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Juventus’ old-boys proving age is relative
Patrice Evra’s departure of Manchester United seemed all too forced. Similarly, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand also left the Red Devils a year earlier. Had Evra’s ‘body gone’? No, he was perfectly fit, albeit the minor adjustments that come with aging. Were Manchester United overflowing with right-backs? Quite the opposite. Was he a nuisance to the wage bill? Internet data indicate that while he was paid more than most at United, it was not over-the-top, indeed, Ashley Young took a bigger toll on the bill during a season in which he was heavily criticized.
There didn’t seem much wrong with Evra, except for one fact: he had recently turned thirty-two, a massive warning sign in the world of football, bringing with it a caravan of stereotypes, whether or not they fit a given applicant. Whilst it’s true that players may be at their physical peak in their late twenties, that doesn’t mean they’re always most effective then. Goalkeepers are known to often grow better into their thirties. Age should be the evolution of a player, but all too often is mistaken as the devolution. Perhaps Louis Van Gaal made this mistake in letting Evra go, for tomorrow Evra turns thirty-four and is showing no signs of letting up. Just yesterday, he played all ninety-four minutes of Juventus’ semifinal tie and aggregate win against Real Madrid, in the scorching heat, too.
On the other side of the pitch, Evra was facing the goalscoring machine, Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo just turned the dreaded age of thirty himself, when common policy among many clubs is to only offer players with short-term contracts. He too has evolved over the past few years into much more of a No.9, and continues to score over fifty goals a season. In football, the thirtieth birthday is a day, set in stone, where players automatically become viewed as ‘old’ and past it all of a sudden.
That may be true in some cases, but certainly not all. Certainly, nobody would dare disrespect Ronaldo with the offer of a one-year contract, and Juventus have a squad full of these exceptions. Directly marking Ronaldo was Stephan Lichtsteiner, thirty-one-years-old, still bombing up and down the wing. Then there is the famous case of Andrea Pirlo, aged thirty-five, who left AC Milan in part due to a one-year contract offer in 2011, but is still among the top midfielders in the world. In fact, Juventus’ squad is the joint oldest in the Champions League this year and their team in the second leg draw with Madrid featured six players older than thirty, including Carlos Tevez and Giorgio Chiellini. It seems that Massimo Allegri has overcome the modern stereotype and is reaping the rewards, likely partly due to his experience coaching AC Milan, another club known for nurturing players in their thirties with the help of Bruno Demichelis’ MilanLab.
Youngsters Alvaro Morata and Paul Pogba have dominated the Old Lady’s headlines, but the old boys formed the backbone of the team. Pogba, Morata, and Arturo Vidal provide more spark, striking a balance between young and old that works for Juventus. Evra’s former Manchester United are by no means in the Champions League final.
Photo credit: Football.ua