13 wildly successful Premier League signings that arrived after turning 30

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Chelsea midfielder Claude Makelele during Chelsea's Premier League match against Aston Villa, Stamford Bridge, London, England, 27 September 2003

Some have questioned the wisdom of Manchester United signing Casemiro, given that there’s an argument the Brazilian’s peak years are behind him.

United were stung by the signing of Bastian Schweinsteiger back in 2015. The midfielder was only 30 when he arrived at Old Trafford but he struggled to adapt to the Premier League and he never quite replicated the dominant performances he’d routinely produced for Bayern Munich and Germany.

But Schweinsteiger is only one example, and there is plenty of precedent of experienced veterans who arrived from abroad and shone in the Premier League. These 13 players prove that there’s plenty of life left after turning 30.

Ruud Gullit

Few players in English football history have arrived on these shores as decorated as Gullit.

A Ballon d’Or winner, a two-time European Cup winner, an Eredivisie champion with two different clubs and a three-time Italian champion when Serie A was in its heyday.

He had little left to prove and ultimately wouldn’t lift any more silverware as a player. But he was named Chelsea’s Player of the Season and 1995-96, and later served as manager, proving influential in attracting some fellow golden oldies to Stamford Bridge. He also led the club to the FA Cup in 1996-97.

Gianluca Vialli

Thirty-two and already boasting a career most players could only dream of when he rocked up at Stamford Bridge in ’96, Vialli was not done yet.

“I like the English way of playing football, the atmosphere in games and also London – the possibility to live in Chelsea, such a cosmopolitan place, and learn the language was an attractive opportunity for me,” he said.

It didn’t take him long to adapt. A Chelsea legend.

Gianfranco Zola

Zola had been a professional for over 12 years, rising through the ranks lower down the Italian pyramid, eventually turning out in Serie A with Napoli and Parma before he joined Chelsea as a 30-year-old in November 1996.

It was only upon joining the Blues that he’d reach his peak. He spent seven seasons at Stamford Bridge and was an absolute joy to watch throughout that time.

READ: A tribute to the glorious Gianfranco Zola, an unbelievable bargain

Attilio Lombardo

The Italian had plenty of miles in his legs when he arrived as a 31-year-old at Crystal Palace in 1997. Over 150 appearances for Cremonese and over 200 for Sampdoria. Despite looking his age, Lombardo still had gas in the tank.

“While the Eagles slowly started to realise their role that season was to basically prop up the division, Lombardo didn’t get the memo and continued to be a cut above the rest of his team-mates,” Jim Daly, host of Crystal Palace podcast The Five Year Plan, told us.

“He was way too good for Palace. The sight of seeing Lombardo dance past three defenders and play the ball into the space Bruce Dyer should have been in but was too mesmerised by his own team-mates’ skills to realise will never leave me.”

A veteran player, simultaneously the Premier League’s youngest ever manager, oddly enough.

Edwin van der Sar

The Dutchman established himself as a revolutionary sweeper and one of the best young keepers in Europe at Louis van Gaal’s Ajax in the 90s.

He won four Eredivisie titles, three KNVB Cups and the Champions League, but his stock took a hit during a couple of forgettable years at Juventus at the turn of the century.

Then in 2001, aged 30, Van der Sar made the eyebrow-raising move to Fulham. He spent four years at Craven Cottage, gradually rebuilding his reputation, and at 34 made the move to Old Trafford.

In six years with Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, the keeper won four Premier League titles and played in three Champions League finals, winning one.


It’s mad to think Tugay turned 31 the summer he arrived at Blackburn Rovers, always looked even older than he was, and was still quality for eight memorable seasons.

He only scored 12 goals in 233 appearances for Blackburn but he always made sure they were bangers.

Youri Djorkaeff

“What a signing he was,” Sam Allardyce reminisced in an interview with The Athletic.

“There was no risk in it for us. It was a short-term contract. We did a lot of that in those early days, the way we used the loan and free-transfer market. If we went down, he wouldn’t be on the wage bill. As it was, he saved us and then signed permanently.

“We did that with a number of players, but Youri was the key element for us. We had picked up Bruno N’Gotty, who had a good reputation in Europe but nothing like Youri’s. It led other players to think, ‘If Youri Djorkaeff can go to Bolton, so can I.’”

The World Cup winner and Big Sam’s Bolton were a match made in heaven.

Claude Makelele

United fans will be hoping that Casemiro can emulate the huge impact Makelele made on English football. The £60million United have paid for the Brazil international is comparable to the £16million Chelsea paid for Makelele back in 2003.

The Frenchman arrived in the Premier League from Real Madrid aged 30 and went on to define the defensive midfielder role as Jose Mourinho’s imperial era crushed all that was in their path on their way to successive titles.

Real Madrid will hope that history doesn’t repeat itself at the Bernabeu. They fell apart without Makelele’s influence in the centre of the park. Time will tell whether they miss Casemiro to the same extent.

Jens Lehmann

Arsenal had something of a headache when it came to replacing long-serving and ever-dependable David Seaman in 2003.

They made the perfect choice with 33-year-old Lehmann, who joined from Borussia Dortmund. He still holds the record for the longest unbeaten start to a Premier League career, having not suffered defeat for his 47 league appearances, which – of course – included his unforgettable debut Invincibles season.

Lehmann’s somewhat erratic tendencies became more problematic as time wore on, but you can’t question the impact he made.

READ: An ode to Jens Lehmann: The maddest of the maverick keepers

Fernando Hierro

Bolton finished sixth in 2004-05. It’s one of the greatest seasons in the club’s entire history. It’s no coincidence that it was 37-year-old Fernando Hierro’s one and only season with the club, a final swansong in a major European league after a short stint in Qatar with Al-Rayyan.

A class act until the end.

Henrik Larsson

It was only a loan. It was only seven Premier League appearances. But what appearances they were.

The definition of short and sweet.

Esteban Cambiasso

At first, it was just a fun novelty to see the legendary Argentinian turn out for Leicester City, aged 34, but as his one and only season at the King Power progressed it was clear he could still hack it.

Then they got rid of him and went and won the Premier League. The mid-2010s were wild, in hindsight.

READ: A tribute to Esteban Cambiasso and his final stand with Leicester City

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Gary Neville recently rated Ibrahimovic as one of just two successful signings that United have made since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.

It’s hard to disagree. The striker had already won titles across Europe and become PSG’s all-time top scorer before he arrived at Old Trafford as a 34-year-old in 2015. He scored 17 goals and registered five assists in 33 Premier League appearances and played a vital role in the last pieces of silverware the Red Devils won over five years ago.

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