Some really do not wear their years well – counted in that category are two players whose good games are getting further and further apart. It comes to us all in the end…
We’re all getting old at the same rate, but ageing is a very individual thing which affects us all differently. You don’t notice yourself changing at all and yet day by day, month by month, year by year, it happens until somehow and for some reason, it becomes really obvious. As the days pass you don’t notice the lines forming and the skin sagging but one day, you wake up, look in the mirror and find that time really has left its scars. You look back at photos of yourself from ten years ago and boy, do you see the difference. There you are, all fresh-faced and looking much, much younger and with the ten years you’ve just lived still ahead.
You can’t do anything about it, of course. Except use moisturiser. There are those who just seem to age very slowly and those who don’t. At 34 and 29, John Terry and Wayne Rooney both look far older than their years. Terry in particular has looked like a 45-year-old bin man for the last ten years. Rooney’s body’s quest to thicken out into a middle-age spread appears an irresistible force of nature.
Both men have a haggard look that is way beyond their years, so it’s not massively unreasonable to believe that they are both in a degree of physical decline that will affect their form. It needs to be considered when assessing their contribution.
Clearly, both men are fitter than you or I have ever been, but equally clearly, their bodies seem to be ageing rapidly. The evidence is in front of our eyes. This might be genetic, or it might be lifestyle-related from the stress of their high-profile roles, or it may simply be playing so much football for so many years.
The picture is always clouded by those who point to peaks of form as proof their man hasn’t lost it, but that’s not how it works. Decline is not a smooth downward curve. No footballer ever goes from being great to be being average overnight, except Fernando Torres, perhaps. It’s more that the time between good performances gets longer and longer and the poor games become more frequent. Decline is usually very gradual but, like the ageing process, one day it becomes obvious that a lot of time has passed and he isn’t ever going to return to peak form. That is where Terry sits now.
Rooney’s career has been defined by periods of brilliance and much longer stretches of poor-to-average form, when he loses some of the basic skills that seem second nature when on top of his game. This has been blamed in the past on lack of fitness after injury and that doesn’t bode well for a good career as an older player. I fully expect him to play some great games to “defy the critics” just as Terry has done, but let’s be honest, he does look knackered and when you’re knackered, can you really be expected to turn in great game after great game?
Sometimes, that old cliche ‘his legs have gone’ is suddenly very obvious. Terry was never endowed with any pace and has always had the turning circle of a small planet, but even so, he now looks especially leaden-footed. It was the same with Steven Gerrard in the last couple of years. Another quick ager, suddenly the physicality of his game was gone. The lung-busting runs a thing of the past, never to return.
Because both players have been the butt of criticism over the years, it’s easy to dismiss it as froth and bias. But ageing is happening all the time and it seems to be happening to Terry and Rooney faster than most. 34 and 29 is no age at all but both players will have to quickly prove that they’re not over the hill and needing to be replaced by younger, sharper, more physically capable players.