10 of European football’s greatest ever veterans: Zanetti, Giggs, Totti…
Most footballers retire in their early 30s, but for some, age is just a number. Here are 10 legends who continued to impress well into their mid-30s.
Energy, pace, power are all important attributes in the modern game – and all qualities that tend to be affected most as a player grows older.
Experience, however, is worth an awful lot. And there’s something deeply satisfying about watching the old head show up the young buck on the football pitch. Here are some that were still bossing things at 35 and beyond…
Maldini has fit enough for three careers into his lifetime to date. A staggering career from 1985-2009 with AC Milan and Italy saw the defender make over 1,000 appearances, winning over 23 honours in the process.
The first half of his career saw the Italian establish himself as one of the world’s best left-backs, while he later switched to centre-back with similar distinction. Post-retirement from football, he even made his debut at a professional tennis tournament.
After turning 35 in 2003, Maldini won the Serie A, Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and Supercoppa Italiana.
“I would watch the way Giggs carried himself around the training ground and played at such a high level even though he was coming close to 40,” Dimitar Berbatov told ESPN in 2017.
“I could go to players like that and ask for advice. I’ve been doing yoga for six years because of Giggs and I’m still playing.”
Longevity is one thing, but having the consistency to continue to lead, thrive and handle the pressure of playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world is another matter entirely.
The year Giggs turned 35 saw the Welshman win the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award, while he was also the top assist provider in the Champions League the following season, while he still found the time to win two more Premier League titles.
If Maldini symbolises AC Milan, then Zanetti is the man to represent Inter.
143 caps for Argentina and a shed-load of honours speaks for itself, but the real feat of Zanetti’s career is how he kept his haircut so perfect throughout every single one of his 22 years.
In March 2014, Eto’o celebrated by pretending to be an old man for Chelsea. Four years on he’s still going and, you guessed it, still scoring plenty of goals.
Now 37, the striker scored 44 goals in 76 appearances for Antalyaspor between 2015 and 2018 before signing a two-and-a-half-year contract with their Turkish rivals Konyaspor.
Ah, Francesco, you beautiful, beautiful man. Yes, as we get older we are meant to get wiser, but we are also meant to get terribly uncool and, if we’re being brutally honest, a bit haggered.
Not Francesco. He may have hung up his boots last season, but the King of the Eternal City will be eternally brilliant.
Alessandro Del Piero
Speaking of eternally cool footballers, such is Italy’s strength in this regard, Del Piero is often neglected.
At the age of 37, Del Piero played his final Serie A match for Juventus and marked the occasion by scoring his 289th goal for the club, lifting the title for the first time since the Calciopoli scandal and relegation to Serie B.
Juan Carlos Valeron
There are plenty of players in Spain to have won more honours, but few have won as many hearts and have been so entertaining to watch as Valeron.
After starring for Deportivo, the attacking midfielder’s career was blighted by injuries, but he fought back to help his first club, Las Palmas, achieve a remarkable promotion, and went on to play in La Liga into his 40s.
The greatest goalkeeper of all time? The most handsome goalkeeper of all time? The one player the whole world is willing on to win the Champions League this season?
We can’t have been the only ones to get incredibly sad when the news broke that Buffon would finally be calling it a day at the end of the current season.
A man who only became fully appreciated, certainly in England at least, when he entered the twilight years of the career.
It may have been something to do with the beard, which seemed to provide the final brushstroke on a masterpiece of a footballer.
Antonio Di Natale
Is there something in the water in Italy? Di Natale did not make his top-flight debut until the age of 25, and scored only 47 Serie A goals before the age of 30. Between the ages of 31 and 36, he scored 120 league goals.
As Daniel Storey noted on the Udinese icon: “Wonderful Antonio Di Natale, proof that, while trophies are not meaningless when it comes to defining a player’s success, they are rendered second to cultural impact. And there’s no player quite like Di Natale for cultural impact.”