David Silva of Real Sociedad during the La Liga match between Sevilla FC and Real Sociedad played at Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium on November 9, 2022 in Sevilla, Spain.

A sensational XI of icons still playing at 37+: Zlatan, Modric, Silva, Joaquin..

Thanks to advances in nutrition and training methods, top-level footballers seem to be stretching their careers out longer and longer. Indeed, there are a number of iconic players that are approaching 40 – or are even beyond it – and still plying their trade at the top level of European football.

We’re getting used to the sight of veteran players extending their careers, using their many years of experience to school younger and more sprightly opponents.

We’ve put together this full XI of European football’s golden oldies, arranged in a 5-3-2 formation. To put their longevity in context, all of these players made their debuts before Arsenal’s Invincibles won the Premier League.

GK: Pepe Reina (40)

The former Spain international left Liverpool eight years ago and has done a European tour of glamour cubs since, representing Bayern Munich, Napoli and AC Milan in his twilight years.

Reina is now back at Villarreal, who Liverpool signed him from way back in 2005. He’s made 10 appearances for the Yellow Submarine this season and has featured between the sticks in victories over Valencia, Real Madrid and Getafe.

RWB: Jesus Navas (37)

Navas has eternally been about 25 in our heads, but apparently he ages at the same rate as the rest of us. Who’d have thought it?

Having returned to Sevilla from Man City way back in 2017, Navas has gone on to add more than 200 appearances for his hometown club in his second stint. In that time he’s lifted the Europa League to add to the two UEFA Cups he won the first time around.

Navas is still contracted at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan until 2024. Jorge Sampaoli’s Rojiblancos are currently fighting against the drop – turning out in the Segunda would be a sad way for the all-time club legend’s career to end.

CB: Dante (39)

Mention Dante and, unfairly, most may immediately think back to the role he played in Brazil’s 7-1 embarassment at the hands of Germany at the 2014 World Cup. But the fact the centre-back continues to play in one of Europe’s major leagues aged 39 might tell you he deserves a bit more respect than that.

Indeed, Dante won three successive titles in his time with Bayern Munich and is now into his seventh successive season with campaign with Nice.

He’s a regular for the Ligue 1 club and features alongside the likes of Kasper Schmeichel, Ross Barkley, Aaron Ramsey and Nicolas Pepe. An eclectic mix.

CB: Thiago Silva (38)

Still a Rolls Royce of a defender, as we find ourselves obliged to call him.

CB: Jose Fonte (39)

Having played a starring role in Portugal’s European Championship triumph of 2016, it looked as though Fonte’s career would fizzle out unspectacularly.

After departing Southampton in 2017, there was an unsuccessful stint at West Ham followed by a one-last-paycheque move to Dalian Yifang. But he lasted just a few months in China before returning to Europe to sign with Lille.

Fonte has enjoyed a wonderful Indian summer in France. He’s closing in on 200 appearances for Lille and was a rock at the back as they shocked PSG to claim the 2020-21 Ligue 1 title.

LWB: Ashley Young (37)

The former England international went and won the Scudetto with Antonio Conte’s Inter after leaving Old Trafford in 2020.

He’s now into his second spell with Aston Villa, where he’s embraced the elder statesman role in Unai Emery’s squad.

“I’m a leader, I’m determined and I still want to achieve – no matter my age,” Young told Sky Sports earlier this season.

“The squad we’ve got here is a young squad that players will ask questions and I’m always there to help them, to answer them.

“It’s leading by example, it’s just how I am, it’s just how I’ve been brought up with my feet on the ground and wanting to achieve and be the best person I am.

CM: Luka Modric (37)

Still arguably the best midfielder in world football on his day. He’s only a year young than Andres Iniesta, who has been turning out in Japan for the last five years.

A ridiculous innings.

Liverpool, England, 21st February 2023. Luka Modric of Real Madrid during the UEFA Champions League match at Anfield, Liverpool. Picture credit should read: Andrew Yates / Sportimage

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CM: David Silva (37)

The Man City icon is still a delightful footballer to watch and a key figure in Real Sociedad’s push to qualify for the Champions League for only the third time in the modern era.

AMC: Joaquin (41)

The definition of a cult hero, the brilliant Joaquin played for Spain at the 2002 World Cup and keeps on plugging away over two decades later.

He started for Real Betis in their Europa League clash away at Manchester United. When he made his debut for the Verdiblancos, United fielded this line-up: Barthez, G Neville, Johnsen, Wallwork, Silvestre, Beckham, Butt, Greening, Sheringham, Cole, Fortune (via Colin Millar).

READ: 7 reasons you should love Joaquin, the Betis cult hero still going at 41

ST: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (41)

“If I see a player stronger than me, I’ll stop. But I haven’t seen him yet,” Ibra teased amid a long injury lay-off back in September.

After almost a year on the sidelines, he made his return from injury off the bench in a 2-0 victory over Atalanta last month.

His experience has proven invaluable in the dressing room and he’s proven pretty handy on the pitch, notching 33 goals in 62 Serie A appearances in his second spell with the Rossoneri.

Last season he won a 13th(!) league title of his career. The Champions League remains the only major honour that eludes him. With Milan into the quarters, he couldn’t – could he?

ST: Fabio Quagliarella (40)

Part of that proud Italian staple of veteran goalscorers, Quagliarella rolled back the years to beat Cristiano Ronaldo to the Capocannoniere award for Serie A’s top scorer, having scored 26 goals in 2018-19.

Now into his fifth decade, time appears to have finally caught up with him. Quagliarella is yet to score in 2022-23 and Sampdoria sadly look doomed for the drop. Not the ending his sensational Serie A career deserves.

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