The Dutch get it right with mixture of youth and experience
You'll never win anything with kids.
Those are the famous words of former Liverpool defender Alan Hansen, spoken in 1995 after Manchester United lost their opening game of the Premiership season, 3-1 to Aston Villa.
Boy, was he ever wrong.
United went on to win the Premier League title and FA Cup that season after jettisoning some older players in favour of some fresh blood.
Giving youth a chance
In the summer of 1995, Manchester United sold some of their most experienced players, such as Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis. United manager Alex Ferguson (he picked up the "Sir" when he was knighted in 1999) replaced them with relatively unknown youngsters.
Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Nicky Butt and David Beckham all went on to become stars for United in the Premier League, but at the time the decision to go with so many youngsters was regarded as a risky one.
Or was it?
Ferguson knew that he had an experienced backbone to the team, which allowed him the freedom to give the younger players a more prominent role. Roy Keane, Steve Bruce, Denis Irwin, Peter Schmeichel, Gary Pallister, Andy Cole and Eric Cantona were all in the team at the time, which gave the youngsters a solid base to work from.
In short, Alex Ferguson got the balance right between young legs and old heads.
Last week, defender Andre Ooijer claimed that his national team, the Netherlands, has the same type of balance.
"Looking back, some might say we had an easy qualifying group because we won all eight matches. That's not how it was at all, though. We just played very well. This team has a fabulous mix between young players and senior ones; it's perfect," said Ooijer.
Ooijer is the elder statesman of the team at 35, while Giovanni Van Bronkhorst (35 next week), Mark Van Bommel (32) and defender Joris Mathijsen (29) provide experience for the Dutch.
To balance the side, head coach Bert Van Marwijk can call on Robin Van Persie (26), Nigel De Jong (25), Wesley Sneijder (25) and Arjen Robben (25). Not babes in the woods, by any means, but all at an age where they are coming into their prime.
The trick for any manager is to put together a team of players who complement each other. It isn't enough to simply choose the so-called "best" eleven players at your disposal. That style of management generally ends in failure.
Finding the right mix
At the national team level, the manager's job is difficult because he must play the cards he is dealt. He cannot go into the transfer market to buy players to replace ones that are under-performing, and he must choose wisely from the players available to him.
One of the problems for the Dutch team at the World Cup, a tournament they have never won, is that they rarely have a settled dressing room.
There always seems to be infighting going on in the Dutch camp, and the longer the tournament goes on, the worse the bickering becomes. There is no escape from your teammates when you are in a month-long tournament like the World Cup, so if the Dutch are to succeed, they had better find a way to get along.
That is where the senior players come into play. For the Dutch, guys like Van Bronkhorst and Ooijer will be key figures, not just for what they do on the pitch, but for what they bring to the dressing room.
We often talk about leadership as a sign of manhood. Playing through the pain barrier, battered and bloody, is often used as an example. While that is certainly one aspect of being a leader, it isn't everything.
The ability to sense if one of your teammates is unhappy and address their problem is also an important aspect of being a leader. Players who are unhappy do not perform to the best of their ability, and dealing with any concerns or disagreements between teammates can be just as important to the success of your team as your performance on the field.
It is encouraging to see that the Dutch players have faith in each other, because that is one sign of a happy dressing room. The Dutch have long been admired as one of the world's most attractive teams to watch. If they can nurture that feel-good factor in the dressing room and make it last during the World Cup, this might just be the tournament when they finally lift the trophy.