Manchester United’s search for a midfield enforcer was ended last week after the club confirmed the capture of Casemiro from Real Madrid.
The arrival of the decorated Brazil international was widely welcomed at Old Trafford, but his signing has also been greeted with some scepticism. Even with modern methods, footballers entering their thirties are often said to be on the decline and Casemiro’s arrival has been called short-term in some sections of the media.
However, several stars have shown that age is just a number in the Premier League era and we’ve picked out five fantastic footballers who shone after arriving into the division from foreign leagues aged 30 or over.
A pioneer of the Premier League’s first decade, Ruud Gullit arrived into the division as one of the first star signings from foreign shores.
Serie A had largely hoovered up the game’s top talent during the nineties, but as Gullit reached the end of a career that had included a Ballon d’Or and back-to-back European Cup successes among his honours, he swapped Sampdoria for Stamford Bridge.
One of the best against Man City, courtesy of Ruud Gullit!
Enjoy! 🚀 pic.twitter.com/uTzhuC9Dqs
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) April 5, 2017
The marquee man signed for Chelsea just a few months short of his 33rd birthday, but there was much of the old magic left as he shone during a debut campaign in English football. His first season saw Gullit claim Chelsea’s Player of the Season accolade, while he finished as runner-up to Eric Cantona for the FWA Footballer of the Year gong.
Gullit moved into a player-manager role at the end of that campaign, before concentrating his efforts on coaching. He led the Blues to FA Cup success in 1997, ending a 26-year trophy drought for a Chelsea side far from the superpower they would become after the turn of the millennium.
Gianfranco Zola’s finest football came in the colours of Chelsea, despite not arriving into English football until the age of 30.
Zola had won Serie A and the UEFA Cup during spells at Napoli and Parma, but reached new levels during a special seven-season spell at Stamford Bridge.
The diminutive Italian made an instant impact after arriving at Chelsea and was named as the FWA Footballer of the Year during his debut campaign – despite not arriving until November. He became the first Chelsea player to win the award and remains the only footballer to have won the accolade after arriving mid-season.
Zola’s game was built on brilliant technique, with glorious goals becoming a welcome habit. A wonderful individual goal against Manchester United remains a highlight, as does a clever back-heeled flick against Norwich which is regularly repeated on any FA Cup montage.
Twice named as the west London club’s Player of the Season, he scored 80 goals in 311 appearances for Chelsea and was the inspiration behind their success in cup competition during the late nineties.
He won two FA Cups, the League Cup, a UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and the UEFA Super Cup at Chelsea and was voted as the club’s greatest ever player at the time of his departure in 2003.
Edwin van der Sar
Goalkeepers often peak later than their outfield counterparts, but Edwin van der Sar’s longevity was remarkable even among Premier League shot-stoppers.
A Champions League winner at Ajax in 1995, he endured a testing time at Juventus before arriving into the Premier League at Fulham in 2001.
The 30-year-old’s arrival in west London raised eyebrows, with Van der Sar shining for the newly-promoted Cottagers on their return to the Premier League.
After four seasons and 154 appearances, he moved to Manchester United in a cut-price deal as Sir Alex Ferguson looked to end a six-year search for Peter Schmeichel’s replacement.
The Dutchman proved a bargain buy, as he won four Premier League titles and reached three Champions League finals at Old Trafford.
Was Edwin van der Sar one of Sir Alex Ferguson's best-ever signings? 🧤
— Premier League (@premierleague) June 5, 2021
He was instrumental in the club’s Champions League success in 2007/08, while he set a world-record after going 1,311 minutes – a run of 14 consecutive clean sheets – without conceding a Premier League goal the following season.
He eventually retired following defeat to Barcelona in the 2011 Champions League final, a fixture which saw Van der Sar become the oldest player to feature in the final in the Champions League era, aged 40 years and 211 days.
Manchester United will hope Casemiro can make a similar impact to Claude Makelele, another midfield anchor signed from Real Madrid.
Makelele was the under-appreciated glue of Real Madrid’s midfield during their Galactico era, but was allowed to leave for Chelsea after feeling his contribution was overlooked.
The Spaniard’s loss was Chelsea’s gain, as Makelele made a major impact at the base of the Blues’ midfield. Jose Mourinho’s arrival as manager and move to a three-man engine room saw Makelele flourish, as the defensive screen in a Chelsea team who cantered to the Premier League title.
When Claude Makelele scores and you lift your first @PremierLeague title on the same day…
An afternoon we will never forget, 14 years ago today! 🏆 pic.twitter.com/tbkrNu9Cdi
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) May 7, 2019
The west Londoners conceded a record low of just 15 goals during the 2004/05 campaign, before making it back-to-back championships the following season.
He made 217 appearances as Chelsea emerged as the Premier League’s new dominant force and won five major trophies with the club.
Keen to prove a point to the Premier League fans who had long doubted his talents, Zlatan Ibrahimovic moved to English football on a free transfer in 2016.
The Swedish superstar had won ten league titles across multiple European leagues and become PSG’s all-time record goalscorer before his move to Manchester United, but at 34 arrived with question marks over his suitability to the Premier League.
Ibrahimovic emphatically answered those doubts with a goal on debut and hit 28 goals in all competitions during a maiden campaign curtailed in April. He became the oldest player to score 15+ goals in a Premier League campaign at the age of 35 years and 125 days.
What a first season at Old Trafford he had! 💪 pic.twitter.com/YeKtKM0C7K
— Premier League (@premierleague) July 1, 2022
His goals often came at crucial times, including a double as the Red Devils beat Southampton 3-2 to win the League Cup at Wembley. He missed the final as the Europa League was added to the cabinet, the most recent silverware claimed at Old Trafford.
He failed to regain his place in the team upon returning from a long absence and moved on to LA Galaxy. He has since scored 89 goals in 132 games since leaving United, across spells with the MLS side and a return to AC Milan. Now 40, he scored eight goals as the Rossoneri won the Serie A title last season.