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Lost a yard of pace

Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Truly a god amongst men. Apologies if I have offended any religious people out there but you get my drift. So how at 39 years old is he still one of the world's finest strikers. His ability and athleticism are astonishing whether its an overhead kick, one-touch finish, leaping above every defender, or crazy flair passing. Zlatan is a phenomenon. As is Cristiano Ronaldo. He certainly hasn't lost any pace or strength and I fully believe him when he stated that he will play into his forties. However, most players typically retire in or around the age of thirty-five years old. So what makes these two stand out from the rest.?

Well, it comes from several determining factors. First of all is Biology. We all know that as we get older our bodies begin to deteriorate and we become a shadow of what we were in our prime. So why can soldiers, Minors, and oil riggers who all work very demanding jobs, work until they are in their fifties and sixties but footballers have to stop at thirty-five typically? It all boils down to performance and competitiveness. The best teams want the best players and if the player just doesn't cut it anymore then it's time to hang up the boots.

So what slows down the performance at mid-thirties as opposed to mid-twenties? Well interestingly, our maximum heart rate slows down roughly ten beats per decade. Ever wondered how children can run around all day and not be tired? I may be exaggerating but they do have a lot of energy compared to us adults.

Another issue we have is muscle recovery. It is vital especially in weeks with multiple games, that the players recover quickly. This is critical to optimal performance. If a player can't sustain peak performance, their form will differ in each game. Going into our mid to late thirties our muscle recovery slows down and we lose that yard of pace. The slow recovery factor may also explain why older players get injured more frequently.

Players late into their careers will obtain fewer minutes on the pitch. This does boil down to fitness however biology can play a part too. As we get older we feel less thirsty and we sweat less, so we do not feel the need to hydrate as often. As we age we have decreased serum sodium concentration so it is key that athletes increase the intake of salts and electrolytes.

Other factors can come into play such as the slowing down of the metabolism, which is why players like Romelu Lukaku start their careers incredibly lean and later on they become stocky and sometimes overweight. (Not that Lukaku is Overweight). Our strides are shortened over time, we can end up taking twice as many steps to cover the same amount of ground although I don't think this would be very prevalent in athletes in their thirties. That brings me onto lung capacity which again can decrease over time.

Other more physical defects can come in the shape of muscle mass, this is another area which declines with age. Progressive levels of lost muscle masss can be a symptom of sarcopenia. Sarcopenia is a musical and skeletal condition which can be caused by poor quality of life or excessively high levels of physical endurance. It can affect athletes levels of strength and anaerobic capacity for sprinting which deteriorates somewhat regardless of sarcopenia. This is the yard that is lost. It is said that between the ages of thirty to eighty our strength and grip can decrease slowly up to sixty percent.

There is a neurological factor at play also, as the communication between our brain and our bodies begins to slow down. However, in players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cristiano Ronaldo, this does not seem to occur. They still appear to be in their prime. Maybe more so in Ronaldo.

So if ageing is a natural occurrence which will affect us all. How is it that players like Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic are still able to perform for top teams at almost peak levels. It all comes down to simple hard work, determination, dedication and the willingness to never stop pushing themselves to maintain the standards of which they and Messi have set. Ronaldo undergoes a strict diet and exercise regime to keep himself fit enough to outclass his younger opponents. I imagine that the same goes for Zlatan.

So if you're a young footballer, never lose your drive. You will elongate your career and who knows you could become the G.O.A.T. Greatest of all time.

Sam West .



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