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The great Manchester United retirement home?

With the news that Manchester United are interested in signing Chelsea outcast Frank Lampard, Old Trafford could become the home of England’s retired internationals.

Two weeks ago I wrote an article urging Chelsea Football Club to keep their talisman and this week the Englishman’s agent confirmed that the player will be leaving Stamford Bridge upon the expiry of his contract this summer, if not sooner.

In that piece I pointed to the value of veteran players like Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs at Manchester United, despite being 38 and 39 years of age, respectively, they still provide experienced, committed and quality cover for the first-team’s new generation.

Sir Alex Ferguson has kept a number of veteran players at Old Trafford, I suspect because of the continuity it keeps within the squad and at the club – they are examples to the younger players of what it means to put on that shirt and play football for such a prestigious club. They let everyone in the dressing room know what is expected of them in terms of professionalism.

Chelsea’s decision to let Lampard go is an apt reflection of the owner’s valuation of loyalty and service to the club – everyone is disposable and no one is an exception to that rule.

United’s record of keeping players despite their advancing years shows that their structure under Ferguson is working. They develop their own homegrown talent, they only buy the best in the world and they’re prepared to spend on quality personnel if necessary, but they still keep their old guard around.

Rio Ferdinand is 34, Michael Carrick is 31, and Robin van Persie will be 30 this year. United kept Edwin Van der Saar until he was 41, Gary Neville until he was 35, Dimitar Berbatov until he was 31, Peter Schmeichel until he was 36, Dennis Irwin until he was 37, David May and Ronny Johnsen until they were 33, Teddy Sherringham and Roy Keane until they were 34.

There is a value that comes with age, as Ferguson surely knows better than any other manager in the Premier League. That value is something Chelsea Football Club do not fully appreciate yet – their Champion’s League winners and title winners from seasons passed will all be replaced in the next few years.

The residual talent left from the Jose Mourinho era is almost all gone – Didier Drogba has left, Ashley Cole will leave at the end of his contract this summer, I imagine Branislav Ivanovic and John Terry may be gone before long, along with the forgotten Flaurent Malouda. Petr Cech may soon find himself in a house he doesn’t recognize, with a family that aren’t his – the names and the faces will all be changed.

Manchester United’s veterans will always call Old Trafford their home and that’s where their heart is. They’re a family – the continued success of Ferguson’s dynasty proves blood is always thicker than water.

image: © wonker

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