Ageism in Football
When 36 year-old Roberto Martinez managed his responsive Wigan Athletic side to cause a major upset recently by beating the expensive Chelsea side we witnessed the Premier League’s youngest manager defeat one of the world’s most experienced and illustrious bosses, Carlos Ancelotti.
The recently appointed manager of Chelsea has the unique distinction of being the only man in football to have won the Champions’ League as a player and manager with the same club – the famous AC Milan. Amazingly, at 50 years of age, Ancelotti is younger than the current Premier League average of 51.4 years. In the SPL it is 47 years.
It was this fine achievement by Roberto Martinez, whom I knew as a skilful player at Motherwell eight years ago, which made me wonder if the recent controversy over retrial age has any bearing on football. Age Concern and Help the Aged have tried unsuccessfully in the High Court to challenge the current law which says that an employer has the right to prevent an employee working past the age of 65 even when he or she wants to and is capable of doing so. Try telling this to Malcolm Glazer and the board of Manchester United Football Club. I don't think my friend Sir Alex Ferguson was one of those suffering any opposition to his desire to remain in the workplace! He’ll be 69 at the end of December.
Notwithstanding, it is my feeling that there is discrimination against longevity in football management and coaching. Fewer and fewer of the experienced men are being considered for appointments with many clubs opting for more fashionable, hands-on bosses. These guys are often cheaper options, or players at the end of their careers who have wisely been encouraged to embark on coaching courses while still playing. Often their contracts have to be justified so they are asked to move into a player/coach or management role. An excellent example of this is David Moyes from my former club, Preston North End, and, in Scotland, where this is perhaps more prevalent, Gus McPherson (St Mirren), Derek McInnes (St Johnstone), Brian Reid (Ayr United), Eddie May (Falkirk) and Derek Adams (Ross County). Sadly, it didn’t work at the highest level for John Greig (Rangers), Willie Miller (Aberdeen) and the late, great, Tommy Burns (Celtic).
Choosing to ignore the wonderful success of Josep Guardiola of FC Barcelona, my argument is for more consideration for the ‘golden oldies’. Look what has happened to Newcastle United FC since that legend of legends, Sir Bobby Robson, was unceremoniously removed from the club some five years ago on what must surely have been on account of age as his side was always in the top half dozen.
The youngest of the four oldest in the Premier League, Arsene Wenger (13 years at Arsenal), celebrates his 60th birthday on 22nd October, 2009. He joins Sir Alex, Harry Redknapp and Roy Hodgson in what many people consider the veteran category. Tell me, which club in the world would not want one of these ‘pensioners’ in charge? After all, how old was the man who won the last European Championship with Spain? Les Luis Aragones, at 70, had full command of his squad. Just ask super star Fernando Torres, who was substituted in the final as well as in previous rounds.
As Vice President of AEFCA (Alliance of European Football Coaches Association) I attend all the courses run by this organisation and, last year in Frankfurt, the CV of 61 year-old Marcello Lippi was projected on the screen prior to his presentation. There wasn’t sufficient space on the screen to include all his many honours! Then there is his countryman, 70 year-old Giovanni Trappatoni, doing so very well with the Republic of Ireland. At a somewhat lower level I was pleased to see 56 year-old Ronnie Moore’s return to his spiritual home at Rotherham FC, my good friend Alex Smith return to the training ground at Falkirk aged 71, ‘young’ 61 year-old Jocky Scott back in management at Dundee, and Crewe Alexandra confirming they couldn’t do without Dario Gradi (aged 68) by bringing him back.
An enlightened compromise is that provided by Walter Smith who, in spite of his catholic knowledge of music, admits he can’t keep up even with the players’ latest tastes, so he has two young assistants, Ally McCoist and Kenny McDowall. The privilege these two guys obtain tapping in daily to Walter’s knowledge is exactly the same as Walter himself experience working for another master tactician, Jim McLean. I know, because I benefited enormously from my three year spell as assistant manager of Motherwell to Jim’s brother, Willie McLean. Three years after that I felt ready, at age 37, for my first managerial appointment at Clyde FC.
24 years later, I was indebted to Preston North End for giving me the opportunity, at a transitional time for the club, to work in the Championship. With Billy Davies, my vibrant young colleague, my two full seasons there ended in two mid-table finishes while we re-shaped a side that Billy then took to the play-off final.
The ideal recipe, and route to football management, is, of course, the acquisition of the highest coaching award possible, the UEFA Pro-Licence, but thereafter, or concurrently, a spell as assistant boss to an experience campaigner. This was my good fortune. And now, when almost a septuagenarian, I still am ‘adolescent’ about my commentary duties and writing articles like this. I don’t expect ever to grow up!
|Premier League Managers’ Ages…..|
SPL Managers’ Ages…..