Football is worthy of its reputation as the ‘world game’.
It’s played in every corner of the globe and brings different cultures together like no other sport.
Europe is undoubtedly the pinnacle of club football and the continent of choice for elite players.
A typical career sees their peak years spent in England, Spain, Germany, France or Italy before they drop down to a lower tier or move abroad to less competitive pastures.
There was a time when the difference in remuneration between playing in a top European league and elsewhere meant players would only eek another year or two before retiring.
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However, the pervasion of commercialisation in modern football allows veteran players to put off retirement for as long as their body holds up.
The proof is in the number of Premier League, Champions League and World Cup winners who are still plying their trade in Europe, unbeknown to the average fan.
Here are 21 probably forgotten players who are still turning out for a club in Europe…
1. Michael Essien (Sabail)
It seems an age since Michael Essien – or ‘The Bison’ – was dominating rival Premier League midfielders for Chelsea.
But the 37-year-old hasn’t yet hung up his boots and will be hoping to add the Azerbaijan Premier League title to his glittering list of honours this season.
2. Eric Djemba-Djemba (FC Vallorbe-Ballaigues)
Eric Djemba-Djemba, 38, has played for no less than 11 different clubs since Manchester United signed him for £3.5 million in 2003.
An FA Cup and Africa Cup of Nations winner, he’s still going strong in the fifth-tier of Swiss football.
3. Pascal Chimbonda (Ashton Town)
Pascal Chimbonda earned a place in the Premier League Team of the Year for 2005/06 alongside John Terry, William Gallas and Jamie Carragher – no mean feat as a Wigan player.
The 40-year-old Frenchman has since represented ten different clubs – the most recent being Ashton Town in the North West Counties League.
4. Claudio Pizarro (Werder Bremen)
It’s a great shame that most Premier League fans will remember Claudio Pizarro for his woeful 2007/08 season at Chelsea.
The Paraguayan, 41, is the sixth all-time top scorer in Bundesliga history and he’s still finding the net in his fifth spell with Werder Bremen.
5. Milan Baros (Banik Ostrava)
The 2005 Champions League Final is probably the last time any Liverpool fan can remember seeing Milan Baros on a football pitch.
However, the Euro 2004 Golden Boot winner remains an active professional footballer Banik Ostrava in his native Czech Republic.
6. Alexander Hleb (Isloch Minsk Raion)
Every footballer has a favoured club, but Alexander Hleb’s history with BATE Borisov is frankly ridiculous.
The 38-year-old former Arsenal winger left the Belarusian outfit for the sixth time last summer to continue his playing career with Isloch Minsk Raion in the city he was born.
7. Robinho (Istanbul Basaksehir)
It’s incredible how quickly Robinho drifted into obscurity following his infamous British record transfer to Manchester City.
Just 18 months after arriving on the same day as the Abu Dhabi United Group takeover, the Brazilian, now 36, left the Etihad for the first of his next five clubs before joining Istanbul Basaksehir in 2019.
8. Demba Ba (Istanbul Basaksehir)
Demba Ba, 34, plays alongside the former Real Madrid wonderkid in Turkey, though his form in front of goal is considerably more impressive.
The ex-West Ham, Newcastle and Chelsea striker has bagged eight goals in 23 appearances since returning to the Super Lig from Shanghai Shenhua.
9. Gael Clichy (Istanbul Basaksehir)
Turkey’s largest city has also been home to Gael Clichy since ending his 14-year spell in the Premier League with Arsenal and Manchester City.
Unfortunately, the 34-year-old left-back is yet to win his first piece of silverware at the Fatih Terim Stadium.
10. Martin Skrtel (Istanbul Basaksehir)
Martin Skrtel, 35, rounds off Istanbul Basaksehir’s quartet of former Premier League stars.
The former Liverpool centre-back was actually signed to Atalanta for three weeks last summer, but his contract was bizarrely ended by mutual consent and led to him returning to Turkey.
11. Mario Gomez (VfB Stuttgart)
Mario Gomez was never really the household name a 22-year-old winner of the German Footballer of the Year might be expected to become.
Now 34, his still-impressive career rolls on with his boyhood club VfB Stuttgart in the 2. Bundesliga.
12. Lukas Podolski (Antalyaspor)
Lukas Podolski, 34, is still more than capable of delighting fans with his wondrous left foot.
The former Bayern Munich and Arsenal star was a hit in Japan with Vissel Kobe for three years before agreeing to kick on at Antalyaspor until at least mid-2021.
13. Emre Belozoglu (Fenerbache)
It takes some player to be a regular feature for any national team and 39-year-old Emre Belozoglu is doing just that.
The veteran midfielder is enjoying his third stint at Fenerbache in a career that has also seen him wear the shirts of Galatasaray, Inter Milan, Newcastle and Atletico Madrid.
14. Salomon Kalou (Hertha Berlin)
Salomon Kalou, 34, was well-known for the wrong reasons during his six-year spell at Chelsea between 2006 and 2012.
But there was always a decent player in him, which he’s shown with 51 goals in 167 appearances for Hertha Berlin, where he’s played since 2014.
15. Papiss Cisse (Alanyaspor)
Another old Premier League favourite who’s opted to spend the twilight of his career in Turkey, Papiss Cisse looks as if he could still do a job in Europe.
The 34-year-old has quietly registered 31 goals in 44 outings for Alanyaspor.
16. Steven Caulker (Alanyaspor)
Playing alongside Cisse, Steven Caulker has wound up at Alanyaspor after losing his way during a rather pointless loan spell with Liverpool in 2016.
Still only 28, the one-time England international has every chance of returning to the heights he reached earlier on in his career.
17. Cameron Jerome (Goztepe)
Cameron Jerome always appeared far more confident playing in the Championship than at Premier League level, with 80 goals in 269 appearances and 32 in 211 respectively.
The 33-year-old has managed just seven goals and three assists in 43 appearances for Goztepe, so it probably won’t be long until he’s back where he does his best work.
18. Ricardo Quaresma (Kasimpasa)
One of the most enigmatic footballers of his generation, Ricardo Quaresma is still championing the trivela after two decades on the professional scene.
The 36-year-old is playing his eighth consecutive season in Turkey, with his time at Barcelona, Porto, Inter Milan and Chelsea now distant memories.
19. John Obi Mikel (Trabzonspor)
John Obi Mikel has flown under the radar throughout his career, usually because he did little to grab attention on the pitch.
But having played a somewhat ‘unique’ role in his glittering 11-year spell at Chelsea, the 32-year-old to China, back to England and then Turkey, where he now plays for Trabzonspor.
20. Hugo Rodallega (Denizlispor)
Hugo Rodallega was a rather hot and cold striker during his time in England, yet he still scored more Premier League goals (24) for Wigan than any other player.
The Colombian never found the net with any real consistency, though, and has spent the last five seasons providing a decent supply of goals in the Turkish Super Lig.
21. Stephane Sessegnon (Genclerbirligi)
Once watched by Premier League fans with excitement, Stephane Sessegnon has faded into the unknown in the years since he was a key man for Sunderland.
Currently turning out for struggling Turkish outfit Genclerbirligi, the 35-year-old Benin international would do well to help his side beat the drop this season.