Heynckes the latest manager to show age is no barrier
Bayern’s choice for interim position shows Hodgson is part of a wider trend, writes
Jupp Heynckes was formally introduced as Bayern Munich’s interim manager on Monday, declaring that despite having retired four years ago he was “looking forward to the challenge” of leading the club through the remainder of the season, which will conclude a few days after his 73rd birthday. “Critics say I’ve been out of the game for four years but football’s not been reinvented,” said Heynckes, who will take charge of the team for the first time against Freiburg tomorrow. “Age is a number and nothing more. Some feel old at 45 but I’ve not changed. I still love music and sport. I feel young.”
In July Turkey’s search for a new manager led them to the 72-year-old Mircea Lucescu, whose first job in international management came in 1981, half his lifetime ago. Last month Crystal Palace handed Roy Hodgson the task of rescuing their dire situation, making him the first man aged over 70 to be appointed manager by a Premier League club. “It’s a drug
that gets in your veins and stays there,” he said. “At the moment I’m feeling as good as I’ve ever felt. You can’t tear up your birth certificate but it’s how you feel.”
Heynckes, Hodgson and Lucescu have been managers longer than any of their charges have been alive, the Englishman having first donned a monogrammed tracksuit in 1976, three years before Heynckes and Lucescu laid out their first training cones. Alex Smith, however, can consider all of them to be sprightly youngsters, the Scot having become the oldest manager in Europe’s professional leagues when he stepped into the breach at Falkirk two weeks ago at the age of 77.
“You never lose the love of it,” says Smith, who has stepped back into the role of technical director since Paul Hartley’s appointment last week but is still involved in training every day. “I don’t know when I’m going to stop. I love every morning, getting up and coming in to work. I love the buildup to the game: Friday night,
Saturday morning. I still get some Saturday nights when I can’t talk to anybody because I’m so annoyed. Football’s always been that to me, I love it. I was brought up in a mining village and people were working in the pits. That was drudgery. People working six or seven days a week to try to earn a living. That’s a job that really takes guts and courage. This, it’s just fun.”
The trend for old managers reflects the ageing of the population as a whole and the resulting shift in attitudes. What is now in fashion was once considered just infirm: in 1991 Don Howe was sacked as Queens Park Rangers’ head coach at the age of 55 on the basis that he was too old
Jupp Heynckes, who is in his fourth spell at Bayern Munich, started managing in 1979, before any of his players were born
to lead them through “what is likely to be a revolutionary period in English football”. “I can’t understand what a younger fellow will be able to do that I couldn’t,” Howe grumbled, before going on to coach elsewhere for another 12 years.
When the Premier League started in 1992 82% of its managers were younger than 50, their average age was 45 and the oldest, Brian Clough, was 57. Now a quarter of English top-flight dugouts shelter coaches older than Clough was then, half are in their second half-century and their average age is 51. Of Europe’s top five leagues, only in the Bundesliga is the average age of current managers below 50.
But as coaches drift towards their dotage some challenges do arise. “The thing that concerns you is, sometimes you think you might be out of touch,” says Peter Taylor, who became the fourth-oldest manager in the Football League at 64 when he took caretaker charge of Gillingham last month but left the club yesterday. “That’s