The average age of retirement in football is 35.
By that point, players’ best days are usually behind them. There are exceptions, of course, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic the obvious examples but, generally, the mid-thirties age bracket is the best time to call it a day.
Some, though, decide to hang up their boots far earlier for a whole host of reasons, including some of the biggest names in the game’s history.
Here, we delve into some of those who walked away from the sport early.
While the Class of ’92 was the foundation for Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United revolution, Cantona was its leader. The Frenchman had struggled to find a home throughout a turbulent career, and his France career was in tatters by the time he arrived at Old Trafford in 1992.
Over the next five years, Cantona inspired United to four Premier League titles, cementing his legacy as one of English football’s best imports. After the last of those league wins in 1997, however, the forward hung up his boots aged just 30. That was not the last we saw of him, though – he has since forged out a relatively successful acting career and won a Beach Soccer World Cup with France to boot.
Marco van Basten
During the 1980s and early 90s, van Basten was one of the most formidable strikers on the planet, scoring 282 goals in just 379 club games for Ajax and AC Milan.
That form saw him win the Ballon d’Or on three occasions, while his goals fired the Netherlands to the 1988 European Championship title, their first and only international trophy. Unfortunately, he struggled with an ankle injury, which required three surgeries. The last came after an aggressive tackle from Basile Boli in the 1993 Champions League final – he never played for the Rossoneri again and retired aged 31.
Nakata finished his career at Bolton, but in the late 90s and early 00s, he was arguably the best Asian player on the planet.
The Japan international shone primarily in Serie A with Perugia, Parma, and AS Roma, while he also featured in all four of his country’s matches as they hosted the 2002 World Cup along with South Korea. Aged just 29 in 2006, however, Nakata revealed he no longer enjoyed football and wanted to do something else with his time. His next passion proved to be fashion, and he can regularly be seen attending runway shows.
Goalkeeper Roa was Argentina’s first-choice between the sticks at the 1998 World Cup and was in the middle of a successful stint at RCD Mallorca.
However, in 1999, the Santa Fe native responded to the call of a higher power, hanging up his gloves to devote himself to religion. A Seventh-day Adventist, Roa refused to discuss a new contract with Mallorca as he believed the end of the world was nigh. The Spanish outfit did not take his decision too lightly, though, and Roa was eventually forced to return to the club to see out the remainder of his contract, although he failed to retrieve his previous form. A move to Albacete Balompie was also cut short when Roa was diagnosed with testicular cancer, forcing him to retire one more.
He recovered, and returned the game for one final season with Olimpo before calling time on his career for the third and final time.
Younger fans will only know Platini as a corrupt former UEFA president, but he was one of the best players on the planet back in his heyday.
A three-time Ballon d’Or winner, all in consecutive years, the Frenchman won all there was to win at club level and scored nine goals in five matches as France triumphed at Euro 84 on home soil. Just three years later, though, the former Juventus and St. Etienne playmaker retired at the age of just 32, although he did make a brief foray back into the game – for one day, to be exact – to represent Kuwait against the Soviet Union in an international friendly in 1988.
Denmark’s Euro 92 win sent shockwaves across Europe, but anything is possible when you have talents such as Laudrup in the squad.
Along with brother Michael, who missed out on that international success, Brian remains one of his country’s greatest exports, having appeared for the likes of Bayern Munich, Fiorentina, AC Milan, Rangers and Chelsea. Unfortunately, injuries wreaked havoc on his body and thwarted his ability during what should have been his prime years. After short spells with FC Copenhagen and Ajax, Laudrup retired at 31 in 2000.
Kluivert was just 18 years of age when he scored the winner for Ajax in a 1-0 victory over Juventus in the 1995 Champions League final.
After shining at the Eredivise outfit with a whole host of other up-and-coming stars, the striker moved to AC Milan, then Barcelona, where he thrived, scoring at least 15 goals in six straight La Liga campaigns. Also, until Robin van Persie broke his record in 2013, he was the Netherlands’ all-time leading scorer with 40 goals. Following his departure from Barca, though, he went through four clubs in four years, with Lille the last stop of his career in 2008, aged 32.
While Miroslav Klose’s record of 16 career World Cup goals is accessible, if challenging to attain, surely no one will beat Fontaine’s 13 strikes at a single edition of the tournament.
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The 1958 World Cup in Sweden was undoubtedly his crowning glory, with his goals coming in just six outings, but the Frenchman was deadly in front of goal throughout his career, scoring 165 goals in 200 Ligue 1 matches. However, aged just 28 in 1962, Fontaine was forced to retire with a recurring injury, marking the end of a true great’s career.
Casiraghi enjoyed successful spells with Juventus and Lazio in his homeland before making the multi-million pound move to Chelsea.
He was one of several Italians at Stamford Bridge at the time, and there was hope he could fire the Blues to silverware. However, disaster struck in a clash with West Ham in November 1998, when he collided with goalkeeper Shaka Hislop and suffered a cruciate ligament injury. That was the last game he ever played, despite going through ten operations as he attempted to recover. His contract with the Blues was terminated in 2000, when Casiraghi was 28, with him having managed just one goal in ten outings.
At the peak of his powers, Best was one of the greatest players on the planet. At his worst, his off-the-field problems overshadowed the talent that he possessed.
The Northern Ireland international helped Manchester United win the European Cup in 1968, and scored 179 goals in 410 games for the Red Devils. He even won the Ballon d’Or the year of United’s continental success, but his and the team’s decline started in the aftermath. Best was consumed by alcoholism by the time he retired, for a second time, in 1974 aged 28.
Best did return to the sport after just 12 months but never found his previous level, although he retired for good a whole nine years later. Sadly, Best passed away in 2005.
Alan Shearer (international)
Considering Shearer did not finish his club career until he was 35, his international retirement six years earlier, in hindsight, looks premature.
The striker was prolific for England, scoring 30 times in 63 caps, and netted in three international tournaments. His best moments came at Euro 96, where he scored four times but, following the next edition four years later, he chose to hang up his Three Lions boots even though he still had plenty to offer. There was speculation he would make himself available for the 2002 World Cup and Euro 2004, but that proved to be unfounded.
Zidane was 34 by the time he retired after the 2006 World Cup, which is a good age to do so. However, his performances at the tournament suggested he had plenty more left in the tank.
The France playmaker was at his irresistible best throughout the tournament as Les Bleus reached the final. It was meant to be the perfect end to Zidane’s illustrious career, but it turned into a nightmare when he headbutted Marco Materazzi in injury time and was sent off of a result. Italy prevailed on penalties, with Zidane’s final match, therefore, ending in disgrace and defeat.
Despite his actions, he was awarded the Golden Ball for the tournament’s best player the following day. Given all he achieved in the game, it was a shame his career ended in such controversy – his legacy deserved more than that.