Buffon to Ronaldo: The world-class XI of players 'we may NEVER see live again'

Juventus v FC Internazionale - 2019 International Champions Cup

Football as we know it might not return until 2021 at the very earliest.

The coronavirus pandemic has pressed pause on live sports around the world and only in the last few days has the beautiful game begun to rear its head from this uncertain and tragic time.

Twenty-thousand fans tuned in on Friday morning as the BBC marked the return of the K-League in South Korea by streaming Jeonbuk Motors vs Suwon Bluewings.

And although the Dutch, French and Belgian leagues have all been scrapped, Europe is set to follow suit with the return of the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund vs Schalke on May 16.

However, even with the Premier League due to join the comeback trail in June, they'll be one crucial component of the beautiful game that might be absent for months to come: the fans.

Games behind closed doors

That's because hosting 11 vs 11 matches in front of an empty stadium is a completely different ball game in terms of safety to welcoming tens of thousands of supporters into the stands.

It's a sad set of circumstances that, sure, will pass eventually, but the unrelenting march of time means that playing behind closed doors for over a year could have some unforeseen permutations.

And that's something that The Sun decided to assess on Monday afternoon, highlighting an XI of players that, rather alarmingly, may never be seen in action by a live audience ever again.

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The 'never watch live again' XI

Besides, there are players who simply won't be at the top of their game when fans are able to return or simply won't let the COVID-19 tragedy make a difference to their retirement plans.

It's truly gutting when you realise the legends that could fit into the category and you can check out the XI that might be playing to an empty stadium for the rest of their careers down below:

Gianluigi Buffon

Already 42 years old, the Italian is out of contract in the summer and even if he signs what would surely be a final one-year extension, that's no guarantee that he would ever play before the Juventus faithful again.

Juventus v Hellas Verona - Serie A

Dani Alves

The Barcelona legend will have the number '38' on his next birthday cake and recently embarking on a swan-song spell with Sao Paulo suggests calling time on his career is at the back of his mind.

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Giorgio Chiellini

That's right, another Juventus legend out of contract in the summer, although we're inclined to think the 35-year-old defender will either extend his stay or keep playing on elsewhere. There's life in the old warhorse yet.

Juventus v Brescia Calcio - Serie A

Sergio Ramos

Harsh, no? At 'just' 35 and with another year on his Real contract, we feel pretty confident that Ramos will be displaying his iconic dark arts for either supporters at the Bernabeu or fans further afield one day.

Real Madrid CF v FC Barcelona  - La Liga

Leighton Baines

It's easy to forget what a brilliant player Baines was in his hey day and having made just five Premier League appearances this season, it seems logical that he would bow out when his contract expires in the summer.

Everton FC v Southampton FC - Premier League

Luka Modric

Modric is said to be 'considering his options' as he enters the final months of his Real deal and it remains to be seen whether that will spell retirement having been on a downward trajectory since his Ballon d'Or win.

Real Madrid CF v RC Celta de Vigo  - La Liga

Wayne Rooney

It's always been quietly assumed that Rooney's move to Derby is a transitional phase into coaching and therefore, it's actually quite feasible that Manchester United's record scorer may never play for a crowd again.

Derby County v Fulham - Sky Bet Championship

Andres Iniesta

Perhaps the player we can bank on the most, sadly. Iniesta is expected to announce his retirement either this summer or the next, so it's a race against time for Japan to open its stadiums to fans again.

Vissel Kobe v Johor Darul Ta'zim - AFC Champions League: Group G

David Silva

It's already confirmed that Silva will be leaving City this year, so he'll never play before a Premier League crowd again, but whether or not he'll put on a final show for spectators in general depends on his next move.

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Cristiano Ronaldo

Nah... you're having a laugh. We're not having this.

The Sun are suggesting that Ronaldo might want to go out on a high by treating Euro 2021 as one final tournament and if that was the case, then CR7 may indeed have played in front of fans for the last time.

Only, we can't see it happening. Surely Ronaldo will plough on until the 2022 World Cup at the very least and frankly, his physical brilliance could allow him to play towards his 40th birthday.

Olympique Lyon v Juventus - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

The end is near for Zlatan having recently wound down his career in the MLS and a mediocre return to AC Milan might encourage him to retire before his goal-scoring dips below a point that would wound his ego.

ACF Fiorentina v AC Milan - Serie A

The end of an era?

I'm not crying, you're crying.

It would be so gutting if legends of the game such as Buffon, Iniesta, Rooney and many more were to play the final games of their illustrious careers in front of thousands of empty seats.

But sadly we need to wait as long as possible before opening stadiums to thousands of spectators in order to lower the chances of COVID-19 ruining more lives than it already has done.

That might mean, in turn, that some of the players in that XI may be unable to play on for the spectacular departure that their achievements deserve. 

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As far as Ronaldo is concerned, though, there's no athlete in the world we'd back more to keep himself in the sort of physical condition to keep playing way, way beyond the pandemic.

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