no substitute for experience

VIENNA - There's no substitute for experience, at least as far as the coaches are concerned at Euro 2008.

VIENNA - 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.

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.

For Gerard Houllier, a member of UEFA's technical delegation, faith in older trainers is no surprise.

"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 analysing games at Euro 2008 for European football's governing body.

Twelve of the Euro 2008 coaches are over 50. Only Joachim Loew of Germany, who is 48, Italy's Roberto Donadoni, 44, Netherlands' Marco van Basten, 43, and relative youngster Slaven Bilic of 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 there are no old or young players, only good or bad players. The same could be said for the coaches.

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 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 with increasingly more 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 2500-year-old text on military strategy. It's not the sort of idea a younger trainer would probably have.

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 Koebi Kuhn, five years his senior.

The younger coaches prefer club football. - Sapa-DPA