a team like Chelsea, which Sir Alex has famously said before, “A team over 30 doesn’t improve a lot”. AC Milan is the odd exception though, being a retiree’s home; while the departure of Kaka has made them a less attractive football spectacle, they still play some decent football; putting Ronaldinho, Beckham, Pato and Pirlo together still produces a fair amount of flair and good football.
When I examine Chelsea – a team with everyone on the wrong side of 30, I see a 32-year-old Frank Lampard backed up by a 34-year-old Michael Ballack and a 28-year-old Petr Cech backed up by a 35-year-old Henrique Hilario. They do not produce their own youngsters (buying doesn’t count!) and they currently do not have any outstanding youngsters that look like they could successfully replace someone in the first team. In short, I think that there is no future in the team. They are all hanging on to current and former glories and can only hope to sustain its success by preserving its existing team. If you want to determine the long term regenerative success of a club, you simply need to scrutinise the set-up of its youth academy. Just look at teams like Olympique Lyon and Ajax Amsterdam as good examples.
It’s commonly said that “Form is temporary and class is permanent”. May I add on my five cents worth and say that while that is true, it is the average age of the team that determines its long-term reality; if you have no youth, you have no future. Many times we hear the statement, “The youths are the leaders of tomorrow”. I think that that is euphemised rubbish from cowardly leaders who do not put their money where their mouth is – it’s like saying, “Yes, yes, you do have potential, but you don’t have ability yet, so I can’t give you the platform to perform“. I, on the other hand, believe that the youths are the leaders of today. It applies to football and it applies to any organisation. In the words of the legendary Sir Matt Busby, “If they are good enough, they are old enough”. I rest my case. May the youths of today pave the way for the youths of tomorrow.
But I digress. Now back to football, it’s three youthful and resounding cheers to the United, Barcelona and Arsenal philosophy of playing their football. Keep watching, keep believing in youths.