With footballers becoming younger and the game becoming faster, let's take a closer look at those on the opposite end of the age scale.
As a tribute to these bastions of the game who have contributed so much to the sport, I’ve picked a starting XI of players - formation: 4-1-2-1-2 - still playing the game above the age of 30.
Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon | Age: 35
Interestingly Buffon is one of only two World Cup winners in this XI. Buffon remains, without doubt, the best 'keeper not only in Italian football but in Serie A. He is also the most expensive goalkeeper of all time with Juventus paying £32m million for Buffon in 2001. 35, incidentally, isn’t remarkably old for a goalkeeper; nevertheless, without Buffon, Juventus would never have had an undefeated 2011/12 season in Serie A.
Left-back: Ashley Cole | Age: 32
What is remarkable about Ashley Cole is that not that he is best left-back in the Premier League - and probably the world - but that he has been for as long as anyone can remember. Cole has over 100 caps for England, an incredible honour, and more FA Cups than any other player. Although many regard Leighton Baines as the future for England’s left-back position, Cole has a few years left in him yet.
Centre-back: John Terry | Age: 32
Although now a retired England international and a bench-warmer at Chelsea, having struggled to make appearances this season, Terry’s position in this antique elite is undisputed. A great captain and a regular goalscorer, despite having lost a yard of pace Terry could still break into most of Europe’s top sides at centre-back.
Centre-back: Rio Ferdinand | Age: 34
Perhaps the worst decision of 2012 was leaving Rio Ferdinand out of England’s Euro 2012 campaign for ‘footballing reasons’. At 34 he still stamps out attacks with consummate ease in the Premier League. Alongside Nemanja Vidic, the pair have formed the best and most consistent centre-back pairing in Premier League history.
Right-back: Javier Zanetti | Age: 39
Zanetti is the oldest player in this esteemed XI. With 601 league appearances for Inter Milan, Zanetti has been the most regular sight in Italian football since 1995. Having won five Serie A titles with Inter as captain, the Argentina has earned the title "Il Capitano" for his efforts. A true Inter great and a legend of Italian football.
Centre-midfielder: Xavi | Age: 33
Xavi will go down as the greatest pass-master of all time who formed an integral part of the greatest club side of all time. Two European Championships and one World Cup, six La Liga titles and three Champions League titles, Xavi is the most successful player over the age of 30 in the game of football at the moment.
Boasting a 94% pass completion rate at the European Championships last year, Xavi sits comfortably in front of Terry and Ferdinand pulling the strings of this XI.
Left-wing: Ryan Giggs | Age: 39
Ryan Giggs is nothing short of a specimen. Footballers experience highs and lows in form, all apart from Giggs. The Welshman has performed at the highest level for Manchester United for 23 years. Although he is now used sparingly as an impact player for United, to still make an impact aged 39 is an achievement in itself.
Over these 23 years, Giggs has revolutionised his own style of play from a pacy winger into a visionary who sits in the middle of the park. He is considered one of the greatest United players of all time.
Right-wing: Andrea Pirlo | Age: 33
Pirlo is the second World Cup winner of this XI - and only beat Paul Scholes to the position because of that World Cup medal.
Apart from being the coolest footballer in the world Pirlo, at 33, remains the integral piece to the Juventus jigsaw, helping them to back-to-back titles. Although Italy didn’t win Euro 2012 Pirlo was, by all accounts, the player of the tournament, outshining his Spanish counterparts who were tipped to set the tournament alight.
Pirlo suits the central role more than than the right wing, but because of the touch of class he adds to this XI - exemplified by his cheeky mockery of Joe Hart in the Euro 2012 quarter-finals - I had to find a place for him.
Attacking-midfielder: Ronaldinho | Age: 33
Ronaldinho, for me, is constantly overlooked as one of the greatest players of all time. Still a member of the Brazilian national squad, Ronaldinho is busy rearing the youngsters he inspired with his flair and exotic style of football, most notably Neymar.
Ronaldinho’s pinnacle was undoubtedly during his Barcelona days. He now plays his football at Atletico Mineiro but it would be criminal to leave out a legend of a game from this XI.
Striker: Didier Drogba | Age: 35
When Drogba scored his stunning goal for Galatasaray in the second leg of the recent Champions League tie against Real Madrid, the commentator said that Drogba had "rolled back the years" - except he hadn’t.
Drogba has scored goals of the highest calibre throughout his career and he became even better with age. Having single-handedly stopped a civil war in Ivory Coast and dragged Chelsea to their first Champions League title, Drogba is the most deserving member of this aged elite.
Striker: Samuel Eto’o | Age: 32
Samuel Eto’o is perhaps the most controversial inclusion into this XI. Now playing football for Anzhi in Russia, and earning £300,000 a week, it is fair to say that Eto’o’s best days are behind him, but what days they were.
Eto’o was the most clinical finisher in La Liga for four years, scoring 108 goals in 145 appearances. Being a talismanic captain for his national side Cameroon, Eto’o over the past ten years has been the best advert for African football with Yaya Toure only now taking up the mantle.
Who have I missed out? Please leave a comment with your thoughts.
Follow me on Twitter: @TobiaCharles
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