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Old heads and young legs

Youth and enthusiasm are indispensable, but every team needs to balance its young talent with senior role models.

Updated: 30 Apr 2014

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To some extent, the generation gap exists for all of us, whatever our profession and whatever team we’re part of. There is often friction when we find ourselves with colleagues from different generations and with different levels of experience, attitudes and cultures about how things get done. Ultimately, though, a bit of generational diversity can give a team its greatest strength.

Many football managers have reflected on the benefits of pairing youth and experience, and intentionally fielded mixed generation teams as a result. But why can it be so beneficial on the pitch, and is there a lesson there for businesses?

It could be in the experience professional footballers have at the beginning of their careers. For most, this involves teenagers still reeling from the sudden shock of fame and moves to unfamiliar locations and unprecedented expectations of their performance. Unsurprisingly, preventing these players from wilting under the pressure demands a level of pastoral care from their teammates that businesses rarely provide. Simply put, the club becomes their family.

For former Manchester City captain Paul Lake, that led to a return to the club once his playing days were over. Lake was forced to retire though injury in 1996, aged 27, and pursued a career in physiotherapy. But he remained a fan of the club, and returned as an employee in 2010. Then, he became the face of CITC, the club’s official charity, raising thousands of pounds for the local community, until he became the Premier League’s club support manager in 2013.

Whether they are still on the pitch or in the stands, a team’s young stars are guided by the experience of their colleagues and mentors. At City, nowhere is this truer than with France legend Patrick Vieira, who spent the final two seasons of his professional career at the club, and now coaches the elite development squad. These future stars can gain invaluable insights from 37-year-old Vieira’s incredible career, during which he amassed seven league titles, five FA cups, a European Cup and a World Cup.

The brief, bright career of a professional footballer makes the gap small between old and young talent. Manchester City’s current squad only ranges from the 20-year-old Matija Nastasic to the 36-year-old Richard Wright. But with many business leaders wondering how to integrate Generation Y into their organisation, perhaps football provides a clue.

Generation Y is famously demanding, expecting close communication from its employers, instant openness and involvement with the rest of the team, and holding high opinions of itsown ability – for which it expects immediate rewards. It’s a reality that catches out many business managers, but few football ones. Perhaps, then, business managers should mix up the team, identify the mentors and the stars of the future, and include some older players among the kids.


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