World Cup rosters are pouring in, and there have been some significant surprises so far.
We've seen the inclusion of young, dynamic playmakers and starlets. But we've also seen the exclusion of established, successful players at their expense. There are at least a few reasons for this.
A large part of this is because we are in a transition period. We are seeing a large number of older players who are reaching the golden years of their careers. Andrea Pirlo, John Terry and Rio Ferdinand are all examples of legends who will no longer be players in only a matter of years.
When we consider that teams are starting to look toward the next World Cup cycle, and the one after that, this makes sense. If Joachim Löw leaves Mario Gomez home, it means Marco Reus can take his place and gain the experience that will make him even better in 2018.
That Reus is seen as a viable candidate for his national team is not because there are no other options. Clubs are doing a wonderful job of developing youth players. And the ability to develop superb youth talents isn't something that is restricted to the big clubs.
Clubs like Southampton are investing heavily in youth academies, in order to produce better homegrown talent. These projects are bearing fruit, such as Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, and Luke Shaw. Everton has Ross Barkley, and formerly produced Wayne Rooney.
At the same time, there is more money to invest in youth development. When we think back to the first introduction of players like Pele, Michael Owen, or Cristiano Ronaldo, they were the exception. Their remarkable talent meant that they needed to play at the highest levels. But as more money has poured into clubs, their ability to identify, recruit, and train younger players on a global scale has increased. For example, Liverpool operates youth academies in the United States, Manchester United are offering a trial to a 16-year-old from a poverty stricken background in India.
These programs mean that clubs have the ability to bring in the most promising youths, regardless of location. And that translates into a bigger supply of talented youngsters.
There is one other critical factor that explains the exclusion of players that were once guaranteed a shot at playing for their national team: age. We cannot underestimate the fact that as the game has gotten faster, age has become a more important factor.
Landon Donovan, the United States stalwart, has admitted that he has started to slow down and his recovery time is longer. It is probably safe to assume that players like Ashley Cole are experiencing the same phenomena. Even though players may grow wiser with age, their inability to keep up with the gruelling pace of a potential month long campaign makes them a liability at such tournaments as the World Cup.
To be sure, some players like Pirlo are far too crucial to their team's chances of progression to be left out. But where an exciting youngster waits in the wings these stars will continue to find themselves surplus to requirements.
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