Carlo Ancelotti shows loyalty to his terrific thirtysomethings at Chelsea
Ageism in the workplace is a sensitive topic at any time, not least when your career depends on the ability to run around a football pitch like a teenager. So when Sir Alex Ferguson dismissed Chelsea's challenge for the Premier League title last season with the slightly offhand and patronising remark that the squad in blue were 'ageing', it might have led some managers to start looking for new blood. Related ArticlesChelsea can upset Manchester United's title partyBeckham relishing chance to play European footballCristiano Ronaldo will get Portugal call upSport on televisionBut not Carlo Ancelotti. When the Italian arrived from AC Milan in the summer, he inherited a squad with leading players Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba some way past their 30th birthdays. His reaction? Give them new contracts, and make sure 28-year-olds John Terry and Ashley Cole are looked after, too. All four have signed long-term deals, with Joe Cole, the boy wonder who becomes 28 on Sunday likely to follow suit soon, as Ancelotti looks to maintain the nucleus of a side that has plenty of time to win those glittering prizes coveted by Roman Abramovic. And Ancelotti should know. He is the man who took AC Milan to three European Cup finals in five years, winning the Champions League twice, with plenty of thirtysomethings under his command. Paolo Maldini was the most striking example, still a world-class player well into his thirties before retiring last May at the age of 40. But Ancelotti also had Filippo Inzaghi scoring goals, Clarence Seedorf running the midfield and even got David Beckham back to his prime physically in his mid-30s, thanks to the advanced sports science facilities in Milan. Now he is bringing the same approach to Chelsea, and dismisses talk of his side, who face Ferguson's United at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, as over the hill. 'At the moment, when a player is 30 years old, he is in the prime of his career,' said the Italian. 'Ten years ago he would have been an old player but now, with new physical training and other things, 30 is the best moment of a player's career.' He certainly had no qualms about extending the contracts of his key players. 'They are young players really. I think that this club, with new contracts for players, wants to maintain this squad and wants to think to the future.' That includes Joe Cole, whose recent return from injury was like signing a new player for Ancelotti, who admitted that one position he was concerned about in the summer was the playmaker at the tip of his midfield 'diamond'. First Deco (32) decided to stay at Chelsea rather than move abroad, and then Cole returned in October to show that he can be even more effective in a central role. Cole's current contract is due to expire next summer but Ancelotti has no doubts the England midfielder will sign a new one soon. 'For sure, we want to keep Joe Cole and he wants to stay with us. That will not be a problem for his future. 'His return from injury is very important for the club, and also the return of Paulo Ferreira, because it means we don't need to sign any other players.' So Ancelotti is in no hurry to take advantage of the suspension of the transfer ban imposed on Chelsea by FIFA. He believes his side, with an average age of 29, is perfectly placed to keep out the challenge of United no spring chickens themselves with an average age of 28 and plenty in their thirties, such as Edwin van der Sar (39), Ryan Giggs (35) and Paul Scholes (34). He could point out, over a glass of red wine with Ferguson, that those three are all older than any of his players but possibly that would be churlish, not to mention ageist.
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