Experience is invaluable, however is youth the answer?
Professional sport can be a very harsh environment, and football is no exception. A high pressured environment where a win or loss or an individual mistake is heightened by the media. It’s not an irregular occurrence for players to be adored by the fans to then be dropped within a season of poor performances . There are only a minority group that continue playing well into their 30′s, and in today’s footballing era this is no mean feat considering the number of games, volume of training and travel involved in being a professional footballer.
You might say its all down to luck of not getting injured and this is the sole reason why they are still playing. If this was true the likes of David Beckham, would have retired after snapping his Achilles tendon whilst playing for AC Milan in 2010. Pure and simple, all players get injured throughout their life, it happens. However it’s the reaction of the athlete that counts, the players professionalism to adhering to advice from coaches, sports scientists and medical staff that allows him to return to his peak once again.
So what is it that keep Beckham, Giggs, Pirlo and Schwarzer going? What motivates them daily to train just as they did when they were 20 years of age?
I happened to watch David Beckham play for LA Galaxy last week, and the intensity in which he pressed the opposition and his quality on the ball amazed me. Pirlo recently played England off the park at the European Championships. Ryan Giggs is simply phenomenal, the way he glides past defenders and still has the ability to find that crucial ball in the final third. And a little closer to home, Mark Schwarzer, who I have the pleasure to witness his work ethic daily, something which all Australian football lovers should witness. His desire to play, passion and professionalism put most to shame within the game!
It’s simply and ingrained mentality of high standards in everything they put their hand to that drives them on, you could almost say its an obsessive compulsive disorder for excellence. No doubt their sock drawers and the pantry are all organised at home to perfection!
It has become a young mans game. Watching Euro 2012, the average age of the squads is staggering. I find myself saying in my head when the commentator mentions a name and age, “20 – you have to be kidding – 20 and it’s 10th international cap”!! Hard to comprehend.
Unfortunately for the older generation of players this is the future. I believe it is a good thing for the sport as it is directly correlated to grass roots football and the development of young professional footballers. The environments are improving yearly and the standard of coaching is fast tracking the elite crop of individuals. It demonstrates that the system is working and younger players are at the level to break into the first team sooner, and we have seen that at Fulham FC this season with a number of younger players being involved.
There is however a balance, and I understand that a number of footballing people in Australia are asking for the older, big name players to step aside and allow youth to develop on the international stage. My first point is this, it is very unlikely, and being an Australian myself that I see Tim Cahill or Lucas Neill for example making the decision to retire from international football. They are loyal and patriotic men, so it will be the FFA and the current manager that makes that decision, and I believe this will be the case for Mark also.
It is vital for a country like Australia to qualify for every World Cup, it is far too important commercially and for the development and funding of football within Australia.
It is only when the youth players knocking on the door are better or at least at a point where they have had exposure to top level football with their club that they can takeover from senior professionals. Friendly internationals certainly their is no harm in blooding youth, however the big occasion in front of 90,000 at the MCG for a World Cup qualifier, I would have to question their experience at handling such an occasion.
We must start somewhere, and I believe that is providing the best coaching and building on Australian football philosophy with Australian coaches, rather than employing other countries coaches to come and implement their philosophy. A philosophy in which all age groups play to a set way and the player’s development throughout the age levels is consistent.
Quality is the key. Set the standards high and ingrain that same mentality as Beckham, Giggs, Pirlo and Schwarzer have into our youth and I have no doubt Australian teams competing at international tournaments can have success.