A question many ask: does a younger team equal a better team?
The top ranked teams this year seem to be getting younger. Teams like Barcelona and Arsenal have always made it their priority to find young talent and mold them into strong players. But are other teams taking notice of this and trying to do the same?
All major clubs have youth systems that they observe but top players usually come through the transfer market. With older players more prone to injury and slow as they age, young stars are being found all over the world. Barca seem to find those kids in Spain but a team like Arsenal has traveled many miles to find theirs.
In the last 4 years, Arsenal brought in many young talents who now have found a starting spot in the line-up and are producing wins -- guys throughout Europe, South America and Africa and they all seem to be contributing to the team. Coach Wenger has brought in the likes of Denilson (Brazil), Wallcott (England), Eduardo (Croatia) and Song (Cameroon): none of them older than 23 when making their first appearance for Arsenals first team. Not to mention Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie who joined the club at ages 16 and 21 and are now leaders for the current squad. Although Arsenal haven’t won a Premier title in 5 years they have been a top English side for over 10 years and have gotten close to a Champions League title.
This year teams like AC Milan, who have a young Brazilian stud in Pato, have started to play faster in spite of losing Kaka. Other teams like Liverpool and Chelsea have stayed with veteran players throughout their line-up. Although, lately Liverpool has had a 20 year-old Argentine named Insua break the line-ups defense. But do established players in their mid to late 20s and 30s equal championships?
Who won Spain’s La Liga and UEFA Champions League last season? Barcelona. Barcelona with their balance of youth and age seem to have gotten it right. But without that youth do they get as far as they did? I’d say no. Without giving these young Barca players chances to develop on the field they would not be where they are today. Players like Messi, Pique, Basquests, Pedro and Bojan may not have had the opportunities if Barca didn’t give them time to learn on the field. Yes, Barca was anchored by their veterans of Inesta, Xavi and Puyol but they would not have the success without the legs and flare of their younger players.
I remember when Manchester United brought in a young fiery kid named Wayne Rooney. In 2004 they wrestled him away from Everton and how well did that turn out? Man U have won the English Premier League the last 3 years. Rooney has yet to win a FIFA player of the year award, but he’s making his presence known in England and around the world.
I am excluding a couple big clubs in other countries and a little team called Real Madrid. Excluding Raul and Cassillas: both born in Madrid, absolutely everyone else on that team was handpicked like they were produce at a grocery store. They’re not concerned with developing young talent through their youth system, but instead are only concerned with buying high priced talent wherever they can find it.
Coaches like Wenger and Guardiola understand the importance of having a mesh of players that complement each other’s playing style, as well as the value of having veterans and young players -- young players learn from those veterans. Guardiola had his first year with the top squad last season and made an immense impact having won the treble. He came up from Barcelona’s B team so he understands those younger players and their abilities. Wenger joined Arsenal in 1996 and has brought the program much success. Arsenal has been a top 4 team in the Premier League since he joined, as well as, earning 4 FA Cup titles.
Don't get me wrong, teams need veteran players to help the younger guys stay confident and make it through the season. Also, experienced players can help lead their teams to championships. But, in today’s game, which has developed into a faster pace, young talent is needed. Those young players are needed to come off the bench to spark the offense, as well as, to make an impact when players get hurt. I am all for finding young talent and either developing them through the youth system or slowly giving them more playing time with the first team through the season.
In my opinion, yes, younger does equal better. BUT, a healthy dose is what teams need. Barcelona is the absolute picture perfect example of this system. Because of Barcelona’s success, will top teams be giving younger players more of a chance? I hope so.