Inzaghi, Scholes and the fountain of Youth
November 7, 2010 1 Comment
In a week where Gareth Bale has ‘ran away’ with the headlines (literally) it has been another Champions League performance that caught my eye. Fillipo Inzagi’s brace against Real Madrid marked a historic moment in the Italians career, his now european goal tally of 70 makes him the all time top scorer in European competition. At 37 Pipo is in his 20th season as a pro, yet he is still able to outperform his world-class team-mates (Ibrahimovic, Robinho, Pato) who are all 10-15 years his junior.
Without being blessed with pace or a catalogue of Ronaldinho like skills, it has been Pipo’s ability to play on the last man’s shoulders as well as having a habit of being in the right place at the right time that has made him such a hit on the world stage. Both his goals against Madrid on Wednesday night were classic Inzaghi, both real poachers goals with a hint of offside, but it is exactly this type of play which has meant that Inzaghi ‘has’ and ‘can’ carry on playing at the top-level.
It has not just been Inzaghi who has turned heads in Italy this week, it was just last weekend that Inzaghis old strike partner, the 35-year-old Del Piero scored his 179th goal for Juventus making him Juventus’ all time top scorer in Serie A. Like Inzaghi Del P was never blessed with pace but what he lacked in pace, he made up for in technique. Del Piero is renowned for his ability to manipulate the ball and create situations out of nothing! Particularly from dead ball situations, Del Piero has bamboozled defences with ihis accuracy and ability to kill a game off, remember the one he smashed against the woodwork at Man City in the Europa League? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYyC6sWFpfE
The saying ‘when in Rome’ couldn’t be more suited to that of ageing Italian footballers, it’s not just a few who go on to play well in to their 30’s it seems like they all do. 9 of the team that played in the 2006 World Cup final were over 29 years old and that seems to be a philosophy carried into club football. Just look at Milan for example, greats past and present such as Maldini, Seedorf, Nesta etc. have played for Milan well in to their 30’s in European and domestic competitions. But how have these Italian greats been able to perform at the very top-level for so long?
With the Italian game being played at snail pace, players that come through the ranks are technically sound. Relying on technique, touch and finesse players in Italy don’t rely on pace and power to beat their opponents. Thus when players age and their legs start to slowdown it is not a major issue. These players never relied on pace or physique in the first place, their strengths are still the same at 35 as they were at 21.
Could you say the same about players playing in the Premier League? Here in England, the game is much more physical and played at a much quicker pace than in Italy, as a consequence we often see our best players being quick and strong, so when the legs start to go, so do the players careers and we often see the best players retire at an earlier age than in Italy. However the old guard at Old Trafford may have something to say about that?
Pauls Scholes was simply sensational in midweek. His delicate, disguised pass to set up Bebe left Sky sports pundit Glenn Hoddle in awe of him, stating ‘He’s 35 and I can’t see when he will stop playing’. And Hoddles right how can you see stop Scholes playing, he is as good now as he has always been. Scholes’ touch, ability to dominate the play and pass the ball have always been the way he has played. Ok with age he may have calmed down and become less of a box to box player but the fundamentals to his game are still there… he is like the Italians he has never relied on pace or strength! So as he gets older and his legs become slower his performance hasn’t actually deteriorated. Another reason Scholes has managed to prolong his career, is that he retired from the international seen at just 29. Despite attempts from Don Fabio this summer, Scholes reiterated his intention to remain retired from the international scene. Being able to recover over the off-season has meant Scholes has come back fresh whilst others (Mr Rooney, see ‘is Rooneys Injury a blessing in disguise’ for my views on this one) have struggled to find form.
Another man still making an impact at Old Trafford Is Ryan Giggs, in the last year he has won the PFA player of the year and the sports
personality award. When I think of Ryan Giggs I remember that FA cup goal in 98 against Arsenal, the pace, skill and trickery which were involved as he took on four Arsenal defenders to score one of the best goals ever http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9aMLE2Gy_c. But could you imagine Giggs doing that now…. The answer is no, Giggs at 36 is a different player now, to the one he was then. Other players who have had pace (Henry, Pires, Ljungberg, Overmars) have come and gone but Giggs is still here. This is because he has adapted his play. No longer the tricky winger, Giggs has become more Scholes like, with time he has moved inwards, playing in a central role, relying on; touch, passing and technique.
What is apparent is that not just anyone can be a world-class player in their late 30’s, it has to be someone special, someone who had world-class pedigree in the first place. If the player relies on the fundamentals of football (touch, technique etc.) or adapts to rely on the fundamentals of football, then what is age?
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