Quite often when discussing football and its history, we talk about “golden generations” of footballers – players who arrive together in groups, developing and achieving things as a talented collective. It’s incredibly exciting when it happens, the examples are well known, obvious and remembered with enthusiastic fondness. Luck, circumstance and coincidence combine to play a huge part in the materialization of these miraculous clumps of genius and that rarity of appearance adds to the giddiness of onlookers.
Today, maybe for the first time in the game’s history, we are seeing the emergence of a new football “golden generation” off the pitch (well on the sideline anyway). Originally I had an article in mind which was going to put forward the argument that football management is now a young man’s game. I had my examples formulated, where I would point out the relative old age of ailing managers like Van Gaal, Wenger and Pellegrini (all 60+) and then further push home my hypothesis by referencing the ages of Pochettino, Guardiola, Simeone etc. But while all of that probably would have provided the basis for a sound enough theoretical piece – when I looked at the actual ages of the world’s most highly rated managers, I noticed far more interesting patterns.
To be considered part of the same generation, people generally have to be within a few years of each other age wise. I’m not even sure if there are parameters that you set as cut off points when defining what a generation is and I’m far too lazy to look it up. I do however remember the “baby-boomer” generation being between around 1945 and 1965, which is a double decade span – but that doesn’t really work for football does it? You couldn’t place Giggs and Welbeck in the same generation of players I don’t think. Quit rambling Simon.
Anyway, let’s start at the top of the managerial pyramid with that crafty Catalan Pep Guardiola. The current Bayern and soon to be Man City manager is 45. Pep’s former club Barcelona have Luis Enrique in charge, who is 45. Chasing Barca in La Liga are Atletico Madrid, managed by the universally acclaimed Diego Simeone who is, yep, 45. If you want to stay with the 45’s then Ajax’s highly rated boss Frank De Boer is also 45. That’s a remarkable enough set of numbers, but things are about to get more exciting.
Moving over to England, Spurs are flying under Mauricio Pochettino who is 44. West Ham have never been better under Slaven Bilic who is 47. Antonio Conte, revered by many and destined for Stamford Bridge is 46. Liverpool’s resurgence is being overseen by the enigmatic Jurgen Klopp, 48.
The champions of Italy, Juventus, who provided half the act in the phenomenal Champions League drama against Bayern this week are managed of course by Massimiliano Allegri, 48. Swing back to Germany for second and Thomas Tuchel, making waves at Dortmund and sporting the best comb-over in football since Sir Bobby is 42.
In three paragraphs we have pretty much referenced every top manager in Europe. The spread of ages between them extraordinarily and unprecedentedly small. We are talking about an age gap of 6 years between the youngest and oldest. If you want to include Mourinho in there at 53, be my guest, but currently, Jose isn’t a manager on the “up”.
So what does it all mean? In the simplest terms, it means we are in for one hell of a competitive period in football history. We have a generation of innovative, passionate, intelligent managers who are reshaping and reinventing the game. They look set for decades of intense tactical head-to-heads and competition. Many of them are going to end up absolutely hating each other (some already do) and I cannot wait to watch it all develop.
Of course, football management is unpredictable in its very nature – hero can become villain very quickly, but these guys are showing no sign of backsliding any time soon.
I’m open for contradiction, but I think this is an unparalleled occurrence. We have entered the era of the “super-coach”, which ironically comes during a period where we are generally short of top quality footballers (please don’t shout Messi and Ronaldo at me – I’m talking in broad terms here and we are definitely in a noticeable dip historically speaking).
Football fans have an awful lot to be excited about – Premier League fans in particular could have half a dozen of this “golden generation” competing in the same league as early as next season. If that doesn’t have you rubbing your hands in anticipation, check your pulse and throw out your copy of Inverting the Pyramid immediately.