Football always moves on. Unless you're Alex Ferguson, bad hairstyles or a furious sense of misplaced entitlement, the game will leave you behind eventually, at which point it becomes simply a matter of how much money you've made, how many trophies you've won or how many compliments you've had about your fringe, Roberto. And, obviously, how much dignity you've sacrificed along the way.
But the inevitability of change doesn’t mean it's ever gentle or easy. For the ultimate example of this we turn to England's "Golden Generation," for whom you may have noticed the transition from somebodies to nobodies continues not to be a happy one.
Chelsea's three "Golden Boys" are currently taking change worst of all. As manager Roberto Di Matteo looks to reshape his side into something technically superior to the group Jose Mourinho once left behind, the first real casualties are John Terry, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole, three undroppable players. They used to be undroppable players in the good sense ("Oh, what great players they are"); now, they're undroppable players in a more awkward way: "How are we going to tell John he's not starting?" "You do it." "I'm scared."
As far as the new direction is concerned, the new personnel make sense -- switching Cole for Ryan Bertrand, Terry for Gary Cahill and Lampard for Ramires increases the team's sum-total technical ability and running power -- but you'll understand that the Golden Generation contingent finds this hard to accept.
The problem arising is that while other players simply don't play or are rotated, the Golden Generation are "dropped," and as such require a news conference full of questions on the matter every time it happens. This interminable situation is no doubt amplified by the willingness of these players to make their hurt at being left out known to all the right media hacks -- it was, remember, Frank Lampard who helped to get Andre Villas-Boas the sack at Chelsea last season by regularly making his disappointment known.
Basically, getting rid of members of the Golden Generation quietly is like trying to get through a whole series of "The New Girl": quite difficult.
Perhaps that's why Steven Gerrard remains an almost suspiciously regular member of Liverpool's starting lineup. His new manager, Brendan Rodgers, is implementing a "philosophy" based on a subtle, short passing game that's entirely at odds with captain Gerrard's more dramatic tendencies. Yet Stevie G remains in the team every week.
What's the plan, then? Perhaps worried about a backlash from inside and out, Rodgers seems to have come up with phasing Gerrard out positionally rather than altogether, playing him on the right of a midfield three next to Nuri Sahin and Joe Allen, who are gradually taking more of his old responsibilities. Ultimately, Rodgers may be hoping to move Gerrard further and further wide until no-one, including him, notices that he's actually moved all the way off the pitch and onto the bench.
Rodgers is being clever but this business is never easy, whichever way you do it. Look at Rio Ferdinand. He's Manchester United's last member of the Golden Generation and is proving as difficult to replace as anyone. In his case (and to some degree in all of these cases), the real difficulty stems from the fact that these players are exceptionally talented, so when it comes to finding new players to do their jobs for them it's going to be hard. Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Phil Jones are good players but they may always look a little small trying to fill Ferdinand's boots. Think of it as the equivalent of Ewan McGregor playing Obi-Wan Kenobi after Alec Guinness had done it first -- though maybe that's an overly harsh comparison.
Ferdinand has lasted where David Beckham, Gary Neville and, if we must, Michael Owen were shipped out, because his quality -- an excellent temperament, positional sense and that thing where he nicks the ball away and makes a tricky winger look silly -- makes him extremely difficult to leave out, even as he fades into his mid-30s. He's still relevant where the likes of Terry and Lampard aren't; where do you find a modern defender who's entirely ahead of his time in a country that still values shouting more than talent in its defenders?
Ferdinand's manager has been praised in the past for how he's rid himself of players thought of as undroppable, but in truth the circumstances around those players have always helped: In the case of Beckham, there was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, a superior right-winger ready to take his place. To replace Gary Neville, Ferguson had bought the Da Silva twins at the age of 15, which made for a relatively easy goodbye. In Owen's case, no-one cared anyway, and regarding Paul Scholes ... he hasn't replaced Paul Scholes yet. Because sometimes it's just impossible.
If the circumstances aren't right, change is guaranteed to be hard. But it still has to happen. The Golden Generation has become obsolete either simply because of its age, a change of philosophy that it can't follow at its clubs or, in the case of poor Michael Owen, because of a sea change in the footballing landscape that has made his playing style into something of an anachronism -- the poacher is dead, long live the technically superior striker. Things change.
Now, the Golden Generation seems to have taken this all quite badly -- whether by falling out with coaches, costing Villas-Boas the coat he wasn't allowed to pick up from his Stamford Bridge office, talking to the media about the whole thing or, as Owen and Peter Crouch did, joining Stoke City in desperate protest -- but football always moves on. The time it takes to do so just depends on how adaptable you are. Or how good you are clinging on. But it does always move on.
Ethan Dean-Richards is an editor of Surreal Football