I always wonder, if commercial interests have not taken over from passion as the key ingredient in football followership. My reason? There is always a buzz when a new young player is discovered. Ronaldo was hot cake; Messi a Phenom, Muller is turning heads, with Gotzë in hot pursuit. Neymar has done nothing yet, but is arguably the most valuable player on the planet. His main asset? He is young
Till the scales started to fall off the eyes of the gunner faithful, Arsene Wenger was held in high regard for always finding the young uncut diamonds (most however turned out to be just worthless carbon). The rush for young players has even given age grade tournaments a life of their own. Scouts and agents, clubs and coaches, corporate sponsors and sport brands are at every one of them to find the next big thing.
Some of the most exciting and effective players were not youth players, they were not young prodigies, they were hard working players who developed over time. Agreed, they showed promise as young players, but now, they have matured with their value in their old age. There is nowhere else I can think of, where one can find more “old” professionals than the Italian Serie A.
If you think carefully, the greatest asset of the Italian player is longevity. Del Piero played in the Serie A for Juventus, till he was 37 (he won the Serie A at the age of 37), he won the world cup at 31 along with 6 players over 30 and only six under 28. Angelo Perruzzi at 36, was the oldest in the squad, and Totti, who was 29 then, and 36 now, is being touted to get a recall to the Italian national side. Paolo Maldini retired at the age of 41 after 14 years and 647 senior appearances for his one and only club, AC Milan. It must be noted that Maldini won the Serie A at the age of 36 and the Champions’ league at the age of 39.
The roll call of elder statesmen still playing in the Serie A and for the national team include: Gianligi Buffon (35), Federicho Marchetti (30), Morgan De Sanctis (36), Andrea Barzagli (31), Christian Maggio (31), Andrea Pirlo (33), Alberto Gilardino (30) . Let us not forget others like: Genaro Gattuso, who at 35 years old will retire at the end of this season from Swiss side Sion; Filippo Inzaghi, who won the world cup at 32, Champions’ League at 34 and Serie A at 37. Inzaghi retired last year at 38. There is still udinese frontman Antonio Di Natale, who will be 36 in October.
A lot of Keepers get to their mid and late thirties, but in Italy, almost all these players mentioned are outfield players. Maybe it’s the food, water or the air in Italy, but they seem to last.
Other noteworthy old men include: Ryan Giggs (who will be 40 in November), Javier Zannetti (who will be 40 in August: but he does play in Italy though), Carlos Puyol (who will be 35 on the 13th of April), Didier Drogba (35 years old), Paul Scholes ( 39 in November), Mark Van Bomell (36 on the 22nd of April) and of course all the Nigerian players who are economical with their real ages.