The careers of professional footballers are now longer than ever before with sports science keeping players at their physical peaks well past previous norms, but that doesn’t makes the age-defying performances of these players any less special.
Footballers in their mid-thirties are often thought to be on the decline, but this list of golden oldies are continuing to defy mother nature with a series of stellar performances well past their perceived peak.
Here are five top-class players still going strong at 35 or over:
The poster-boy for any player wishing to extract the maximum from their natural talents, Cristiano Ronaldo’s insatiable desire to be the best has seen the Portuguese superstar become famed for his work-rate and dedication to the sport.
Ronaldo’s fierce drive has seen him continue to star as one of world football’s finest footballers well into his thirties, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner scoring prolifically in the colours of Juventus.
The current season has seen Ronaldo score 31 league goals in just 33 appearances as the Old Lady were once again crowned as champions of Italy, adding a further six goals in both cup and continental football, with his 37 strikes in all competitions the most ever by a Juve player in a single season.
This season saw the record-breaking Ronaldo become the fastest player to reach 50 goals in the modern Serie A, reaching the figure in just 61 appearances – seven fewer than previous record holder Andriy Shevchenko.
Ronaldo also equalled Gabriel Batistuta’s record of scoring in 11 consecutive Serie A fixtures, whilst becoming the first player in history to score 50 league goals in England, Spain and Italy.
The Portugal captain has shown no signs of slowing down and remains amongst the most feared forwards in the game, although Ronaldo has so far been unable to halt Juventus’ agonising wait to win a Champions League title.
Pep Guardiola may possess a wealth of quality options at his disposal at Manchester City, but amongst his most dependable ranks the evergreen Fernandinho.
The Brazil international continues to play an important role in the City side despite turning 35 in May, the veteran’s tactical intelligence and versatility seeing him thrive in an unfamiliar centre-back role for much of the campaign.
Fernandinho’s flexibility makes him invaluable to Guardiola and his side’s hopes of success, with the star often preferred over an expensively assembled collection of central defenders – including the likes of Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones – at the Etihad.
Fernandinho’s adaptation this season despite his advancing years is another triumph for player whose standards rarely drop below consistent excellence, his reward a new one-year extension to remain at a club where he has won three Premier League titles since signing from Shakhtar Donetsk in 2013.
He may not possess the silky skills associated with some of his compatriots to have played in English football, but there is a strong argument that he may well be the Premier League’s best ever Brazilian.
The Benjamin Button of European football continues to make an impact at wherever destination he sees fit, Zlatan Ibrahimovic having returned from a goal-laden spell in MLS with LA Galaxy to spark a revival at AC Milan.
Ibrahimovic previously spent a prolific two-year spell with the Rossoneri before returning in the winter window, his arrival proving the catalyst behind a strong second half of the season that saw Stefano Pioli’s side finish the campaign with a 12-game unbeaten run in Serie A.
That form saw Milan claim a sixth-placed finish and secure Europa League qualification, with Ibrahimovic starring as the focal point of the resurgent side. The Swede scored 10 league goals in just 16 starts, firing Milan’s European push and proving he can still cut it at the highest level at 38-years-old.
He’s scored 550 career goals.
314 of them since he turned 30.
He’s got 10 goals and five assists in 19 matches this season for AC Milan. ??
He’s the oldest to score 10+ in a Serie A season. He only arrived in January. ?
He’s 38 years old.
Zlatan Ibrahimović is pure class ? pic.twitter.com/zFwBTMmkwP
— talkSPORT (@talkSPORT) August 2, 2020
Two seasons away from Europe has done little to diminish the star’s goalscoring talents, whilst his creative threat has also been evident with five assists added to his impressive haul
More than that, Ibrahimovic has brought leadership and an x-factor to a Milan side struggling for identity in a difficult period for the Italian giants, the forward quickly closing in on 500 club goals during a phenomenal career that has delivered 11 league titles in four different leagues.
It’s a testament to Thiago Silva’s abilities at 35-years-old that Paris Saint-Germain’s decision not to renew the centre-back’s contract for next season has caused such controversy, the Brazilian set to bring an end to his eight-year spell in the French capital this summer.
That decision, however, is in no way indicative of the defender’s abilities with the veteran having played an important part in yet another Ligue 1 title triumph for the Parisian outfit.
Silva has been one of world football’s best defenders for more than a decade with his formidable presence in the backline a key part of PSG’s success in recent seasons, his extensive list of major honours including seven league titles since moving to France from AC Milan in 2012.
This season has seen the centre-back make 32 appearances in all competitions as Thomas Tuchel’s side have secured a domestic treble, whilst he will play an important role in the club’s quest to win a maiden Champions League title this season.
Drawn against first-time qualifiers Atalanta in the last eight before a potential meeting with Atletico Madrid or RB Leipzig in the semi-finals, this season may represent PSG’s best route to glory for many seasons and would be a fitting send-off for a defender likely to attract significant interest from top clubs as an impending free agent.
One of football’s feel-good stories has been the renaissance of Santi Cazorla over the past two seasons, the midfielder’s return from a horrific career-threatening injury a wonderful swansong for a hugely endearing and talented playmaker.
Cazorla had established himself as a huge fans’ favourite during a six season spell with Arsenal, a mesmerising technician who captivated when taking possession in pockets of midfield space.
The Spaniard, however, suffered an injury nightmare following a debilitating ankle problem, an infection eating away at his tendon and requiring several operations just to ensure Cazorla could walk again.
Almost two full years on from his previous appearance and against all odds, however, Cazorla returned to football in the colours of former club Villarreal, where he has since re-established himself as a star of Spanish football despite being in the twilight of a memorable career.
This season has seen Cazorla become the creative fulcrum of an emerging Villarreal side, scoring 11 league goals and providing a further nine assists – the most goal contributions of any midfielder throughout La Liga.
Cazorla departs this summer to sign for Xavi’s Qatar-based Al-Sadd, the midfielder given a heroes send-off after proving he still has that sprinkling of magic despite approaching his 36th birthday.
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