The 2022 World Cup in Qatar has defied pre-tournament expectations in a myriad of ways this winter despite justified criticisms continuously levied at the host nation, but the drama that has unfolded across eight stadia has produced one of the most memorable tournaments in history.
One aspect that has surely defined the spectacle that has taken over Qatar this winter has been performances by many aging starts who have defied father time while being at the very heart of success on the pitch for their respective nations, with the likes of Lionel Messi, Olivier Giroud, and Luka Modrić producing some of the best football of anyone who has featured.
For Arsenal legend Arsène Wenger, now in a prominent role as FIFA’s head of global football development, such performances have offered contrary evidence against the ongoing negativity surrounding the issue of player welfare.
Quotes secured by the Evening Standard’s Simon Collings shed light on Wenger’s current stance, detailing the fact that football careers are starting earlier and lasting longer in the modern game despite the fixture list across Europe growing ever-more congested year on year.
Citing young stars like the likes of Germany’s Jamal Musiala and mentioning the longevity shown by the aforementioned veteran star trio, Wenger stated “I played in 2006 a Champions League final against Barcelona. Messi was starting to play in the team. That’s 2006. We are in 2022. That’s 16 years later and he is still in the contest for being the player of the tournament. So overall, we are all grateful for the pleasure he has given us in these 16 years ... this tournament shows the evolution of modern sport.”
“Jurgen [Klinsmann] spoke about Musiala, this tournament is about the young players who are ready earlier and earlier in top-level sport. But it as well a tournament of players who last longer and longer than ever before. We have not experienced tournaments, World Cups, with 35-year-old players being dominant - but you have Giroud, Messi, and Modric, who is 37 years old.”
“The dominant players at this tournament shows - despite all the negativity about health of players and welfare of players - the life of a top-level sportsman last longer. They are ready earlier and they finish later.”
With advances in sports medicine and physiotherapy constantly changing the way athletes develop, train, and recover, it is not out of the realm of possibility that the young players currently being passed the torch from the previous generation are fully capable of going on to average careers spanning two decades.