17 players we can’t believe are still playing in 2021: Quaresma, Santa Cruz…

Quick Reads

For fans of a certain age, it’s distressing to see the emergence of footballers who were born in the 2000s.

It’s a reminder that you’re much older than you think, and that you’ve probably missed your chance to turn pro.

Luckily, we’ve concocted something of a soothing balm: a list of old codgers who are somehow still going strong after years in the game, including heroes of the 2002 World Cup, team-mates of John Hartson and players who won trophies that no longer exist.

1. Roque Santa Cruz (39)

Paraguayan striker Roque Santa Cruz is really old. How old? Well, he scored his first goal for Bayern Munich in August 1999, playing alongside Lothar Matthaus, who was born before Ringo Starr joined The Beatles.

He then played at the 2002 World Cup, FFS.

In 2007, eight years after his Bayern bow, Santa Cruz joined Blackburn, scoring 19 league goals in his debut season while playing alongside Robbie Savage and David Dunn.

He’s now back at Olimpia, the Paraguayan club where he started his career, and he scored a hat-trick less than a year ago.

Oh, and he’s also the face of a Paraguayan dairy company:

2. Jon Stead (37)

Six-foot-three striker Jon Stead moved to Blackburn in the middle of 2003–04 — when Roque Santa Cruz was still in Bavaria — to provide competition for Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole, both of whom turn 50 this year.

Stead scored six goals in 13 appearances and was hailed as one of the signings of the Premier League season.

The goals soon dried up, but the forward is still going strong at 37 with Harrogate Town in League Two.

3. Andres D’Alessandro (39)

Back in the early 2000s, a talented youngster named Andres D’Alessandro was hot property while playing for River Plate, who had stars like Ariel Ortega and Esteban Cambiasso on their books.

D’Alessandro won a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics before an unexpected loan spell at Portsmouth in 2006, where he scored one very good goal.

Now pushing 40, he has just moved to Uruguayan side Nacional after 12 successful years in Brazil.

READ: A love letter to Andres D’Alessandro, River Plate legend & Pompey cult hero

4. Maicon (39)

Brazilian full-back Maicon won the Champions League with Inter in 2010 and scored a buzz-killing goal against North Korea at the World Cup about a month later.

In January 2021 he signed for Sona, a non-professional side in the Italian fourth tier, where they presumably don’t talk about Gareth Bale all the time.

5. Sebastian Larsson (35)

Free-kick lover Sebastian Larsson made his Arsenal debut in 2004 playing alongside a young Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie.

He stayed in England almost his whole career, only returning to his native Sweden in 2018, where he immediately steered AIK to a league title.

Larsson also still plays for the national side, for which he has 125 caps and counting.

6. Fabricio Coloccini (38)

Before there was David Luiz there was Fabricio Coloccini. And there still is! The towering Argentine currently turns out for San Lorenzo in his home country.

Coloccini made his professional debut in 1998 and first featured for the Argentine national side in 2003.

He moved to Newcastle just in time for the tragicomic 2008–09 season which contained, among other events, Kevin Keegan walking out, the arrival of ‘mystery box’ players Xisco and Nacho Gonzalez, the sweary rant of Joe Kinnear, Alan Shearer fighting with Joey Barton, and Newcastle’s inevitable relegation.

Incredibly, the defender stayed at the club and eventually became a fan favourite. He was named captain for the 2011–12 season and conceded just eight goals in the first 11 games of the campaign while playing alongside…

7. Steven Taylor (34)

A spring chicken compared to some on this list, Steven Taylor seems to have been around forever — probably because his most famous moment came in April 2005.

In a game for Newcastle against Aston Villa, Taylor committed a goal-line handball and pretended he’d been shot to distract the ref. He was sent off, as were his team-mates Kieron Dyer and Lee Bowyer (for scrapping with each other, of course), leaving Newcastle with eight players.

After spells in MLS and the Australian A-League, Taylor is now captain of Indian side Odisha, for whom he has scored two goals in 11 games. With utmost sincerity: good on him.

Steven Taylor celebrates scoring goal for Newcastle United

READ: Steven Taylor: Newcastle players didn’t want to get injured & ruin their next move

8. Matt Jarvis (34)

Between 2009 and 2012, winger Matt Jarvis had three excellent seasons in the Premier League with Wolves. His best moment was a match-winning volley in the derby against Aston Villa — a goal that had major consequences.

“Mr Capello was on the phone and he told me that he’d been considering me and that I was in his plans, but that goal basically got me in the England squad,” Jarvis recently told the My Golden Game podcast.

“So the goal was one of huge significance, but it was also a really good strike, a volley. Friedel didn’t even move because it went past him like a bullet and in off the post.”

After Wolves’ relegation, Jarvis didn’t quite hit the same heights with West Ham or Norwich, but he’s still playing and can now be found at Woking in the National League.

9. Ricardo Quaresma (37)

Portuguese winger Ricardo Quaresma arguably peaked around 2008, and by 2012 he seemed destined for anonymity when he disappeared to the UAE.

But he enjoyed a late-career renaissance with Porto and Besiktas and, at the age of 32, helped Portugal to an unlikely win at Euro 2016. (He replaced the injured Cristiano Ronaldo early on in the final.)

After a five-year absence, he’s now back in Portugal with Vitoria, where he has provided four assists in 12 games.

10. Vagner Love (36)

Brazilian striker Vagner Love was flaunting his crazy blue hair for CSKA Moscow back when the ‘UEFA Cup’ was still broadcast on Channel 5.

That’s a shame really, since many British households couldn’t pick up Channel 5 due to its broadcasting signal interfering with various French television stations, resulting in a fuzzy picture or none whatsoever and making Vagner Love’s blue hair hard to discern.

After winning several major honours over his career, including the UEFA Cup in 2005 with CSKA and the Copa America twice with Brazil, Vagner Love now plays for Kairat in Kazakhstan.

Incidentally, he’s almost completely bald.

11. Jay Bothroyd (38)

While Vager Love was lifting the UEFA Cup in 2005, 23-year-old English striker Jay Bothroyd was contracted to Italian club Perugia — an early sign of the adventurous career he would have.

Bothroyd was a product of the Arsenal academy but was sold to Coventry for £1million in July 2000 before making a senior appearance. At Coventry, he played alongside John Hartson, Colin Hendry and Carlton Palmer, and suffered relegation in his first season.

He would eventually play for eight different English clubs and even earned a cap under Fabio Capello, but since 2015 he’s been playing in Japan and scoring a ton of goals.

When asked last year who his toughest ever opponents had been, his answer testified to his wild career: “Paolo Maldini, Rio Ferdinand and Ivan Cordoba.”

12. Emmerson Boyce (41)

Defender Emmerson Boyce played for Wigan Athletic for nine seasons — seven in the Premier League — and won the FA Cup in 2013.

Boyce hung up his boots in 2016 but was coaxed out of retirement last summer to play for Ashton Town in the North West Counties League Division One North. (Boyce and the Ashton Town chairman had worked together for a local charity called Joseph’s Goal.)

“With this pandemic and the situation at the DW Stadium, I suppose this also gives the Wigan fans something to talk about or even to come down and watch a former player — obviously within the safety guidelines,” said Boyce.

13. Maxi Rodriguez (40)

Maxi Rodriguez, a Liverpool cult hero and now something of a Benjamin Button figure, started his career in Argentina before spells in Spain, England and Uruguay.

He also featured in three World Cups for Argentina, finishing joint runner-up for the Golden Boot in 2006 alongside the likes of Ronaldo, Thierry Henry and Zinedine Zidane, then scoring the winning penalty in the semi-final victory over the Netherlands in 2014.

Now 40 years old, Rodriguez has returned for a third spell with his hometown club Newell’s Old Boys, which seems fitting.

READ: Maxi Rodriguez: Liverpool cult hero & the man who made time stand still

14. Yuri Zhirkov (37)

One-hundred-cap winger Yuri Zhirkov won the double with Chelsea under Carlo Ancelotti after becoming the most expensive Russian footballer of all time.

He has featured in four major tournaments for Russia and has been at Zenit Saint Petersburg since 2016, winning two Russian Premier League titles and now looking on course for a third.

15. Rodrigo Palacio (38)

It’s been more than a decade since Rodrigo Palacio ruined your viewing experience of the 2010 World Cup with his awful rat tail.

The Argentine turns 39 in a few weeks, but he’s still playing in Serie A with Bologna, scoring once this season so far.

He’s still got the hair, yeah.

16. Diego (35)

Brazilian playmaker Diego isn’t even that old, but he seems to have been around forever, having burst onto the scene in the early 2000s alongside fellow Santos graduates Robinho and Elano.

He’s been back in Brazil with Flamengo since 2016, where he’s won everything that can be won, including the Copa Libertadores in 2019.

READ: A tribute to Diego, the South American star robbed of his European final

17. Shunsuke Nakamura (42)

Playing professionally since 1997, Shunsuke Nakamura has had one hell of a career, writing himself into the Celtic history books with some memorable performances in the Champions League.

Now 42 and playing for Yokohama FC in the J-League, Nakamura still gets to play occasional games against Jay Bothroyd, whom he first faced in a Serie A match back in 2003.

By Benedict O’Neill

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