With David Moyes finally getting the chop at Manchester United, the search for Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor goes back to square one. Since taking over from Ferguson last summer, Moyes has never looked entirely comfortable at the helm and his sacking almost feels like an act of mercy. He always seemed to be a temporary manager mistakenly given a permanent position.
So now the candidates begin to line-up for this prestigious post, with Louis van Gaal the current favorite according to the bookies. The decidedly zany Dutchman has certainly made no secret of the fact that he is interested in taking the job but there are plenty of red flags, from his history of dressing rooms bust-ups to a track record of refusing to listen to his superiors at his former clubs. One supposedly strong plus for van Gaal, however, appears to be his experience.
This idea of an experienced hand as manager is one that has a fair bit of traction in soccer, as it does in other industries. The received wisdom goes that to right a ship (and a ship laden with superstar egos at that), an experienced and perhaps older manager is needed. A youngster, like Ryan Giggs, surely won’t be able to handle the pressure and expectation of such a big job, nor command the respect of his superstar players.
But a closer look at Europe’s top clubs show that increasingly, the best teams in Europe are taking on younger managers, perhaps trying to emulate the success of Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola.
Of clubs currently in position to qualify for the Champions League, the average age of the manager is 50.3. The oldest of these managers is Arsene Wenger at 64 and the youngest, other than 40-year-old interim manager Ryan Giggs, is Brendan Rodgers at 41. Interestingly, the median age of the managers is also 50, suggesting that the average is not necessarily skewed by a few youngsters or veterans at either end.
France’s top clubs have the oldest managers with an average age of 56.7 and Germany’s the youngest with an average age of just 43.5. The Premier League’s top 4 have relatively older managers with an average age of 54.
If we look at just the league leaders of Europe’s top clubs, the average age drops considerably. Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers, Atletico Madrid’s Diego Simeone, Juventus’ Antonio Conte, Bayern Munich’s Pep Guardiola and PSG’s Laurent Blanc are all under 50 and have an average age of 43.8. At the very top then, younger managers have become very much de rigueur.
The reasons for this trend towards younger managers at the top clubs are difficult determine and not necessarily the same across the board. Liverpool had been nowhere near the top of the league over recent seasons and last season, Brendan Rodgers appeared to have been given the job in the knowledge that it would be a long term project. Little could they have known that Rodgers would lead Liverpool to (potentially) the top of the pile in just his second season in charge.