Poetry or music need youth, but management or medicine don't

In Mustique last month, I had a drink with Felix Dennis at his house, and he said something that has hung around in my mind ever since. We were not talking football, although he does own Man Utd, but talking about magazines, of which he owns many in the UK and the USA. Hold on, did I say he owns Man Utd? Yes, he does. His house in Mustique is called Mandalay, formerly owned by David Bowie, and has a full-time staff of 16. They have their own football team, Mandalay United, Man Utd for short. Now can I get on?

I was saying to him there should be a proper, glossy magazine for oldies, for the over-fifties. After all, we own the world, run the world. There are 19 million of us in the UK today - a figure that will double in the next 30 years. Our disposable income is 30 per cent higher than the under-fifties. Most new cars are bought by us, most of the expensive holidays; we have more than 80 per cent of the national wealth. Yet do the media give a damn about us? Do they heckers. Television and radio are obsessed by youth, and so are the newspapers. If I see another page of rubbish in the Indy about pop records I've never heard of, I'll scream.

Felix just sighed and ordered one of his staff to get us more drinks. Don't tell me, he said. I've looked at proposals for years, but there's not a chance. You won't get advertising unless you say your readers will be under 40. Bloody hell, isn't that appalling, isn't that prejudiced, isn't that stupid, isn't that short-sighted? So hurrah for Bobby, Fergie and Graham and to the boards of Newcastle, Man Utd and Villa for seeing sense and having managers aged 68, 60 and 57.

If you're old enough, you're good enough. So they say. Age should not enter into it. So they also say. It's true about people in activities that depend on individuals and on energy and enthusiasm. And also in the creative world. Poets, writers, artists and composers, on the whole, are better when younger. They rarely see or admit this to themselves, as they think they are improving with age, unaware they are repeating themselves, marking time, getting out of date. "The brisk intemperance of youth", as Edward Gibbon remarked. That's what's wanted in most physical and creative occupations.

But not in man management. A football manager, like a lawyer, GP, teacher or social worker, improves with age. You see the same tricks, strokes, ailments, nasty problems, dodgy characters recurring. First time round, you can get it wrong, get conned, but next time, you are ready, can read it better, deal with it better.

I can never understand why British football clubs so often promote a player overnight into management, just because he's been a famous, popular, successful player. How can they possibly cope? In Europe, it mostly can't happen, as you have to have the Latin, the coaching badges. It's not just the problem of respect, having been one of the lads, then turning into the gaffer. It's lack of guile, lack of wisdom. You can teach knowledge. You can't teach experience.

If you start at the bottom, in the Third Division or non-league, you do everything, see everything and have to manage on what you have. Making ordinary players play better, creating systems and tactics that work, has to be learnt by experience and in the end it's what you need most - at the top and at the bottom. We all know big cheques don't always work wonders.

Gianlucca Vialli, Bryan Robson and David Platt all appeared to do well at first, and might all come back and do much better, but they floundered by starting in management at the top. David O'Leary, after a brilliant beginning, now appears to be showing his age - ie, his youth, naivety, inexperience and intemperance. This talk about Roy Keane taking over from Fergie is potty.

Kevin Keegan started in management at the top and blew out, lost it. Glenn Hoddle also began high, and got higher when given the England job, but he was too young, too foolish in what he said and did. Both Keegan and Hoddle are doing so much better, now they have matured, now they have seen so much, had the failures and flops. One of the best things about Sven Goran Eriksson is that he strikes you as a grown-up, fully formed, wise and mature.

With age there often does come weariness, cynicism. Enthusiasm fades, the pressures mount, bureaucracy gets burdensome. You think, is it worth it? GPs and teachers seem to suffer greatly from this. All my contemporaries who went into teaching or lecturing have long since given up, chucked in the chalk, many of them years ago, back in their early fifties.

This doesn't seem to happen in football management. Managers say all the time that it's an addiction, a drug; they are lost without it, don't know what to do with themselves. It's partly because it's all they know, poor petals. I can't think of a manager who's retired at the top, the way players such as Cantona or Lineker have done. Fergie said he would, but didn't. Graham Taylor did, but not for long. Yes, Bill Shankly did - then regretted it.

Football, unlike so many other walks of life, has realised that age counts, age is good, age has a lot to give. At the moment, anyway. Two years ago, there was a call to give young managers their head. In two years' time, or even two months, or even two minutes, we'll read that Fergie is past it, Bobby should take his pension, Graham Taylor is a has-been.

But for this week, at least, I'm saying: well done, football. You are showing a good lead. So bugger off, all the blinkered media. Up your bum, you advertisers. And on 18 February, happy 69th birthday, Bobby . . .

Next Article