Before the season kicked off, Sir Alex Ferguson gave an interview with the press with him suggesting Chelsea didn’t have much room for improvement because of the age of their squad.
I had a look at the stats to see if there was something more concrete, rather than just opinion, to support what Fergie had said. I didn’t need to delve very deep.
Chelsea’s top 3 goalscorers from last season were all in their 30’s, giving them an average age of 30.3 years old. At United, our top 3 goalscorers had an average age of 22.6 years old.
Of the four players with the top assists for Chelsea, two of them again were in their 30’s, with the average age being brought down by Kalou and J Cole, evening out at 27 years old. At United, the four players with the top assists carried an average age of 22.3 years old.
Chelsea have just two players in the first team squad (Mikel and Kalou) who are under the age of 25-years-old, yet had a massive nine players who were 30-years-old or more.
Ferguson wasn’t saying that ‘if you’re in your 30s, you’re passed it’, but he was simply asking how much more they could improve on last year. Once in your 30s, you’ve already reached your peak. If Chelsea’s most effective players, in terms of both goals and assists, were on the wrong side of their peak, then it is a worthy enough suggestion that there won’t be an awful amount of improvement from that group of players.
However, his comments got twisted with the use of the headlines, which has lead to Ferguson kicking off today, claiming he’ll never do an interview with them again!
Before looking at the press’ involvement in this, we should first take a look at what Ferguson actually said in this now infamous interview.
Mourinho won the title two years in a row and beat us in the FA Cup final, so there’s no one who can improve on his record really. They [Chelsea] would have to go beyond Mourinho’s performance to really worry us.
Scolari is fortunate. He is joining a big club and he is joining a team of internationals. Chelsea have a lot of experience and that was the one thing I was a bit concerned about last season, but I don’t know how far that team has got to go. It’s hard to see where there’s going to be a big improvement with a team that’s really very experienced.
‘Plateau’ is maybe not the word, but how can they [Chelsea] accelerate beyond what they’ve done up to now?” he said. “When you see the ages they’ve got, apart from Salomon Kalou [who is 22] and Mikel John Obi , they are an experienced side. I’m not saying necessarily that they’re old because, with the modern-day training methods, you should be playing in your thirties. What I am saying is that I don’t see outstanding progress in a team that’s in their thirties.
Yet what headlines did the papers go with?
The Guardian: Chelsea are too old to win title, says Ferguson
The Times: Sir Alex Ferguson puts ‘Chelsea pensioners’ under fire
The Sun: THEY SAY AGE is nothing but a number – but according to Sir Alex Ferguson – Chelsea’s superstars are too old to win the Premiership next season.
“You will never get any help out of me again,” ranted Ferguson, at the press conference ahead of our clash in Denmark against Aalborg at Uefa’s mandatory pre-match press conference. “I gave you access in South Africa and I shouldn’t have given you access .It won’t happen again. From now on, no matter how many miles you travel to get an interview, you won’t get one.”
So why is Fergie so angry? What is the difference between saying a team is too experienced to improve or that they’re too old to win the title?
It doesn’t matter so much how old the players are, rather, how old they are in relation to the teams around them. Manchester United has a group of players who are yet to hit their peak, who already proved themselves as our most effective players last season. Common sense would tell you that these young players, who have yet to even reach 24-years-old, have plenty of room for improvement.
In contrast at Chelsea, their most effective players have already seen their peak, and with every passing season, are a year away from their peak. Whilst they will be picking up more experience along the way, Ferguson simply questionned how much a player in his 30s could improve.
Ferguson is of course going to assume that his team can perform at the level of last season, at the least, so believes Chelsea are going to have to improve to beat us this season.
The headlines in the paper made it seem as though Ferguson was being disrespectful of our biggest title rivals, dismissing them as old and useless. However, Chelsea could have been the best team in the World last season, but Fergie’s comments had nothing to do with their capabilities, rather, could they improve on where they were at? Last season they were the 2nd best team in the country and reached the final of the European Cup, but with the most effective players being ones who had already seen the best days of their career, could the team making ‘outstanding progess’? Probably not.
I think Fergie has got a fair point here, as the papers really did make him out to be very dismissive of our title rivals, and therefore incredibly arrogant. Of course, he’s also getting a bit grumpier in his old age, which might account for some of this.
Regardless, he has already insisted he won’t ever speak to the BBC, but now is he seriously suggesting he won’t ever give an interview ever again? It is puzzling as to why he’s left it until now, some two months after the incident, to decide to get so hot and bothered. Did he just want to make them travel some distance before giving them the bad news and wasted journey? It remains to be seen, however, I can only assume we won’t be getting any further clarification from him in the press!