The fury of a veteran scorned
10 December 2007
MADRID – In sports, a tense line is often drawn between the old school and the new. Gun-slinging freshmen shoot up through the minor leagues, go pro directly out of high school, and catapult into headlines and advertising spots to become the next whoever: fill in the blank.
In Spanish soccer, Barcelona’s Leo Messi, at age 20, is considered by many to be the best player in the world, while Barça teammate Bojan Krkic has, at 17, been edging out veteran Ronaldinho for a starting spot. National coach Luis Aragonés suggested the Spanish-born Bojan might play upcoming international friendlies.
However, while coaches look at their teams’ futures, the veterans are rarely content to sit tight while the still-growing youngsters whisk them aside. Despite the rash of fresh faces, in the Spanish, German and Italian soccer leagues, this season’s leading goal scorers are all strikers no longer in their 20s, a fact, some say, that is not all that surprising. At Juventus, French-Argentine striker David Trezeguet, who was said to be over the hill and who threatened to quit the French team in October after being benched for two Euro 2008 qualifiers, is leading the Italian league with 11 goals. In Germany, 30-year old Italian Luca Toni – one of the usual suspects near the top of goal tallies – leads with nine for Bayern Munich.
And of course, there is Real Madrid’s Raúl, on fire since celebrating his 30th birthday. The Spanish housewife’s favourite went into the weekend as Liga co-leader (with Messi and Sevilla’s Luis Fabiano) on eight goals, having rejected a proposed Spanish Soccer Federation homage as premature as he plans to make one more return to the national team. What is the secret to Raúl’s success? "If you take care of yourself, eat well, rest… It all adds up," the Real captain says. But the question remains: in a sport obsessed with young promises, is 30 really that old?
Walter di Salvo, Real Madrid’s physical trainer thinks not. "Between 27 and 32 years old is the best time, the optimum time, in terms of the synergy between the physical state and experience. This is especially true for strikers." The fact that Fabio Cannavaro won the award for World Player of the Year in 2006 at 33 only serves to prove his point, the trainer says, adding that nowadays players are also buying a few extra years with technology and medical advances. The most important thing, Di Salvo explains, is that players retain their speed, the first skill to slip with age. But now, with ice baths, and special oxygen chambers, many players are slowing the natural aging process – Raúl included.
So while coach Aragonés may be opting for a fresher look for the national squad, fans are less likely to let go of their long-standing heroes as they hold out for a few more years.
[Copyright EL PAÍS, SL./ K. RAMUNDO / J. J. MATEO 2007]
Subject: Spanish news