The news that former invincible Robert Pires is training with the club in an endeavour to maintain fitness while seeking another club was bound to raise the thought that he might follow the path trod by Sol Campbell last season.
Bobby will be 37 this month and though only a month older than Ryan Giggs is past the point where we could realistically expect him to contribute at the level we are playing. The extent to which clubs like ManU and Chelsea have used older players with some success over recent seasons does raise the issue of whether we might have missed a trick ourselves. As part of the process of developing a team while constrained by finances during the stadium build phase there is no doubt that part of the price for this was that we couldn`t support the retention of older players, in some cases on big money, and invariably those players had to be sacrificed while they could still command a transfer fee.
This has been more evident in midfield than elsewhere. We have always accepted a fair degree of maturity was necessary in defence though that has only tended to come in the form of Gallas and Silvestre in the last couple of seasons or so. In midfield it has been different though the departure of Hleb and the protracted injury problems of Rosicky exaggerated a midfield maturity deficit beyond that we might have expected. Still in other teams we see that as well as Giggs, Scholes while in his thirties still contributes for the present and last season Chelsea still got something out of Ballacks ageing legs for a time. Vieira`s reported six figure a week salary for what has been less than 10 starts for Manchester City since joining in January doesn`t make much sense even for them but financial sense just isn`t a consideration for them at present.
The Wenger policy of offering one year contracts beyond the age of 32 has come in for some criticism but it is the right one. Midfield is all about energy, pace, power and technique which requires young legs to get up and down the pitch. That`s not to say that some experience isn`t valuable as Bergkamps contribution up until he played the last 10 minutes of his Arsenal career in the final game at Highbury 3 days before his 37th birthday in 2006 shows. It was in January of that year that he last started a game, a league cup game against Wigan, but 12 starts and 19 sub appearances and 3 goals was a contribution even younger players wouldn`t be ashamed of. The Icemans willingness to accept 1 year contracts for the last 5 years of his career was key to that success but we can expect that as this midfield matures, those that remain with us would find that the lifting of the financial burden would make it more likely that one or two of them could achieve similar longevity with similar flexibility. Maybe Tomas Rosicky`s contribution to the Arsenal cause will yet achieve the recognition, in Arsenal colours, his quality should have given already.
As for Bobby, he was moved to the point of tears at the reception he got last year when returning with Villareal to the rapturous acclaim of a stadium full of appreciative gooners. I am sure the 3 years he spent in Spain would have been an experience he would have appreciated but he, and we, will never know just how much more appreciated he would have been now had he accepted the 1 year contract he was offered 3 years ago.
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