They say age is just a number and certainly in today’s footballing world, players are able to play for much longer than players in my day.
Take Cristiano Ronaldo as an example. He’s 37 and he’s still going strong, he’s still scoring and performing. One day people will start to say he’s past it but he doesn’t look like slowing down anytime soon.
Looking at our squad and we’ve said goodbye to 35-year-old Mark Noble and 32-year-old Andriy Yarmolenko. I am sad to see Yarmolenko go but clearly Moyes didn’t think he was up to the level to play in the Premier League week in, week out.
Sometimes injuries do heavily impact a player and once he had those injuries after arriving, he never quite rediscovered that early form for West Ham. I wish him the best with whatever he goes on to do next.
Looking at the players we have left, Ogbonna is 34, Cresswell is 32, Dawson and Antonio are both 32 also. The bottom line is that age never comes into the conversation if you are playing well. With the season Dawson has just had, you would hope he is able to replicate that again next season but if he doesn’t, I’m sure there will be some suggesting perhaps his age is coming into it.
The same could be said for Ogbonna, who was immense before his injury against Liverpool, but people will still talk about his age should he not continue this form next season.
What will happen with our older players is only they know how their legs are. You can watch someone and think they are doing OK but they’ll know if they are struggling and need to adapt their game. But what I will say for the likes of Ogbonna and Dawson is that most players today are able to play longer because sport science today is second to none. I’m sure players in my day would’ve had a few years added to their football career if we’d had the same level of sport science.
Need more experience
For youngsters, they also suffer from ageism because if they come in and don’t perform, immediately people say they are too young and need more experience. It’s such a fine line between being the right age with the experience needed. But I don’t think there’s a definitive answer on which age is best as different players peak at different times.
Age is not so much of an issue with goalkeepers though. Even in my day, it’s always been the case that you’d see someone playing into their 40s and people aren’t surprised by that. Fabianski is 37 now and Randolph is 35 but both could probably play on for a number of years. Areola at 29 could – with the determination and commitment required – go on to be our number one for a decade.
Another player who has everything ahead of him is Jarrod Bowen. His inclusion in the England squad was totally justified. He would’ve got into the last squad if he hadn’t been injured but credit to him from bouncing back from that injury to continue to get goals and assists. He’s got an opportunity now to impress for England and hopefully he will get game time. Then he really needs to hit the ground running next season with only a few months before the World Cup.
Case for inclusion
You’ll see all those in and around the England squad wanting to make a case for their inclusion in August and September, so Jarrod will need to play well at the start of next season to make Gareth’s squad.
I really do hope we’ll be able to have another positive season and make it three in a row where we are talking about the good things we are doing and not looking over our shoulders. The expectation now is much bigger. There is an expectation for us to finish fifth, sixth or seventh now and that does appear to be where we are at this moment in time.
But the recruitment this summer is going to be massive to get anywhere near reaching this expectation because of the turn around of people leaving the club and personnel we need to bring in. You look at it and we probably need to add half a dozen players but we could bolster that by two or three of the youngsters stepping up and being given a chance in the first team squad.