When talking to my dad last week he told me some rather shocking news. He was no longer going to play as centre-forward anymore, but instead had started to play as a full-back. While the veteran’s league might not have the paciest wingers for him to play against, the news was still surprising. When thinking of strikers, even as they get older and lose their pace, they can still play the ‘fox-in-the-box’ role. The skill of being in the right place at the right time is one that only improves with age.
Teddy Sheringham was a master of this skill, playing on at Premier League level well into his forties. The poacher always knew where the goal was, and still holds the record for the oldest ever player to score in the Premier League. Sheringham’s long playing career meant that if he was to have any chance of becoming a football manager, he needed to be fast-tracked into a role.
Stevenage Town, in England’s fourth tier, have taken the risk of hiring the inexperienced manager, but even though he hasn’t had much experience coaching, Sheringham has been managed by the very best, playing under Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough among others during his illustrious playing career. Sheringham is technically registered as a player at Stevenage Town, although at the age of forty-nine, he has said that he has no intention of playing for the club.
On the other side of the world, one player who has every intention of playing at that age is former Japanese international Kazuyoshi Miura. The forty-eight year-old, affectionately known as ‘King Kazu’, signed a one-year extension to his contract at Yokohama F.C. earlier this month. Miura had a tough start to his career; at school he was told to run laps around the pitch because he was not skilful enough to play, but he kept working on his technique, and moved from Japan to Brazil in order to improve as a player. Life for him was tough in Brazil and he very nearly went back to Japan, but eventually he managed to make it as a footballer, playing for Santos and Coritiba among others before returning to Japan.
He brought with him the ‘Kazu Dance’, a goal celebration based on Brazilian samba, as well as an array of tricks and feints that he picked up in South America. At first, his Brazilian style of play didn’t sit well with the conservative Japanese footballing culture, but over time his popularity grew until the point where he became a national hero.
He has played on four different continents during his unorthodox career, but has been at Yokohama for the last decade and is still capable of earning an occasional spot in the J2-League side’s starting eleven, having started in about a quarter of Yokohama’s matches this season. Even though he rarely completes the full ninety minutes these days, Miura Kazuyoshi could easily end up playing professional football into his fifties.
Even if Teddy Sheringham does select himself for Stevenage, he will have to keep playing for a lot longer if he wants to overtake David Beasant as the club’s oldest player. Although he didn’t actually take part in any matches, the former Wimbledon and Chelsea goalkeeper was named as a substitute several times last season, including the semi-final of the play-offs.
These days people are living longer and retiring later. There have been vast improvements in medical procedures meaning that injuries such as a torn cruciate ligament aren’t necessarily career-ending. Diets have improved and players keep better care of their bodies than ever before, rather than boozing the night before a big match, even amateur and semi-pro players sacrifice their social lives for a chance at being a better footballer. With all the recent improvements in player’s health and fitness, it may well be the case that some of the current generation of players go on to beat even Miura Kazuyoshi and David Beasant’s records.