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United Too Old To Carry On Winning?

Once upon a time, someone who thought himself very clever spoke of how, in football, it is impossible to win anything with kids.

Although he was quite emphatically proved wrong, it appears that certain newspapers and pundits have reversed that philosophy completely in their binary minds. Now, like an American talent show, you can’t win anything with old people.

These are certainly the sentiments of Derek Hunter, a football journalist for the Daily Mail. After watching Manchester United breeze past Celtic in Toronto over the weekend, Hunter wrote a dubious article concerning the age of the former champions’ team and how that may not bode well for Sir Alex Ferguson’s 25th year at the helm. But, like Wayne Rooney in a nursing home, Hunter seems to have forgotten how old is too old.

It’s pretty mystifying how anyone who has followed the game in the past four years could come to the absolute conclusion that Manchester United’s team has reached its sell-by-date, but especially so when said journalist has just witnessed a competent display from a defence with the average age of a mum on a Peckham council estate.

Johnny Evans, Chris Smalling, and the da Silva twins all featured in a defence that averaged at 20.5 in terms of years.

Ahead of them, Darren Fletcher, Gabriel Obertan, Biram Mame Diouf, Danny Welbeck, Federico Macheda and Darren Gibson all featured.

Putting aside that pre-season game against Celtic though, perhaps he does have a point that the club relied too heavily on the veteran heads of Edwin Van der Sar, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs last season.

Or did they? Granted, no one has yet comfortably filled the gloves of Van der Sar; but Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes? The Welshman played 1798 minutes of football in the Premier League last season, that’s 52% of United’s total. The Englishman meanwhile accumulated 1979 minutes: 57%. And neither of those limited appearances can be attributed to injury.

To serve as a comparison, how dependent were title-winners Chelsea on those who, according to Hunter, should soon be legible for a bus pass?

Didier Drogba, now 32, was on the pitch for the London club for 81% of their league campaign. Frank Lampard, also 32, graced the field for 3216 minutes – a staggering 94% of Chelsea’s fight to the title; while John Terry, who will hit 30 this year, featured 95% of the time.

So, yes, it is certainly possible to name a Manchester United side that features entirely players over the illusory threshold of 29.

(Van der Sar, Gary Neville, Wes Brown, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, Park Ji Sung, Paul Scholes, John O’Shea, Ryan Giggs, Michael Owen and Dimitar Berbatov)

But that is the legacy and aftermath of years of domestic dominance and, of course, the exceptional youth team of 1992. The key thing to remember about Sir Alex Ferguson is that he has created several quality teams during his tenure and, should he have time, should bring in the newest generation just as successfully. In fact, Manchester United’s current squad has a respectable average age on which to build on. Compared to Chelsea’s average age of 25.6 and European champions Inter Milan’s average of 26.2, Manchester United’s has a fairly healthy average age of 25.47.

So, is Manchester United ageing beyond repair? Unlikely.

The club plays the second game of their North American tour in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

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