These days, it is evident that speed has become one of the most important elements for a football team. Across Europe we are witnessing numerous breakthrough seasons for young stars who have profound talent and restless and energetic fitness. Football prodigies in their early twenties – whose unmatchable rapidity can set up fast-paced attractive games for their teams – are featuring week after week for big clubs like Bayern Munich, Chelsea or Real Madrid.
An example of such players is Mario Gotze who signed for Champions League winners Bayern Munich before even turning 21. The former Dortmund player is only one of many youngsters who have stepped up their game lately. There is Chelsea’s 22 year old duo Kevin de Bruyne and Andre Shurrle who featured for the Blues on the opening day of the season.
Obviously, football squads are benefiting from such players who are all adding width and speed to their game. However, when these youngsters step up and feature for their clubs, it is only normal to see other players – perhaps slower and older – left out of the team.
Beside leggy fast players, there are other footballers who utilize different traits and skills to play the beautiful game. You can have a midfielder who runs restlessly with the ball on the channels or a calm playmaker who employs his acute vision to pass the ball around and whose physic and aggressiveness can stop the opponent from going forward and create an attack after a timely tackle. There are a lot of players as such like aging Steven Gerrard or Andrea Pirlo or even young players like Charlie Adam, Marco Verrati or Toni Kroos, none of whom are the quickest.
These players bring huge dynamics to the game and such midfielders constitute well balanced midfields. That being said, the midfielders of a common team’s lineup nowadays are becoming more offensive and less balanced. Today, the 4-2-3-1 formation is being deployed by most football teams and the three midfielders behind the striker are usually composed of very fast attacking-minded players. Thus, these so called ‘midfield roles’ would be filled by speedy youngsters, while slower players would be given a much defensive role behind them: using their robust appearance even though they can play even better up front.
The Spanish team that won the World Cup two years ago was not the fastest team in the competition. The midfielders that featured most of the times in Spain’s lineup were rather slow players. It was the likes of Alonso, Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta who guided their nation to glory three years ago.
Elsewhere it is clear that German football has suffered a transformation. “From Tanks to Tenderness” they say. German football players were mainly feared as powerful and strong footballers who used to push their opponents around and dictate the game. Speed wasn’t an issue for them nor was age. When West Germany lifted the World Cup back in 1990, the average age of the starting XI in the final was above 27. There were 6 players above 29 in that lineup. While nowadays, when Joachim Löw removed captain Michael Ballack – the last of the alpha males – he ended up selecting for the 2010 World Cup the youngest Germany squad since 1934. Today the average age of Germany’s roster is decreasing even more and the stereotypical image of the German player who was once a robust commanding presence in the game is now turning into a tender and leggy footballer.
Finally, today’s Chelsea team compared to the one of a few years ago is drastically different in style and substance. Today, Chelsea have a very young side – and a fast one too. There are a handful of rapid attacking players in their roster like stars Hazard or newly acquired prodigies like Shurrle and de Bruyne. Let’s not forget Nigeria international Victor Moses and Brazilian youngster Oscar. All these players fill the 3 midfield positions in the 4-2-3-1 formation, while club hero Frank Lampard – who is rather slow – has to play behind them.
There was a different squad three years ago in 2010. Under Carlo Ancelloti, Chelsea won the Premier League for a third time and retained the FA Cup for the first time, therefore becoming the seventh English club to complete the “Double”. That champion side didn’t find glory through young and fast players. There was the duo of Michael Ballack and Frank Lampard in the midfield who were back then 34 and 32 respectively. Frenchman Nicolas Anelka was playing on the wing for Chelsea and he was 31. Also, that Chelsea team had a real midfield back then with the presence of Ballack, Obi Mikel, Michael Essien, Deco and Frank Lampard.
In conclusion, speed is simply a component in the game and not a principle to apply. Young players should fulfill their true potential – aided by experienced footballers. Today, football managers are counting on younger and faster players to win games. Chelsea have changed their squad and Germany has refurbished their academies to make room for promising and exciting young prospects. However, there is one thing you can learn about football and it follows the words of a wise man: “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.” And that means that there should be a certain chemistry on the pitch: collaborating young talents with experience veterans and fast and restless players with slower and quieter ones.