Scott McTominay before the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London, August 2023.

The Lingard paradox: 9 players we could’ve sworn were still in their early 20s

It’s no secret that footballers have a much shorter career than the majority of us, leading us to consider any player over 30 is nearing retirement age – but the ages of this lot still caught us by surprise.

Whether they’d be blessed with a baby face, be wise to the anti-ageing virtues of olive oil or simply be in possession of a miracle moisturiser, some footballers appear much younger than their birth certificate would suggest.

We’ve picked out nine high-profile footballers that are significantly older than you think they are.

Eberechi Eze

Twenty-five? Really? We had Eze pegged as 21 at the oldest.

The Crystal Palace midfielder has been a sensation at Selhurst Park, winning his first England cap in June and attracting interest from Arsenal and Manchester City.

But we assumed he’d have plenty of time before moving to one of the self-important big clubs. Deceptively old (in football terms, before we get bombarded with angry messages from forty-somethings).

Kaoru Mitoma

Mitoma has been a revelation over the past 12 months, dazzling Premier League fans with his lightening-quick feet and penchant for spectacular goals.

The Brighton and Japan forward has become a Fantasy Football staple and his rapid rise makes it extremely surprising to learn he’s already 26. Where has he been all this time?


Scott McTominay

McTominay is a paradox; it feels like the midfielder has been around forever (his Manchester United debut came under Jose Mourinho in one of his passive-aggressive swipes at the board), but also feels like he’s still in his early 20s.

But the Scotland international will turn 27 in December and will receive the footballing equivalent of a free bus pass in return – being described as a ‘veteran’ by Twitter Tacticos.

Ollie Watkins

Another player who seems eternally in his early 20s, judging by the way people bang on about England call-ups with such persistence that you believe the Aston Villa striker will be Harry Kane’s successor for the next decade.

But he’s already 27. It’s not happening lads.

Jack Grealish

With his long hair, hedonistic tendencies, wispy facial hair and carefree attitude to life, Grealish is essentially the lad from your hometown who never seems to age.

In fact, every time you return home at Christmas or family birthdays, his continued presence in your local lends the whole scene a Groundhog Day feel.

So it’s surprising to learn that the Manchester City and England forward will celebrate his 28th birthday in mid-September.

Jack Grealish during Manchester City's Champions League-winning celebrations in Istanbul, Turkey, June 2023.

READ: 10 of Jack Grealish’s funniest moments from UCL chaos to encyclopaedias

Paulo Dybala

Hands up who knew Dybala will celebrate his 30th birthday in November? None of you? That’s the correct answer.

Surely this is just a typing error on his Wikipedia page. We’d have sworn on our cat’s life that the Argentina international was 26. Weird.

Eddie Nketiah

Yes, Nketiah is only 24. But the manner he’s described, with every missed chance being explained away like patient parents justifying why their child isn’t potty-trained yet, would lead you to believe he’s still a teenager.

Basically, the Arsenal striker will be thought of as 24 for the rest of his career. Accept your fate, Eddie.

Harry Winks

The days of Winks being described as a ‘promising player’ are long gone, but it’s still a surprise to learn the midfielder celebrated his 27th birthday last February.

With his timeless short-back-and-sides, Winks looks every inch like a Home Counties estate agent but will instead spend the 2023-24 season helping Leicester attempt to regain their Premier League status at the first attempt.

Jesse Lingard

We’ve saved the OG until last. It was common parlance to describe Lingard as a ‘promising young talent’ well into his late 20s, before Football Twitter got their hands on it and turned the phrase into a meme.

Still, the former England international is only 30. We’d like to know what brand of moisturiser he wears.

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