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25 Footballers Who Retired Too Early

Michael CummingsWorld Football Lead WriterFebruary 2, 2012

25 Footballers Who Retired Too Early

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    Some players stick around too long. Some are gone too soon. Sometimes, there's a list with a little of both.

    This is that list.

    Today, we're bringing you a list of 25 footballers who retired too soon. It sounds simple enough, but as you'll see, retirement doesn't always mean what it sounds like.

    Confused? Then let's get to the list.

Eric Cantona

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    French midfielder Eric Cantona retired in 1997 at age 30 while still at the absolute height of his game.

    Besides a boring ol' legacy of general greatness, he also left behind a string of head-scratching quotes, a hard-won reputation for occasional insanity and the coolest piece of football fashion since Adidas unveiled their three stripes.

    Cantona could have kept it up for at least five more years, or maybe even longer in the lower leagues. But instead, he left with four Premier League titles, two FA Cups and one FWA Player of the Year award.

George Best (First Time)

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    Manchester United and Northern Ireland legend George Best gave up football the first time in 1974, just before his 28th birthday. He left after making 470 appearances for Manchester United, winning the league title twice, the European Cup once and the Ballon d'Or as Europe's best player in 1968.

    Best made a few comebacks and even turned some heads while playing in the NASL, but he wasn't ever the same again.

Zinedine Zidane

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    Zinedine Zidane retired in 2006, aged 34, right after…well, you know.

    That was an awful way for the best French footballer of his generation to go out. Zidane should have returned for one more season, just to make things right.

    Still, Zidane won the World Cup 1998 and Euro 2000 with France, the Ballon d'Or in 1998 and the FIFA World Player of the Year award three times.

Just Fontaine

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    Zidane wasn't the only French legend to retire young. Just Fontaine quit football in 1962, one month short of his 29th birthday.

    Injuries forced Fontaine out, but not before he secured his legendary status with 13 goals at the 1958 World Cup.

Pele (First Time)

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    We can already hear your heads exploding. Yes, we know Pele played with the New York Cosmos until he was almost 37.

    But we're talking about his Santos career, which he ended in 1974 after more than 600 goals.

    Besides, Pele is the best player of all time. He could have played until he was 80 (only eight more years to go) if he wanted to.

    And everyone would've been fine with it.

Marco Van Basten

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    Marco Van Basten was another casualty of injuries. The Dutch master retired in 1995 at age 31 after spending two years on the sidelines with a bum ankle.

    Before he left, he graced us with this goal in the Netherlands' victory over the USSR in the Euro 1988 final.

Carlos Roa

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    Goalkeeper Carlos Roa conceded exactly zero goals during the goal stage of the 1998 World Cup and played a starring role in Argentina's penalty-shootout win over England in the knockout phase.

    A year later, he retired from football to devote himself to his religion. He was only 29.

Alan Shearer (International)

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    Speaking of England, Alan Shearer retired from the national team at age 29—right after England's disastrous performance at Euro 2000.

    It's a shame, too, because England really could have used him over the next few years. Shearer kept playing professionally until 2006, but he never again featured for the Three Lions.

Jamie Carragher (International)

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    Here's another entry from the early-international-retirement files. Liverpool's Jamie Carragher quit England in 2007, aged 29.

    Then, he returned to the team for the 2010 World Cup.

    Make up your mind, dude.

Stanley Matthews

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    What? Retire at 50? Pshaw.

    Stanley Matthews needed to man up. He easily could've made it to 60.

Paul Scholes (First Time)

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    Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes retired in 2011 at age 36. Everything seemed fine. He even got a testimonial match out of it.

    But no. He came back last month as an emergency signing by United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

Hidetoshi Nakata

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    Japanese midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata retired in 2006 at age 29.

    He has since gone onto a career in modeling.

Lothar Matthäus (Yes, Really)

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    What? He was, like, 40, Mike! Are you crazy?

    Actually, Lothar Matthäus was 39 when he retired in 2000 as a member of the New York/New Jersey MetroStars (now the Red Bulls). But clearly, the 39-year-old version of Matthäus could still play. After all, he was named German Footballer of the Year in 1999 and featured for Germany at Euro 2000.

    Honestly, we think he could have played another two or three years. Heck, he could probably school Arsenal’s defense if he lined up against them tomorrow.

Emmanuel Petit

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    Emmanuel Petit retired in 2004, aged 33, after winning the World Cup with France in 1998 and the double with Arsenal the same year.

    Unrelated story: Petit once won £17,000 playing the slots in Monte Carlo.

Michel Platini

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    Michel Platini was yet another French star who retired young.

    After winning Euro 1984 with France and earning the Ballon d'Or three straight times between 1983 and 1985, he retired in June 1987, the same month he turned 32.

Kevin Keegan

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    Kevin Keegan retired in 1984 at age 33.

    And it wasn't like he couldn't score anymore. In his last two seasons (admittedly in the Second Division with Newcastle), he scored 48 goals.

Brian Laudrup

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    Brian Laudrup and his brother, Michael, were both named to the FIFA 100 list in 2004. They also both helped Denmark to its shock triumph at Euro 1992.

    If you can't remember who is who, try this. Brian is the one who had to retire early—aged 31 in 2000.

Didier Deschamps

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    Famously derided as a "water carrier" by his fellow early retiree, Eric Cantona, Didier Deschamps captained France to the 1998 World Cup title.

    Then, he retired in 2001 at age 32.

Jurgen Klinsmann

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    These days, Jurgen Klinsmann is the head coach of the United States Men's National Team. And we love him for it.

    Back in the day, he was a pretty awesome player, too. He retired in 1998 at age 33.

    Probably so he could study up on his managerial skills.

Patrick Kluivert

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    Patrick Kluivert burst onto the scene as a teenager, scoring the winner in the Champions League final as an 18-year-old with Ajax in 1995.

    His later years weren't so great, and he retired in 2008 at 31.

Frank Rijkaard

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    Frank Rijkaard was also a member of that 1995 Champions League-winning Ajax team. But the 1995 final was his final match.

    He was 32 at the time.

Zbigniew Boniek

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    The lone Polish representative on the FIFA 100 list, Zbigniew Boniek led his country to a third-place finish at the 1982 World Cup. He also won the European Cup with Juventus in 1985.

    He retired three years later at age 33.

Mia Hamm

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    When Mia Hamm retired in 2004 at age 32, she had won two World Cups, two Olympic golds and four NCAA national championships. In 275 games with the United States Women's National Team, she had scored an astounding 158 goals.

    We can't think of anyone—besides opposing defenders—who was happy to see her quit.

Sam Hutchinson (First Time)

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    Poor Sam Hutchinson. Injuries forced the English defender to retire in 2010 at age 21.

    He made an inspirational comeback earlier this season, but still hasn't appeared in a first-team match.

Colin Lee

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    Who is Colin Lee?

    Lee is an Englishman who, at 72 years old, is Britain's oldest amateur footballer. At least that's what British newspaper Metro claims.

    We don't know when or if Mr. Lee ever played organized football. But considering the fact that he still plays at the age of 72, it's pretty clear that he retired too early.

    Somebody sign this guy up.

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