Valuing experience over youth

John Kosmina, some might say, has never grown up. Now he has to.

John Kosmina, some might say, has never grown up. Now he has to. 'Kossie' is the oldest coach in the A-League, by some distance. A father figure, a voice of reason? If you know him well enough, you see how much he's mellowed. Is he at the peak of his coaching powers then? I'd say so.

The points table - albeit it's early days - backs up the argument. But here's a bigger question. In the haste to develop a new generation of coaches, are we guilty of ageism? Have we discarded too much wisdom and experience?

Some facts. During the inaugural Hyundai A-League season seven years ago, Kosmina - then in his first spell in charge of Adelaide United - was the third-youngest coach in the competition. Only Pierre Littbarski (Sydney FC) and Lawrie McKinna (Central Coast Mariners) were younger, although Steve McMahon (Perth Glory) also fell into this category before he was eventually sacked and replaced by Alan Vest.

The other foundation coaches - Miron Bleiberg (Brisbane Roar), John Adshead (New Zealand Knights), Ernie Merrick (Melbourne Victory) and Richard Money (Newcastle Jets) - were all older than Kosmina. Pointedly, all of them were also born-and-raised overseas.

A lot's changed since then, most of it for the good. Homegrown Kosmina, then on his own, is now in the vast majority. This season only Ian Crook, Ian Ferguson and Rado Vidosic weren't born-and-raised here (including New Zealand). For those who have long championed the cause of local coaches, that's progress.

But back to the point. That Kosmina - often such a polarising figure - is the last man standing from season one can't simply be attributed to his survival skills. More importantly, he's listened, and learned.

He's developed, both as a tactician, and a man-manager. Some of that's because he's gone back to school to complete his 'A' license under Han Berger's new curriculum. Kosmina is quick to admit the process has been worthwhile. But there are also the intangibles you don't pick up in the schoolroom. Kosmina understands Australian players - as athletes, and as people - better than most of his colleagues because he's been there, done that, as a former Socceroo. So, of course, have many of his coaching rivals. But Kosmina has one precious advantage. He's been around a lot longer.

That, in itself, is not enough. But if a coach evolves as the game evolves, then experience becomes a priceless commodity. Have we undervalued it? Maybe. Having got the Reds to the top of the league, Kosmina has never been better equipped to keep them there. It doesn't mean he will, of course. It just means he has the benefit of a lifetime of experience to draw upon. In the unforgiving environment of professional football, that's counts for a lot.

Certainly, experience is appreciated elsewhere. At 56, Kosmina is comfortably the Hyundai A-League's senior coach - five years older than both Vidosic (Brisbane Roar) and Ricki Herbert (Wellington Phoenix). That's almost a generation gap. As for John Aloisi (Melbourne Heart), he's old enough to be his father.

But if Kosmina was coaching in the English Premier League, there would be five coaches (Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Martin Jol, Sam Allardyce and Martin O'Neill) his senior. If he was coaching in the Bundesliga (Huub Stevens, Jupp Heynckes and Felix Magath) or Serie A (Zdenek Zeman, Giampiero Ventura and Francesco Guidolin) there would be three coaches older than him. If he was working in La Liga, he would only be the fifth-oldest coach behind Joaquin Capparos, Manuel Pelligrini, Paco Herrera and Marcelo Bielsa.

Clearly, there are two ways of looking at a 56-year-old coach. He's either past it, or he's in his prime. The point is, if the best leagues and some of the biggest clubs in world football value experience, shouldn't we?