It’s a young man’s game, football. Erling Haaland – 21. Kylian Mbappe – 23. Nobody’s got any time for the old men. Players peak in their late 20s, and they’re done by 31. Maybe a little later if they’re a goalkeeper. Everyone knows that.
But is that true? Yes, football is faster than ever, and more physically demanding as teams adopt a high-pressure pressing game. But that doesn’t mean your career is done at 30. In fact, some players age like fine wine. Some are even still world-class into their late 30s and early 40s.
Don’t believe us? Here are five players who’d still get into your team’s starting XI even though they’re over 35.
Manuel Neuer (36)
Picking a goalkeeper is almost cheating, with players like Buffon going on well into their late 30s and beyond. But Manuel Neuer is still at his absolute peak even though he’s past 35. The man who invented the modern sweeper-keeper role is still Germany and Bayern Munich captain, he’s helped Bayern win ten titles in a row, and he achieved an unbelievable sextuple trophy haul in 2020.
Bayern have just renewed his contract for another year, so they clearly believe the shot-stopper can carry them to an 11th straight Bundesliga crown, and perhaps a Champions League title too. And if Germany go the distance in Qatar, it’ll be because Neuer has been the best goalkeeper at the tournament.
Luka Modric (36)
Luka Modric has just lifted the Champions League with Madrid, having equalled Cristiano Ronaldo’s record of winning the most prestigious trophy in club football five times. By the time Real start their title defence next autumn, he’ll be 37 years old. And yet the Croatian midfielder shows no signs of slowing down or stopping.
In fact, the Spanish giants are set to offer Modric a contract extension that will see him remain at the Bernabeu for two more seasons, having already secured his signature for the upcoming season. Not bad for an “old man.”
Thiago Silva (37)
When Silva lifted the Champions League trophy with Chelsea in 2021, some people expected him to retire. But the Brazilian defender is planning on staying with the Blues until after the World Cup, and has set his sights on glory with both club and country.
You wouldn’t bet against him. At 37 and still going strong, the elite centre-back could be one of a handful of players that competes at the highest level into his forties. Something which takes dedication, focus, and heroic levels of determination. This brings us nicely on to…
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (40)
Zlatan is dedicated, focused, and heroically dedicated. He’s just won Serie A with AC Milan despite destroying his ACL in an injury that would end the career of players ten years younger. Playing hurt for 8 months hasn’t affected Zlatan’s performance, with a goal every other game for the Italian champions this past season.
In fact, the treatment needed for his injury is probably the only thing keeping him from coming out of international retirement a second time. But with surgery required to extend his career into his 41st year and beyond, the magnificent Zlatan will just need to buy World Cup tickets like the rest of us.
Cristiano Ronaldo (37)
Zidane, Ronaldinho and Kaka had all retired by age 35, but at age 35, Cristiano Ronaldo broke Juventus’ single-season scoring record.
Ronaldo is 37 years old and he’s just finished a season as the Premier League’s third highest scorer behind Salah and Son. He’ll be six off 38 after the 2022 World Cup final, and you wouldn’t be surprised if he won that game for Portugal. He’s an absolute phenom.
And even when his contemporaries have retired or gone into management, he’s still the best reason to buy Manchester United tickets.