The year 2023 is one that will live long in the memory from a football perspective; from Manchester City’s treble-winners to Saudi Arabia’s push for world domination and Lionel Messi’s move to MLS.
It’s also seen a number of all-time greats hang up their boots for good.
We’ve put together a sensational XI of players that have retired in 2023, arranged in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
GK: Gianluigi Buffon
The Champions League trophy was agonisingly elusive, but Buffon hangs up his gloves as one the most decorated goalkeepers in the history of football. Few, if any, top-level players can match him for sheer longevity.
The Italian World Cup winner was named Serie A’s Goalkeeper of the Year on no fewer than 13 occasions. After making his professional debut way back in 1995, he won 12 Scudetto with Juventus and one Ligue 1 title with PSG before returning to boyhood club Parma at the age of 43.
Buffon has spent the last two seasons turning out in Serie B but looks set to call it quits ahead of the upcoming 2023-24 campaign. He finally announced his retirement in August 2023.
RB: Sime Vrsaljko
Okay, Vrsaljko wasn’t quite at the level of some of the other names on this teamsheet, but he was a very solid right-back on his day.
He made 100 appearances for Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid, winning the Europa League in 2018 and La Liga title in 2021, and started in the 2018 World Cup final after starring in Croatia’s against-all-odds run to the Luzhniki Stadium.
Injuries took their toll in the end and he announced his retirement at the age of 31 after one final short-lived stint with Olympiacos.
Vrsaljko has retired.
His career has sadly been riddled with injuries and bad luck, especially the later part.
But he leaves us with one of the best pictures to come out of football. pic.twitter.com/5oYqnMiQEO
— Croatian Football (@CroatiaFooty) March 22, 2023
The centre-back won league titles in three different continents and was part of Brazil’s 2019 Copa America-winning squad.
But his peak years undoubtedly came with Atletico Madrid. After scoring their unforgettable match-winner in the 2013 Copa del Rey final victory over Real Madrid, he helped form a colossal partnership with Diego Godin as they topped La Liga and reached the Champions League final the following season.
CB: Diego Godin
It’s only fitting that Godin slots in alongside Miranda here.
The on-pitch embodiment of Cholismo, Godin is undoubtedly one of the greatest players in Atletico Madrid’s history. An absolute warrior in defence, it was Godin’s header against Barcelona that clinched Atleti’s famous 2013-24 La Liga title.
The centre-back also won the Copa America with Uruguay in 2011 and was a trusty mainstay of their defence for well over a decade.
LB: Jonas Hector
Spoiling our all-Atleti backline is German left-back Hector. We’re arguably lacking a little in terms of star power in the full-back areas but try telling FC Koln fans that Hector wasn’t a legend.
A cult hero at the Mungersdorfer Stadium, he made over 300 appearances for the Billy Goats and starred in two memorable promotion-winning campaigns back to the Bundesliga before making the surprising decision to stop playing professionally at the age of 32 after Koln’s comfortably midtable finish last term.
Hector also became a regular Germany international after the 2014 World Cup, and featured in their 2017 Confederations Cup victory.
“Without wanting to go into detail, but every single reason why he wants to quit professional football is totally understandable. The team honoured a great FC player with prolonged applause. After the season we will say thank you,” managing director Christian Keller said after the decision was announced.
“Words cannot sum up what Jonas Hector means to 1. FC Koln, the city and all FC fans. He is one of the greatest players to have worn this shirt! The FC captain has been incomparably loyal to FC for more than a decade – in good times and bad. He led FC to the European Cup twice.”
Congratulations, Jonas Hector! 🎉
Your choice for the Bundesliga Goal of the Year 2018 🎖️ pic.twitter.com/BqJSEn2vmp
— Bundesliga English (@Bundesliga_EN) January 11, 2019
DM: Lucas Leiva
Liverpool and Lazio favourite Lucas enjoyed a long and fruitful career in football. He played until the age of 36, but his career was brought to a sudden and premature end due to a heart condition.
“The day has come to say goodbye to the field,” Lucas posted on social media.
“I confess that it came from greater forces, but I look back and can only be thankful for the career I built. In 2007 I transferred to the giant Liverpool, which was part of my life for 10 years.
“It is with great pride that I can say that today Liverpool is my home. I’m proud to be an English citizen and along with my family, I’m [a] Scouser!”
CM: Cesc Fabregas
Putting him in the slightly deeper role he played so effectively whilst at Chelsea, Fabregas saw out his career playing in the scenic surroundings of FC Como
He’s gone straight into coaching the club’s Under-19s and you imagine the budding tactician could have a successful career in the dugout ahead of him, given his intelligence as a footballer and experience playing under Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger and Antonio Conte.
A hell of an education, that.
FWR: Gareth Bale
With his five Champions League wins with Real Madrid, Bale surely surpassed John Charles and Ryan Giggs as the greatest Welsh footballer in history by the time he called time on his career at the age of 33 in January.
He demonstrated his trademark heroics one final time to a last-minute equaliser in LAFC’s MLS Cup final victory last November, but his international career deserved a better ending than Wales’ limp elimination from the World Cup in Qatar.
“My decision to retire from international football has been by far the hardest of my career,” Bale said. “My journey on the international stage is one that has changed not only my life but who I am.”
AMC: Mesut Ozil
One of the most aesthetically pleasing footballers of his era, it was a shame the way Ozil’s career fizzled out at Arsenal.
Outrageous in his pomp for Germany and Real Madrid before living up to the hype in his early years at the Emirates, the playmaker’s career went the way of his classic No.10 position – the only place we’d dream of putting him.
Unfortunately, Ozil was unable to rekindle his old spark in the Turkish Super Lig and called it quits at the age of 34 after underwhelming stints with Fenerbahce and Istanbul Basaksehir.
The less said about his exploits since retiring, the better.
FWL: David Silva
Shunted in a little awkwardly here, there’s no chance we weren’t including Silva somewhere.
While not his best or most natural position, Silva did slot in on the right on occasion, and possessed the versatility and understanding to thrive in a number of positions. He played false nine to perfection in the Euro 2012 final, FFS.
He established himself as one of Manchester City’s all-time greats during his peak years, but wowed Spanish audiences in his veteran years for Real Sociedad.
Silva was even gearing up to represent La Real in the Champions League next season before a serious knee injury forced him into retirement.
ST: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
With Buffon and Ibra calling it time, this summer well and truly marks the end of an era for Italian football.
Injuries reduced the legendary centre-forward to just one start for AC Milan last term – even the man himself couldn’t ignore the signs that the time had come.
The entire San Siro was in tears during his farewell speech – besides from the visiting Verona fans, to whom Ibrahimovic gave a classic response.
“Keep booing,” he responded in Italian. “This is the biggest moment in your year seeing me!”
Zlatan until the very end.