Recent banter on BSaD and the WML suggests opinion is firmly divided as to the direction the club is currently going. On balance, I fall on the side of those who are worried and do not see this as a bright new dawn. Having said that, the team still has my full support. Believe it or not, those two views can live together. But that is not why I am writing.
Events of the last week, more than anything else, have left me worried about the team. Aidy declared that he would rather have youth than experience. I disagree. What is needed is a balanced blend of young and old. I think this quote was simply a cover to justify the selling of Gunnarsson either for financial reasons, or because he no longer fitted. After all, Sietes at thirty-one is no spring chicken (Gunnarsson is younger and at least equally experienced).
A lot of people quote Alan Hansen and his reference to a young Man Utd team in 1995 and use it to justify the playing of youth. But take a moment and look at that season more carefully. Firstly, Newcastle blew it big time, throwing away a ten point lead at New Year, and Liverpool (and Man Utd) were frankly shocking in the Cup Final.
Look deeper at the Man Utd squad, though: Beckham, Scholes, Butt and others were blooded, but they were already part of a highly successful Youth Cup side. They had played together for a long time; they had a collective experience.
Secondly, the team was not dominated by youngsters - Schmeichel (winner of Euro 92 with Denmark), Cantona (already a multiple league winner), Sharpe, McClair, Pallister, May, Irwin, Bruce, Parker, Keane and more were part of the squad. Yes, it had some youngsters in it, but they would all go on to play for their country. In addition, the manager had a fair degree of experience. It was hardly a case of youth over experience.
Still not convinced? Then let me cite some more examples. How often in athletics does the experienced athlete beat the young gun? Look at the Tour de France. For the past two years young talent has been thwarted partly by talent and partly by experience (both on and off the bike). Tennis? Yes, some youngsters have won tournaments, but they are not inexperienced. Many have won junior events and played on the circuit for a couple of years. Golf? Tiger Woods is an exceptional talent, but he again was not without experience having already had a successful amateur career before turning pro.
Our most experienced players are Chamberlain (669 first team starts), Devlin (405), Mahon (239), Sietes (208, although none in English football), Devaney (154, although none at this level). Nine of our squad have yet to register enough first team starts to constitute a full season of experience and several have none.
My worry is that although the five players I mentioned earlier have an impressive number of appearances between them, injuries and suspensions will take their toll. Some of the youngsters may be outstanding talents, but equally some of them may struggle when the pressure is on to get results.
Youth is great: the cavalier attitude, the do or die. But so is experience: the calm judgement, the lack of panic, the knowledge of what is required. Again, look at Lance Armstrong. As a young cyclist he was bold and brash and, by his own admission, made stupid mistakes that cost him races. Mistakes he eventually learnt not to repeat. As a mature cyclist, he channelled that same passion to devastating effect.
The best teams have a balanced blend of youth and experience both on and off the pitch. Right now, we do not have that at Watford: we are over reliant on youth and that is why we will struggle this season. I hope I'm wrong. I hope I am making a Hansen type prediction here, but I just don't see it being anything than a struggle.