It’s International Week and everyone is looking for a news story. Some days it’s so bad I expect a bite-by-bite column on Alan Hutton’s breakfast. (Haggis if anyone is wondering.) Being a slow two weeks my thoughts have drifted over to ice hockey as the season just got underway here.

Every season there are a number of players who for one reason or another haven’t found a team to play for. Usually it’s due to age and teams always pushing the youth angle—where you can find speed on the ice but also a cheap player due to a young age and also the salary cap that ice hockey has. Also, only being able to sign a one-year contract at a time and no team jumping for your services once it expires.

Some players retire, some sign professional tryout contracts, and some defy all logic and manage to sign another one-year contract. This year’s old player with a contract is Jaromir Jagr, a Czech who started his professional career in 1988 and will be 46 before the season is finished. That’s coming up 28 years of professional hockey. Here are his NHL totals: 1,919 games, 843 goals, and 1,272 assists. He also spent several years in the Russian Hockey League. Last year he put up numbers that would have delivered a long-term contract if he was 20 years younger. For the upcoming season he is playing professionally before most of his teammates were born.

What creates a player like this? Genetics, proper health, and a desire to play? Jagr isn’t alone in this ability to put Father Time to bed. All sports have their super players.

This led me to football and the players who have managed to avoid the cruelty of growing old.

Stanley Matthews was the first to jump to mind, playing 33 years and retiring at 50. Then I hit a flat spot and had to look up some of the other senior citizens of soccer. Brad Freidel was 43 and still playing and Shay Given was 40—two players we are all familiar with. But they were both goalkeepers. I don’t suppose they ran too much.

Hitting 30 seems to be the average age where youth, speed, and health seem to leave a footballer. The average length of a career is eight years with most done by 35. This makes John Terry an anomaly at almost 37. Oh yeah, Paul Scholes made it to 40. So, what has Terry done to last this long? Or is it something that the teams do to wear out players before their time except for a few?

Forest Green, a team in League 2 has their players on a vegan diet. They haven’t exactly stormed up the table but to do a vegan diet is definitely looking at a different way to improve the health of the players. Terry is given the courtesy of missing some practices as he sees fit. Do other players get the same benefit, especially the older ones?

We all know that a player has to be incredibly fit in order to play at the calibre they do, but is hard training the only answer to fitness? Or perhaps the level of play in the games does them in. It seems that most footballers finally gets the game sorted only to find that they are knackered before they can put their knowledge to use. Is there any one team out there who are doing it differently?

A team that finds the key to a footballers’ longevity would be a team to be reckoned with.

Comments 50

  1. Hello, Ian.
    Interesting subject that is relevant to all walks of life, really.
    I don’t know about teams that have had time to get the longevity of their players right. I guess at the individual level it would begin with recuperation strait after a match, which might mean soaking in a jacuzzi for a while. The aim would be to prevent inflammation and encourage circulation and recovery.
    Individuals, who’ve had or had really long careers that spring to mind are Teddy Sherringham, Rivaldo, Ian Wright, Robbie Fowler, Ivanhoe …et al. You already mentioned a few good ones. Ryan Giggs reckons diet is a massive factor in keeping football fit and Sir AF was strict about it on his players.
    The one rugby player that stands out for longevity in that version of footy is Richard McCaw. He was amazing.

  2. Iana (previous thread): “Have you sent Wyness or Xia a copy of one of your books? “

    Funnily enough I’m popping into VP today to leave copies for both of them! 🙂

  3. Thanks Ian a subject dear to my heart

    Diet definitely plays a big part in sport with Wenger bringing the concept in at Arsenal on his arrival for years European methods were spoken about, imagine Merson and Adams reaction as they were on a liquid diet as was our own God and many others in the past.

    It plays a part so much that it matters what your Grandma and mother ate, I imagine that your czech fellows family ate a pretty basic organic veg and meat based diet.

    Prior to commercial farming of today we all ate Organic with DDT coming in after the war, this has proven to be a big game changer in health and DNA expression, add antibiotics used in Animal farming and medical we have set loose a monster.

    Farming has changed the soil micro Biome and therefore ours. The majority of the DNA in our bodies is not our even own but belongs to microbes, they produce a myriad array of vitamins, proteins, hormones that we need and lend us the odd bit of DNA just as plants and bugs do in the soil. These little critters talk to each other and our bodies with electro magnetic waves similar to WiFi and that in itself causes problems in our EMF flooded world.

    Now with all that said you can see that these days its not quite as simple as it once was. We all eat foods not grown locally that would carry the microbes from the environment around you, even going for a walk in the country builds your bugs up via breathing them into your nose.

    Now if you change your diet your Microbiome will adjust with various species increasing in number and effect, unfortunately that can be detrimental as some make you store fat some make you burn it, some keep your gut healthy and sealed tight, start killing those ones off and you get allergies. With the huge amount of food and people flown around the world and rarely being in contact with the environment who knows what that might turn up?

    Back to your Gran/Mom, when she gave birth you got part of your biome from the birth canal unless you were a c-section then you miss that bit to your detriment, breast feeding and touching her skin provides the rest. So she has a massive say in what you should and shouldn’t eat. There are some weird anomalies out there such as the afro Caribbean culture who only ate sweet potatoes, turned out they had a rare microbe than produced all the amino acids and vitamins they needed from those spuds. The Japanese have got taller from drinking Milk too in recent years.

    Can diet extend your career? Yes if its the right one for “you” or no if your RMC. If you want an accurate idea then you need to test both DNA and the micro biome of the person, theres no one size fits all and your start in life can make you more robust.

  4. Ian,

    That’s a very stimulating article! 🙂

    It brings to mind a host of Villa oldies who didn’t do badly at all, particularly an old Villa skipper – Ivor Powell, an old friend of Stan Matthews – who was still coach at Bath City at the age of 93! At 95 he hung up his tracksuit and I think died the following year. Got an MBE for his troubles.

    And I’m in correspondence with a Scottish writer, talking about Jimmy MacEwan, who played his last Villa game in 1966 (aged 36/37) and suffered broken teeth in a First Division match brawl amongst his last season momentoes. Jimmy is now in an aged persons’ home near me, and gets regular visits from old Villa fans.

    Johnny Dixon, my cousin Frank Moss jnr, Ronnie Starling and ‘Mush’ Callaghan were first-teamers until they were 37 or 38 and knew how to look after themselves. Eric Houghton, too, played his last Villa first-team game at 36.

    At one point in the mid-50s, Villa had 4 or 5 players who were aged around 33 or 34 playing regularly, and good too, though slowing up.

    Villa’s 1950s youth coach, Jimmy Hogan, could still show ’em how to play in his 70s.

    Jonny Dixon was brought back for his last game at the end of the 1960-61 season (aged 37) and played the game of his life! He stood head and shoulders above internationals playing that day, scoring a goal, making another and breaking his nose (there were no subs then!) in a 4-1 Villa win against the league runners-up.

    Johnny played his last game for the Villa Old Stars at age 70.

  5. Mark
    Well if the microbiomes talk to each other they might improve the players communication & it might get Codger to pass the ball

  6. Hi IanG,

    Yeh definitely typical MON but the Welsh had no cleverness to get past the bus, missing Bale and Allen going off exposed Ramsay as the poor midfielder he is and having weathered 94 minutes of a storm, we needed 1 minute to get the result we needed.

  7. Ian,

    Thinking over this statement: “Hitting 30 seems to be the average age where youth, speed, and health seem to leave a footballer. ”

    Though what you say is generally true, traditionally there’s been the notion that once you get to a certain age then the experience you’ve acquired really kicks in and you start not to need to be a “youth” or have “speed” so much. That is, guile should take over. And players like Terry seem able to be in the place at the right time rather than having to use too much energy to get there.

    I think that certainly was applicable in the past … names like Blanchflower, Haynes, Woosnam etc etc seemed to fit that situation.

    I remember when I used to play badminton (in my early 30s) I once came up against a player in a doubles match who must have been in his 50s, but his superb sense of positioning meant that he didn’t have to sweat too much.

    In football, Jimmy Hogan used to say “let the ball do the work”, and in today’s footie quick inter-passing seems to get the best results rather than being a Speedy Gonzales.

  8. Ian, yes Jagr is a phenomenon that’s for sure, remember when i first came over and started to watch some hockey he was playing with super Mario back then. My youngest is a Devils fan as he worshiped Brodeur being the best Canadian goalie at the time. Talking goalies, they are the only players in hockey that play the whole game, and i remember them doing tests on Potvin of our Leafs way back when and it was discovered he could sweat 3 to 5 liters in a single game, so fluids most definitely fluids must impact a players longevity. On the food front MK, I believe breads have one the biggest influences on us. Now we can start to buy old fashioned breads (at premium prices i know) I feel more energetic after eating my sarnie than i have in years, and yet still feel full but not bloated.
    But then that brings me to some of your points, the genetic meddling that’s gone on to make more resistant wheat’s and grains as well as the steroids and cr*p they feed the live stock. Not sure how long you’ve been in Canada Ian, but you know they won’t let me and the missus give blood because we lived in the UK in the 80’s and they are scared we could carry mad cow. Mad cow, another of man’s genetically mastered achievements, feeding offal to a herbivore.
    So yes, with good diet, and an old head, the more intelligent players can last longer for sure. I don’t believe some of these guys abused their bodies partying all night either like the Lee Hedrey’s of the world.

  9. … But, in summary, I think I’m tending to think that the character of the game has changed, being less about a sport of guile and more on athleticism. In which case players are more likely to show signs of burnout by age 30 than they were before. They used to say, in fact, that a player is at his best between the ages of 28 and 32 … I think the range today is a bit less for many.

  10. JL
    If you’re right, teams like Barca that have perfected the tiki-taka style of play are helping their players to last longer in the game. I agree that athleticism has come into it a lot more. Do you know of any statistics that reveal the prevalence of injuries these days to those of yesteryear? On the one hand, nutrition and technology have improved, but the stress on a player has probably increased. Then you look at how small the 1981-1982 Villa squad was. On the matter, Ron Saunders simply said they were all fit. I’m sure they also had it together mentally more than many these days.

  11. Iana,

    Yep – good points. The Baraca method was exactly the situation I was alluding to. Their style has retained the older notions of how to play football but just done in a more upbeat way I think.

    As to stats to compare injury rates, I know of none, but as the knowledge level has vastly improved over the years I doubt that a comparison in rates would be too meaningful. In the old days if you had a knock then unless the knock was a really bad one the magic sponge and an anti-pain jab would get you back on your feet without proper treatment. And, of course, footballs and boots were of a different type, as well as the pitches.

  12. I imagine that the speed which the game is today is played at today is one of the reasons we see more leg injuries. A tighter turf also. Cleats catching more in today’s grass vs the muddy pitches of years ago.

    Canadian Villian, I suspect the authorities found traces of BCFC in your blood and not mad cow.
    Ive been in Canada since 1957. My first memories of football was my father cheering Villa for the FA Cup win that year. You’re in Toronto?

  13. Barca’s current style was Basically the Cruyff way taken on further by Pepe who is a student of the game and is qouted as employing tactics from many era’s if he thought it would work. I would say it is easier to make someone a faster/stronger player Vs more intelligent and skillful hence why most of the top sides have the best players and the most money, if you have skill and athletisism worlds your oyster. Being athletic in football used to mean a low centre of gravity as it allows for quick turns and not being 6’3″ I can well imagine that height and the speed of the game increasing injuries too. Weight training is the norm now too which means players are stronger at lighter weights.

    JL- Those pain shots of cortisol and even Ibuprofen actually destroy cartilage so once they started on that route that was it. One old trick was to wrap your ankles to give you a harder shot but if you lock a joint up or restrict its movement it meant the one above or below it suffered, in this case it was the knees.

    Found this, its Steve Bruce talking about boots and modern pitches

  14. MK: “Barca’s current style was Basically the Cruyff way …”

    …Whose style was basically the Hogan way…?…Whose style in turn was taken from QP (as was Villa’s).

  15. MK,

    That “Bruce talking about boots and modern pitches” article (thanks for that) seems to show the lack of joined-up thinking that still seems to pervade our approach…

    A holistic evaluation of the technology doesn’t seem to be applied, so we’ll probably end up with more retired footballers reaching for their Zimmer frames.

    I hear that Brina Little’s legs aren’t too good at all…

  16. When American football stadiums went to artificial turf foot ware changed so much its more like a running shoe than a older conventional shoe was. No studs but more like buds on the bottom. Also they wear different shoes depending on the type of artificial turf, weather, or even superstition about the stadium they are going to play in. So maybe a one fit shoe needs to be looked at as turf at Villa (one of the best pitches) is much different than Wigan (where they hold plotting competions 🙂 ) state of the art VS Wellingtons. All I’m saying is what works in one stadium might not work in another plus weather conditions

  17. JL- who firsts coined the phrase ” total Football” ? theres a question, Ajax must be one of the first to have had such an all incompassing style over such a long period.

    “Johan Cryuff, Marco Van Basten, Frank Rijkaard, Dennis Bergkamp, Clarence Seedorf, Patrick Kluivert.

    How would you connect all of them? Legends? Yes. But there’s something more. If you still can’t figure it out, add these players to the list too.

    Wesley Sneijder, Robin Van Persie, Luis Suarez, Edwin Van Der Saar, Zlatan Ibrahimovic

    If you still don’t get it, I’ll give it to you. All of these players started their path towards greatness from Eredivisie’s premier team, Ajax. The 4 time European winners from Amsterdam, though past their prime, haven’t stopped doing what they do best- Scout and train youngsters. Their academy is considered one of the best in the whole world and is next only to Barcelona’s La Masia in terms of expenditure on their youth system. Considered as the tap of European football, providing drops of new talent to the ocean, amazingly the tap never runs dry.

    Playing the tradition Oranje way of ‘Total Football’, the young players are taught the very same formations and tactics the senior team uses and trains for. The idea of a common philosophy which they follow ensures the complete freedom for the player to express himself, and to adjust into the team seamlessly. This also improves the chemistry between the players, ensuring a complete understanding of every other player in the team.”

  18. MK: “who firsts coined the phrase ” total Football” ? “

    Don’t get fogged by the fact that that expression is just a description and a description of something that existed before. It’s just that someone decided to patent a phrase that described the way of play. Brazil could be said to be playing “total football” in 1958 for example.

    Make no mistake about it, Hogan was a very serious influence in European football using the methods you describe. There were other British coaches as well, of course, but he took the main accolades through to the great Magyar team pre-1955.

    And please cut the “If you still don’t get it, I’ll give it to you.” language.

  19. MK,

    That article very much understates Hogan’s role at Villa. It even infers that he was in charge when Villa got relegated, which is a nonsense!

    Read my “Viila Way” for a clearer picture of Hogan! 😉

  20. MK,

    We have what we have, Mark. What I’d really like might be something different (and I’ve said that over and over) but the chairman has appointed someone to do a specific job. and (for good or bad or indifferent) we have no choice but to fit in.

    In fact I don’t think that Bruce’s appointment is a bad one. And Villa are picking up points. That may not by itself sort out the future but who knows what is going on behind the scenes.

  21. JL- well its not that I don’t accept were we are John, I question whether Steve Bruce’s appointment is in opposition to heading toward the sort of structure/squad I think we will need to have in place before returning to the Prem. Looked at on the Basis of promotion he’s not the worst bet but thats where it ends for me. Are we that poorly off that money takes precedence over patience and a true plan? maybe we are due to our size.

    What appears to be true to me is that you cannot have an ethos that the manager does not align with, and in some instances you find that some managers have something more than others. pochettino seemed to take Southampton’s well thought out ethos on a step further as did Wagner at Huddersfield. I don’t think its viable to dabble at these things though, It will be a hard task to change tack in the Prem while trying to survive, Its taken 50 games for Bruce to get his ideas across in the champs we can ill afford 50 more. The danger is both in ditching Bruce and not ditching him if we go up not a great position.

    Fine, I can’t change our direction and I accept that, I just don’t think its the right one.

  22. MK: ” I question whether Steve Bruce’s appointment is in opposition to heading toward the sort of structure/squad I think we will need to have…”

    I know that! And you do keep re-iterating it!

    I think the future will sort itself out and I honestly find no point in worrying about it. If we had the previous regime I would be worried, but so far I’m happy with what is taking place although it’s not happening in perhaps the most ideal way from our p.o.v.

  23. JL- “I know that! And you do keep re-iterating it!”

    ever wonder why I feel I have to? 😉

    One things for sure the future will happen John,kind of a conversation killer in itself, it always has at Villa in my lifetime but with no real plan and hear we are in the champs , doesn’t worry me though to have a chat about it either. I cannot say I have your faith in the Villa hierarchy as so far its been pretty knee jerk stuff to me.

    Onwards to tomorrow, lets hope our players are up for it and are not hoping someone else will sort it, who will play LB? Bruce doesn’t seem to rate Bree, De laet, or the youngsters Borg and Clark so we might go 3 at the back (please no) prime candidate is thor but would be a surprise to see Hutton play RB and elmo LB

  24. JL: “ever wonder why I feel I have to?”

    What kind of remark is that? It speaks as though you believe your issue is one that’s got to be under perpetual discussion.

  25. OK, this 6 pointer is almost upon us. I’m guessing the only team selection change will be at LB due to Taylor’s unavailability. For me, it is a straight choice between Borg and De Laet and I’d choose whichever one is the faster sprinter over 50 yards. Can’t be the Viking because he’s just had 2 games in a week in midfield for Iceland and I doubt he’s sobered up yet.

    A win tomorrow would make a big statement so we should go for it.


  26. Darren,

    My feathers aren’t being ruffled – I’m as bald as a coot! 😉

    As for repetitive speech, I will concede this quote…

    “Repetition opens doors, you know?”
    ― Tim Lucas, The Book of Renfield: A Gospel of Dracula


    But actually, a lot of repetition usually has the reverse effect of waking someone up to an issue –
    it can send one to sleep… 😉

  27. MK: “…Its taken 50 games for Bruce to get his ideas across in the champs we can ill afford 50 more. “

    This is the sort of misleading stuff that can irritate.

    “50 games to get across his ideas” to whom may I ask?

    The squad has virtually changed 100% since the first of those games so clearly it would take a long time for different players to not just understand what Bruce is saying but also to blend into a team.

    The fact it’s taken 50 games surprises me not. It’s been a virtual re-build and taken considerable patience to get this far, that it’s hovering on the edge of the top-6, just 5 points off top spot.

    Good on Bruce I say!

    Sorry – I’m repeating myself now. And that will be my last word on the topic.

  28. well it seems I have my work cut out today here goes.

    JL- JL: “ever wonder why I feel I have to?”

    “What kind of remark is that? It speaks as though you believe your issue is one that’s got to be under perpetual discussion.”

    its one born of frustration mate, you repeat your own ideas while telling me my thoughts are pretty much pointless, if I took the same approach with you I don’t think you would like it either. I don’t find your approach particularly interesting either but rather than proclaim your boring me I at least attempt to understand, I dont just assume you are wrong.

    as for the repetition quote what about “what you resist persists” ?

    ““50 games to get across his ideas” to whom may I ask?”

    The players? who else? only this week he has said its taken him this long to find a way that suits the players, indeed when he played 3 at the back he said they are not ready to play that way and at many points in his tenure has proclaimed they are not doing what he is telling them to.So is it the players or his tuition?

    Its arse about face thinking to me, he has bought in an entire team but is still searching for a way to play them? doesn’t show much forethought to how players should fit in his plan does it.

    So when we get promotion and they very likely give him a season he will have to buy another team again hence “we can’t afford 50 games” unless of course you think this team will be fine in the Prem I don’t.

    We have had several virtual rebuilds in the last 4 years the last two seasons in particular, we now have the team for promotion instead of a team for the future.

    Its the last time I will mention it to you mr irritated as I am fed up with the whole vibe your giving off toward me these days anyhow.

  29. MK: “…while telling me my thoughts are pretty much pointless”

    Your total thoughts are *not* pointless, Mark. There’s just one issue I have with your p.o.v.

    What I I have railed against is specifically your continual questioning of Bruce when a lot of supporters are happy with the current form, and (to support your ideas) introduce notions that are at best questionable.

    “…we now have the team for promotion instead of a team for the future.”

    Yes, that’s the chairman’s decision: that’s not Bruce’s responsibility. But what will happen after promotion is to be seen. I’d argue that there is youth integration taking place but not maybe in the way we’d like it.

  30. Ah…take an international break, and come back to find our estimable antagonists still going strong! Hope our players have the same determination. 😉

    At any rate, match preview coming up imminently.

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