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Five players who came to the Premier League at 30 or over and smashed it

Football perceptions tell us that 30 is often the age in which players begin to wind down, the start of a natural and gradual decline in their physical capabilities before retirement.

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule and Manchester United and Chelsea have shown this season that there can often be no substitute for experience with veteran arrivals Edinson Cavani and Thiago Silva having made notable impressions.

The two summer signings have swiftly proven the doubters wrong despite arriving into the Premier League well into their thirties, and we’ve decided to look at some other stars who defied father time in making an impact in English football.

Here are five players who came to the Premier League at 30 or over and smashed it:

Jurgen Klinsmann

Jurgen Klinsmann’s spell in the Premier League may only have been a brief affair, but the German forward left an indelible mark during a memorable period at Tottenham.

Klinsmann was 30 when he signed for the north London side from Monaco and he faced an immediate challenge in winning over English crowds, the star’s role in England’s exit at the 1990 World Cup and reputation as a diver doing little to endear him.

He was, however, a proven household name as a World Cup winner and two-time German Footballer of the Year and arrived as one of the Premier League’s first genuine marquee imports.

What transpired was one of the Premier League’s most iconic redemptions, Klinsmann was not only a brilliant footballer but a humorous personality and a genuinely likeable character.

He scored on his debut in a thriller against Sheffield Wednesday and immediately won admirers for his self-deprecating dive celebration, part of seven goals he scored in Spurs’ first six games of the season.

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Klinsmann finished the campaign with 30 goals in all competitions and was named as the FWA Footballer of the Year, before returning to Germany with Bayern Munich with a reputation as a cult hero at White Hart Lane.

The forward returned for a second spell on loan in 1997/98 and helped a struggling Spurs avoid relegation with nine goals in 15 games, enhancing his already iconic status in north London.

Read also – Remembering Jurgen Klinsmann’s short but super sweet spell at Spurs

Gianfranco Zola

Gianfranco Zola packed so much into a seven-year spell with Chelsea that it’s easy to forget the diminutive Italian genius was 30-years-old upon his arrival from Parma.

This was a Chelsea side far from the billionaire-backed behemoth they have become, a club without a major trophy in more than two decades but on the verge of a successful period amid a foreign revolution.

Zola was perhaps the most critical piece of an entertaining side and he made an immediate impression upon arriving in November 1996, his starring displays seeing the forward named as the FWA Footballer of the Year despite missing the opening months of the campaign.

Zola was a master with the ball at his feet and boasted an exquisite first touch, a player capable of producing dazzling moments of technical brilliance and whose character only endeared him further.

There were fabulous free-kicks and solo stunners, his match-winning ability helping transform Chelsea from mid-table mediocrity to a neutral’s favourite and side capable of challenging for silverware.

Zola inspired Chelsea to a first trophy in 26 years with FA Cup success in 1997 and added another to his collection three years later, in addition to winning the League Cup, Cup Winners’ Cup and UEFA Super Cup during a glittering period.

He left Chelsea having scored 80 goals in 311 appearances and scored 14 goals to fire the club into the Champions League in his final campaign, paving the way for Roman Abramovich’s takeover and a new dawn at Stamford Bridge.

Edwin van der Sar

Yes, the careers of goalkeepers tend to have greater longevity but there’s no disputing the magnitude of Edwin van der Sar’s achievements after arriving into the Premier League.

Van de Sar had formed part of the iconic Ajax side that won the Champions League in the mid-90’s, before moving on to Juventus and spending two rather mixed seasons with the Italian giants.

Juventus’ decision to sign Gianluigi Buffon saw Van der Sar move on and he joined Fulham in a shock deal, the 31-year-old convinced by the newly-promoted west Londoner’s ambitious project and he would make 154 appearances for the Cottagers over four seasons.

It was at Manchester United, however, where Van der Sar would write his Premier League legacy, the Red Devils securing the signing of the veteran shot-stopper following a series of botched attempts to replace Peter Schmeichel.

What had largely been viewed as a stop-gap measure proved one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s shrewdest signings, Van der Sar ageing like a fine wine and becoming the reliable last line of defence for six seasons.

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He won four league titles during that time and starred as the Champions League was lifted in 2008, Van der Sar the hero of a shoot-out success against Chelsea in the final and winning the trophy 13 years after first triumphing with Ajax – the longest ever gap between successes.

Van der Sar also holds the record for longest period without conceding a league goal in English football having gone an astonishing 1,311 minutes during the 2008/09 season, a campaign in which he was shortlisted for the PFA Player of the Year award.

Read also – Rating five Man United keepers Fergie failed to replace Peter Schmeichel with

Claude Makelele

“Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?”.

That famous quote was attributed to Zinedine Zidane following Real Madrid’s decision to sell Claude Makelele to Chelsea, the midfielder allowed to depart in order to finance David Beckham’s switch to the Bernabeu.

Makelele had been the anchor in the Real Madrid midfield for three seasons and had won two league titles and the Champions League with the Spanish giants, though his attributes were overlooked by president Florentino Perez in his desperate bid to build a Galactico-packed side.

The France international moved to a Chelsea team who had recently been catapulted into the financial elite by a billionaire takeover, the 30-year-old penning a long-term deal with the west London side.

Makelele became the key cog in a Chelsea side that won back-to-back league titles following the arrival of Jose Mourinho a year later, with his ability to shield the backline and regain possession invaluable to the Premier League’s new dominant force.

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He made 217 appearances in all competitions for the Blues and won five major honours, whilst perhaps the greatest testament to his understated brilliance is how the defensive midfield position is now colloquially referenced to as the ‘Makelele role’.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s career has seen him showcase his talents for some of the continent’s giants during spells at the likes of Ajax, Juventus, Inter, Barcelona, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain, with the forward accumulating an incredible collection of silverware.

One notable omission from his extensive résumé, however, was the Premier League and there were many who were surprised to see the 36-year-old test himself in England in the twilight of his career.

The Swedish superstar had departed PSG as the club’s all-time record goalscorer and chose to reunite with former Inter manager Jose Mourinho at Manchester United, arriving on a free transfer and wasting little time in making an impact.

Ibrahimovic scored on his debut in the Community Shield before enjoying a blistering start to his Red Devils career, scoring on his first Premier League appearance as part of a prolific run of form.

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The veteran forward finished his debut campaign with 28 goals in all competitions and winners’ medals in the League Cup and Europa League, scoring twice in the former final against Southampton at Wembley.

A serious injury curtailed that memorable first season and he failed to re-establish himself as a regular before moving on to LA Galaxy, though even a 36-year-old Ibrahimovic made a mockery of suggestions that he couldn’t cut it in English football.

Read – Thomas Tuchel is a good tactical fit for Chelsea – but that may not be enough to guarantee success

See also – Five of the most transformative signings in Premier League history

 

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