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There are so many exciting young players ready to introduce themselves on Europe’s biggest stage this summer, but not enough attention is being paid to those who have already been there, seen it and done it at the very top, and who are prepared to perform again for their countries despite their age.
Almost every country competing in this summer’s tournament has a player who has been around the block a bit and is lining up for what will probably be the last major tournament of their incredible careers.
The only exception to that is Cristiano Ronaldo, who has got the stamina to last much longer than most and could quite happily play on at the highest level into his 40’s, despite being 36 and the most capped player at the tournament with 174.
So he’s not in our list of golden oldies who aren’t too long in the tooth to perform at Euro 2020, but these seven are definitely ones to keep a close eye on this summer…
Giorgio Chiellini – 36, Italy
Italy’s captain is also their most experienced performer, with 107 caps to his name since breaking his international virginity way back in 2004.
The Juventus stalwart is still going strong at the ripe old age of 36, having carved out a reputation for being an aggressive, physical and no-nonsense centre-half throughout his career.
The Italians have eight players over the age of 30 in their Euro 2020 squad, including Chiellini’s centre-back partner at Juve, Leonardo Bonucci, 34.
Both are the ‘old men’ still going strong at the back of the Old Lady, but skipper Chiellini will have the experience and leadership to ensure Roberto Mancini’s men perform like youngsters over the coming weeks.
Yuri Zhirkov – 37, Russia
Believe it or not, the winger is still playing in his native Russia, despite turning 38 this August.
Zhirkov is a national treasure in Russia, having played almost his entire career in his homeland, with a failed switch to Chelsea in 2009 the only real blotch on a wonderful career.
On the international stage, he’s still doing what he does best, going into this tournament with 104 caps under his belt. That’s exactly double the amount of the second most capped player in Stanislav Cherchesov’s squad, skipper Artem Dzyuba.
Zhirkov is showing no signs of slowing down, having appeared 20 times for Zenit Saint Petersburg in 2020/21 and already appearing three times for Russia this calendar year.
Incredibly, he’s only scored twice for Russia, averaging a goal every 52 caps, but we’re confident of him performing with plenty of stamina and energy over the coming weeks, proving there’s life in the old dog yet at a major tournament.
Goran Pandev – 37, North Macedonia
Incredibly, Pandev broke his international virginity 20 years ago in 2001 and now has an impressive 119 notches on his North Macedonian bedpost to show for his incredibly long international career.
Despite his experience as one of Europe’s cult strikers, Pandev has never been able to compete in a major tournament, with North Macedonia preparing to play in their first-ever one this summer.
It means our love affair with Pandev has pretty much been limited to club football, where he’s dominated much of his career in Italy with the likes of Inter Milan, Lazio, Napoli and now Genoa.
He’s scored goals wherever he’s gone, except during a very short spell in Turkey with Galatasary, and we can’t wait to see the captain score for North Macedonia this summer, because he definitely will.
Luka Modric – 35, Croatia
The Real Madrid midfielder is one of the most attractive players to watch on the ball at this summer’s Euros, and he’s also his country’s oldest and most experienced player with 138 caps at the age of 35.
Modric is no stranger to English fans, having made his name at Tottenham between 2008 and 2012 before heading to the Spanish capital, where he has become a giant on the world’s stage and one of the most respected players in his own right.
After making his Croatia debut in 2006, Modric has led his country through an incredibly successful era, most recently finishing as runners-up in the 2018 World Cup.
England fans will always have a lot of respect for the midfielder but it will be a love-hate relationship this summer as Croatia come up against Gareth Southgate’s side in Group D.
Lukasz Fabianski – 36, Poland
It’s criminal that the West Ham goalkeeper hasn’t got more than the 56 caps he currently holds for Poland, given his consistent top-class performances in England over the years.
Despite his reputation being tarnished by a string of sloppy mistakes for Arsenal between 2007 and 2014, he has redeemed himself admirably during spells with Swansea City and now West Ham.
The shot-stopping veteran is no stranger to keeping his sheets clean, having kept 75 in 279 Premier League appearances and 26 in 56 for Poland.
If he’s on his game this summer, which we fully expect him to be having impressed so well for West Ham in 2020/21, then Slovakia, Spain and Sweden will have to have their shooting boots on if they’re to beat him in Group E.
Manuel Neuer – 35, Germany
Another stalwart between the sticks, Manuel Neuer has achieved all there is to achieve in the game, both for club and country.
Despite being the oldest player in Germany’s squad at 35, incredibly he’s not the most experienced, with Mats Hummels and Toni Kroos (both 102 caps) playing more international games than the Bayern Munich shot-stopper (100 caps).
But the Germany captain is going to be relied upon to keep his sheets clean for one final major tournament as Joachim Low looks to end his 15-year reign as Die Mannschaft‘s manager, having overseen a recent period of underperformance, going out of the group stages in the 2018 World Cup being a particular low point.
Neuer has been the trusted man between the sticks since popping his international cherry way back in 2009, keeping 43 clean sheets for his country along the way and conceding less than a goal a game since his debut – 95 goals conceded in 100 appearances.
Pepe – 38, Portugal
And finally, Pepe is the oldest outfield player at the tournament at 38 and arrives at this tournament with Portugal as their third most experienced player, despite still having 114 caps to his name.
Despite his age, he’s still performing like a spring chicken, having made 40 appearances in all competitions for Porto in 2020/21 and one for Portugal this calendar year.
He’ll be alongside Manchester City’s Ruben Dias in the heart of Portugal’s defence this summer, providing a mixture of experience, stamina and youthfulness that Fernando Santos will be hoping is the perfect recipe to retaining A Selecao’s Euros crown.