As Dimitri Payet shed tears of joy while making his way off the Stade de France turf it was a stark reminder of how hard he has worked to get into the 23-man France squad and how we are now witnessing his best years – at age 29.
The West Ham wizard may overshadow what is meant to be the tournament fellow Frenchman Paul Pogba – a player who in the next two to three years we expect to see at his peak.
The same is true of Jamie Vardy. a meteoric rise from non-league football to being the centre of social media outcry as Roy Hodgson chose to leave the record breaking striker on the bench.
At 29 Vardy hit his peak with authority last season helping propel Leicester City to their fairytale Premier League crown.
In society as we know it the physical peak of a human body is anywhere between late 20’s to early 30’s. But in the bubble of football, the pinnacle of a player is often between 25 and 28. A very short lived peak when you will be theoretically at your most productive.
A Marsille misfit and Stocksbridge sleeper – a their paths to the mountain top have taken very different but equally rocky roads. Vardy had to fight from non-league obscurity and Payet, while his talent was never in question his attitude was. As the saying goes: “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”. Never before has this phrase been more apt when discussing both players yet for entirely different reasons.
Vardy’s willingness to run himself into the ground – like a dog chasing a ball in the park is what endeared him to Claudio Ranieri – his clinical finishing came as a by-product of the hard work and confidence instilled into him. He found himself in the perfect situation and flourished. That is always the key to a player discovering their very best form.
Perhaps we have seen the very best of Vardy. It would be hard to top what was a staggering season from The Foxes front man – breaking a scoring record, scoring 24 goals and lifting the Premier League crown.
The peak of his career may still be to come at the European Championships but his peak form may have already been reached. 29 is so often the age where players start to slowly slide down the glass mountain – a lot of mountain analogies here – even Cristiano Ronaldo is having to adapt his game as his years advance and Wayne Rooney has gone from forward to midfielder in the last couple of seasons.
Yet Vardy and Payet have broken that mould and are playing with all the confidence and creativity of a player five or six years their junior – no fear. And what would they have to fear? Vardy came from nothing and Payet saw his undoubted talent imprisoned by his lack of application.
Where the two differ perhaps is where they go from here. Leicester’s season was a once in a generation type year. There can only be a drop off from this point. Whereas we feel we are only seeing the start of what the French playmaker can really do.
In years gone by we have been used to watching players at their peak at 25,26,27. Expecting their best years and great things. Perhaps we put too much stock into age as so often it does not equate to maturity.
Both Vardy and Payet will not turn 30 until early 2017, January and March respectively, but you are only as old as you feel as they say. Maybe 30 will be the new 25.