Saturday, 30 August 2008

A question of balance

If a footballer is lucky enough to have a full career, they’re probably looking at about 18 years of first-team football, divided into three phases:

Promising – from around 18, when a player is likely to break into the first team, to 23, they’re still developing and learning their trade. But if they haven’t become a first-team regular by 23, they’re probably never going to be one
Prime time – most footballers (apart from goalkeepers, who mature later) are be at their peak between the ages of 24 and 29
Past it – anyone over 30 is liable to be referred to as ‘grandad’ by teammates and fans alike. In fact, modern fitness regimes mean that plenty of players are capable of delivering the goods well into their 30s if they don’t get injured

I’ve always thought that as a manager, you probably want a squad that’s composed of roughly equal numbers from these three categories: a group of eager youngsters to give the team energy; a core of players in their prime who can be relied on to perform week in, week out; and a few wise old heads who can slot in when experience is required.

So how does this year’s Watford squad measure up? Here’s a breakdown by age on the first day of the season (August 9th):

19 – O’Toole, Robinson
20 – Loach, Ainsworth, Bangura
21 – Mariappa, Ashikodi, Avinel
22 – Hoskins, Priskin
23 – Sadler

25 – Doyley, Lee
26 – McAnuff, Williamson, Williams
28 – Bromby, Demerit, Eustace, Harley, Smith
29 – Francis, Rasiak

36 – Poom

I’ve only included players who’ve already appeared in the first team in the league or FA Cup – obviously, if you take into account the likes of Lewis Young, Liam Henderson and Jordan Parkes, all of them regulars in the League Cup squad, the picture becomes even more skewed towards the younger end of the scale.

But even without them, you can see the problem: plenty of raw young talent, a solid bunch of players in their prime – but not a single outfield player over 30, someone Aidy could put on the pitch to shore up a hole or calm down a tricky situation, not to mention using their experience to mentor younger players. I’m thinking of the role played by Chris Powell, for example, when he was at the club.

Then again, it’s good to know that most of the first team are at their professional peak, or should be. And looking at the squad listed by age helps to make sense of Aidy’s transfer policy since the turn of the year, with Bromby, Eustace, Harley and Rasiak all helping to bulk out the experienced end of the squad, and only Sadler and Collins John under 24.

The other thing that becomes painfully obvious is something we already knew: the lack of experience up front. Last year we had King, Henderson, Ellington and Kabba, all of them in the prime of their careers: this year we’ve got Rasiak (currently injured) and then a selection of promising strikers with very little pedigree. A pessimist would wonder where the goals are going to come from: an optimist would say the opportunity is there for one or more of the youngsters to make a name for themselves…

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Thank the Lloyd

It was a great relief to return from my summer hols and discover that Lloyd Doyley is not only still at the club, but was first-choice right back for the opening game of the season. What’s more, he was even captain for the League Cup tie last night. You just can’t keep a good man down, and thank god for that.

So I don’t have to worry about choosing a new favourite player this season: Lloyd has held the title for a few years now, and maybe this will be the season when he finally scores that goal.

Hey, we can all dream...