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Euro Golden Oldies Prove the Value of Experience

There's no substitute for experience, at least as far as the coaches are concerned at Euro 2008. White hair -- or little hair at all -- seems to be prerequisite for a place on the coaching bench.

Spanish national soccer team's coach, Luis Aragonés

"Can you speak up, young man?" Spain's Luis Aragonés turns 70 this summer

Spain's Luis Aragones and Greece's Otto Rehhagel will be celebrating their 70th birthdays this summer, making them the elder statesmen among the 16 coaches at the tournament in Austria and Switzerland.

Half a dozen of them are already over 60.

Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger says he is surprised at the age of coaches at the tournament. "Twenty years ago you would have had just one coach over 60 and it would have been a miracle to have a coach on 70.

"But that is obviously changing and if coaches can handle the pressure, which is less in a national team position than a club, they sometimes stay longer," he said.

Gerard Houllier, a member of UEFA's technical delegation, is not surprised by the faith placed in the older generation.

Experience a key factor, says UEFA technical chief

Marco van Basten

Marco van Basten is one of the youngsters at the Euros

"Experience is a key factor in order to be able to have success at this level," said the former Liverpool and Lyon coach, who is analyzing games at Euro 2008 for European soccer's governing body.

Twelve of the Euro 2008 coaches are over 50. Only Joachim Loew (Germany/48 years old), Roberto Donadoni (Italy/44), Marco van Basten (Netherlands/43) and relative youngster Slaven Bilic (Croatia/39) have not yet reached their half centuries.

The average age of coaches at the tournament is 56.88, slightly up on four years ago in Portugal 56.81.

Rehhagel himself once said that there are no old or young players, only good or bad players. The same could be said for the coaches.

A debt of gratitude to the older generation

Germany's head coach Joachim Loew gestures during the group B match between Germany and Poland

Joachim Loew says he learns a lot from his older rivals

Respect for their elders is something the younger coaching colleagues are glad to demonstrate. Loew said he could, of course, profit from the experience and expertise of a coach like Poland's Dutchman Leo Beenhakker, 65, before the two teams met.

Beenhakker himself brings his experience into play when for instance defending himself against Polish media criticism when he points out that with 40 years in the job he needs no lessons.

Houllier says that with an increasing number of players under pressure or coping with the cult of stardom at an early age an older trainer takes on the role of a father figure.

Even Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari is seen as a father figure among the Portuguese. For him, community feeling and family is important. He is also very religious. It has earned him respect.

He once gave his players the book The Art of War from Sun Tzu, a 2,500-year-old text on military strategy. It's not the sort of idea that a younger trainer would probably come up with.

International soccer a more leisurely atmosphere

Jakob Kuhn, coach of Switzerland

Kobi Kuhn is to step down after Euro 2008

Older coaches are also attracted to national team appointments, away from the arduous day-to-day business of league football and with more time to focus on conceptual planning.

It is one of the reasons Ottmar Hitzfeld at 59 has decided to take on the Switzerland job after the tournament, succeeding Kobi Kuhn, five years his senior.

The younger coaches prefer club football, with its daily challenges and often greater financial reward.

Croatia's Bilic flirted at the beginning of the year with the SV Hamburg coaching job but decided to stay on as national team boss, but Marco van Basten is stepping down as Dutch national team coach to take charge at Ajax Amsterdam.

His successor is Bert van Marwijk, 13 years his senior.

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