One of the most successful video game franchises around is FIFA, and one of its best-loved features is manager mode. Manager mode is a game mode within FIFA where a gamer takes control of a team of their choosing and assumes all the roles and responsibilities a manager would in the non-virtual world. A key part of manager mode is one's transfer dealings. Gamers often purchase the top young prospects from across the globe, give them plenty of minutes, and watch them become superstars in only a few short seasons. This is a widely adopted strategy by many manager mode players and has led to a cult following for players like Philippe Senderos, Alberto Aquilani, Ganso, and Klaas Jan Huntelaar - all players who became world class over the course of their virtual careers, but fell short of duplicating the successes of their cyber counterparts in reality. While this may a great strategy for building one's virtual team in a video game, it is not practical or possible to enact in reality (see: Senderos/Aquilani/Ganso/ Huntelaar), and has led to a skewed perception of player transfers with an overemphasis on age.
In FIFA's manager mode, players have linear careers. They continue to improve with playing time up until the age of about 29; then their ratings gradually fall until they retire. This is, of course, not always the case in reality, as the trajectory of a player's career is anything but linear. The belief that a younger player will only improve while an older player will only regress is a fallacy. Financial realities, managers, personality, personal life and injuries (or lack thereof) are just a few factors that can change the course of a player's career for the better or worse at any age or point in their careers. Exhibit A: Andrea Pirlo.
Players that are the same age are not necessarily at the same point in their careers. For example, Michael Essien was born in December of 1982 while Daniele De Rossi was born in July of 1983. For all intents and purposes they are the same age. At the peak of their careers', they were both world class midfielders who played a similar style of game. But at age thirty, Michael Essien was on the back nine of his career while De Rossi was one of the best midfielders in the world. Just this summer Essien joined Panathanaikos via a free transfer while De Rossi is still a starter in one of Serie A's best midfield trios. If it all boiled down to age, Essien and De Rossi would've followed similar career paths after their peak years.
Simply labeling a player old and expecting inevitable decline after a certain age is lazy, and though there is certainly a relationship between player age and decline of skill, age should not be the only factor used to make an accurate evaluation. The best player in Serie A the past two seasons has been recently departed Juventus striker Carlos Tevez, who played those two seasons at the ages of 30 and 31.
The fact that Carlos Tevez succeeded in the Serie A in his thirties does not guarantee that a player, like, say, Carlos Bacca will do the same. But what it does mean is that writing the Bacca transfer off as a poor allocation of funds is irresponsible. Bacca was brought into score goals. If he was 18 or 29 this objective would remain the same. For a team with Milan's priorities, age should not come into the equation; they require results right now. In addition, Milan has had a history of success when purchasing players in their late twenties at high fees. Rui Costa and Pippo Inzagi joined Milan at the same approximate age as Bacca did, and went on to write history with the club. If Bacca can become even half of what Rui Costa or Pippo Inzaghi became, then this will go down as one of Galliani's greatest deals.
The "manager mode" mentality is a flawed way to assess real transfers. Age does not always have to enter the equation when evaluating a transfer, and for a club that has decided that they will seek to contend instantly, age should be viewed as just a number.