The science of modern football and why the future belongs to younger players

Tuesday, December 20, 2022.

Last Sunday, France and Argentina entertained the world with some good football in the world cup finals. It was a thrilling match won by Argentina on penalties after over 120 minutes of football. It was surely more than 130 minutes. This world cup saw a lot of ‘time added on’ for injuries and time wasting. Hopefully this will continue around the world so that we see more action in football matches.

The finals was a show between 35 year old Lionel Messi of Argentina and 24 year old Kylian Mbappé of France. In the end, Messi cemented his name in world football while Mbappé showed that he is the man to watch for the future. Was I surprised? Yes, a bit, by Messi.

Argentina losing their first match to Saudi Arabia put pressure on them. It meant Messi did not ‘have the luxury’ to be rested. France, after winning their first two matches and qualifying from the group, had the ‘luxury’ to rest Mbappé (if even partly) in their third match. Another 120+ minutes game by Argentina against the Netherlands made me suspect Messi would struggle if it went to the wire… And it was obvious he was very tired deep in the final game. The younger Mbappé outshone Messi deep in the game with a hat trick (against Messi’s brace).

In the last few years, FIFA made changes to the rules in football. Teams can now make up to five substitutions (from the previous three). The implications of this are clear to the technical people. Five new (and young) players can outrun older players who stay on the field waiting for ‘moments of magic.’ These older but talented players can become liabilities to their teams as the games wear on…

FIFA is expanding the next World Cup finals from 32 to 48 teams. What do I expect? More records! More goals will be scored, but ‘older, talented players’ like Messi will struggle deep in the next tournaments.

I have followed boxing for several decades. I remember some boxers fought 15 rounds and I remember the transition from 15 rounds to 12 rounds. It had implications and brought the need to adopt different strategies. Sports has become more scientific now and these changes in football will benefit those who prepare technically for them. Talent alone is not enough.

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