Date:Thursday August 21 2008
The signing of Mikael Silvestre has reopened a frequently misquoted debate about Wenger`s approach towards players over 30. More than one reference to an apparent disparity in the treatment of Pires and Silvestre has been used on different sites with claims of inconsistent approach. It`s a misunderstood policy that would benefit from clarification.
Firstly, the age at which Wenger, supported by other independent research, believes athletic prowess begins to decline at an accelerating rate is 32 not 30. It is when a player reaches 32 that Wenger takes age into consideration in awarding new contracts and not 30 as some will state. In order to meet the physical demands of football at this level the older player has to put more effort into maintaining a level to compete with younger players as natural changes in cardiac rate, running style and muscle fibre all affect performance. With this in mind Wenger offers players contracts that will usually expire at the end of season in which the player reaches his 32nd birthday. Thereafter he will require players to prove their fitness and willingness to work to maintain those levels on an annual basis. Such was his commitment to do this that Dennis Bergkamp was offered and accepted a succession of one year contracts from the age of 32 until he retired at the age of 37.
Thierry Henry`s last contract with Arsenal would have expired in 2010 a few months short of his 33rd birthday had he completed it. Gilberto would have been 5 months short of his 33rd birthday when his contract was due to end. Robert Pires was at exactly the same point as Gilberto would have been when his contract expired and he was offered, but declined, a one year extension.
William Gallas signed a four year contract 2 years ago and so has 2 years left which expires a few months short of his 33rd birthday. He and Silvestre are, but for a few days, exactly the same age which means that Silvestre`s 2 year contract will expire at the same time as Gallas. Both will be just two months older than Pires was when his final contract ended.
This attitude to age is partly dependent on the demands of playing position. While Jens Lehmann was offered his first contract at the age of 33 and stayed for 5 years midfielders and forwards have to work much harder than keepers. Wenger maybe a little more relaxed about the age of centre backs providing they can prove their fitness having said recently
It`s not so much about how far you run, but about how many mistakes you make. The intelligent players learn from their mistakes, and cut them out of their game, the older they get. That`s why the best years for a centre back are between 28 and 34.
When Gallas` and Silvestre`s contracts expire Toure will be 29, Senderos 25 and Djourou still only 23.
Rather than demonstrating inconsistency, the signing of Mikael Silvestre is the very model of a consistent approach to player age and their contracts.
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Date:Thursday August 21 2008
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