Didier Drogba and the Top 12 Veteran Free Agents
It has been almost a decade since Ronaldinho lobbed David Seaman at the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Ronaldinho is now a veteran.
So is UEFA Champions League hero Didier Drogba.
And here are 11 other veterans who will be looking for a new club during the summer transfer window:
12. Emile Heskey, Centre-Forward, Age 34
Last Club: Aston Villa (2009-12)
What I find incredible is that Emile Heskey has only scored 15 goals or more in a season once in his entire career.
His admirers point out his ability to shield the ball and win aerial duals. However, last time I checked, a forward is paid to score goals—and he doesn't consistently score goals.
With the exception of the 1996-97 and 2000-01 seasons, his strike rate has been abysmally bad.
Why would any club want to sign Heskey? He needs to hang up the boots.
Only in England would someone like Heskey manage to collect 47 more international caps than Andy Cole.
11. Louis Saha, Centre-Forward, Age 33
Last Club: Tottenham Hotspur (2012)
One could have forgiven Louis Saha for giving up on the game like his compatriot Vikash Dhorasoo did.
Does anyone remember a young, vibrant, classy and dangerous Saha for Fulham? I do, and it's unfortunate that his career has been consistently blighted by injuries.
In an interview with Michael Walker at the Daily Mail, Saha summed up his career: "Nearly great, yeah something missing in some ways. Some really good moments, but then at times I feel it's unfinished, incomplete."
When watching Saha's brace against Manchester United, former manager Chris Coleman shook his head and remarked: "When he's in the mood...Jesus."
Many believed Yakubu was washed up (I was one of them), but he proved them wrong this season—Saha could do a Yakubu next season.
10. Gianluca Zambrotta, Left-Back, Age 35
Last Club: AC Milan (2008-12)
Gianluca Zambrotta has always been a better right-back than left-back. After all, he made the 2006 FIFA World Cup All-Star squad and the UEFA Team of the Year as a right-back.
His performances at left-back have ranged from okay to cringeworthy.
This quote from former teammate Taye Taiwo was quite interesting: "The thing is with Gianluca, you would never see him in training."
9. Filippo Inzaghi, Centre-Forward, Age 38
Last Club: AC Milan (2001-12)
Filippo Inzaghi didn't play in the Miracle of Istanbul, but his brace in the 2007 UEFA Champions League final against Liverpool provided closure for the monumental choke two years earlier.
Inzaghi didn't have Álvaro Recoba's talent, but the Italian did have heart and world-class positional awareness.
As long as he stays healthy and is the main man, he should score goals for fun in a lesser league.
8. Michael Owen, Centre-Forward, Age 32
Last Club: Manchester United (2009-12)
Talk about a twist of fate. Michael Owen was so determined to leave Liverpool that he sat on the bench against Grazer AK to avoid being cup-tied in the UEFA Champions League.
Four days later, he signed with Real Madrid, with the aim of winning the Champions League.
Who won the Champions League that season? Liverpool.
Owen's career has not been the same since.
With the exception of his epic last-gasp goal against Manchester City, Owen's tenure at Manchester United hasn't been noteworthy.
Given his analysis via @themichaelowen, he seems more likely to become a pundit than win the Premier League Golden Boot.
7. Gennaro Gattuso, Defensive Midfielder, Age 34
Last Club: AC Milan (1999-2012)
In his pomp, Gennaro Gattuso was one of most feared defensive midfielders in the world.
Rayo Vallecano's hyperactive Javi Fuego averaged 4.4 tackles and 7.1 interceptions per game this season—Gattuso at his best would have accumulated similar defensive statistics.
AC Milan took a calculated risk in signing Gattuso from relegated Salernitana, and it proved to be a shrewd signing.
Gattuso was recently sidelined by a career-threatening eye injury, but he has vowed to bounce back.
My money is on Gattuso to play on, because someone who is as competitive as he is will triumph against all odds—just like how he won two UEFA Champions League titles and a FIFA World Cup.
6. Alessandro Del Piero, Deep Lying Forward, Age 37
Last Club: Juventus (1993-2012)
Forget about the trophies, the 289 goals in 705 games or the hundreds of standing ovations Alessandro Del Piero has received for his magic—his rescue of former Juventus president Cobolli Gigli is one of the funniest football anecdotes I've ever read.
Tiago was disgusted with the way Gigli was treating him, so he locked his boss in the toilet.
Gigli later recounted:
The story of me being locked in the toilet by Tiago is true. Alessandro Del Piero responded to the noise of me punching the door and offered to break it down. I told him it was better if someone else did it, as he needed to keep his shoulders in good shape for the Fiorentina game.
5. Alessandro Nesta, Centre-Back, Age 36
Last Club: AC Milan (2002-12)
Paul Gascoigne's career at Lazio effectively ended when he suffered a broken leg in a 50-50 with a youth team player. The kid on the other end of the tackle was an 18-year-old by the name of Alessandro Nesta.
Nesta is one of the best centre-backs of his generation, and he could have been an all-time great if he didn't suffer persistent injuries.
He would have been happy that Italy won the 2006 FIFA World Cup but miserable that injury robbed him of individual glory once again.
Instead of Fabio Cannavaro becoming the first defender to win the FIFA World Player of the Year, it could have been Nesta.
4. Michael Ballack, Central Midfielder, Age 35
Last Club: Bayer Leverkusen (2010-12)
Throughout his career, Michael Ballack expended a lot of energy commanding the midfield and imprinting his influence on the game—especially during his time at Chelsea.
He had one of most heartbreaking but heroic seasons in recent years, leading unfancied Bayer Leverkusen to the 2002 UEFA Champions League final, and then playing out of his skin to inspire Germany to the 2002 FIFA World Cup final (Oliver Kahn was immense, as was Miroslav Klose).
So it shouldn't be a surprise that the wear and tear caught up to him this season. Frankly, he was dreadful and had minimal impact for Bayer Leverkusen.
It was a sad sight, but he deserves an easy fat paycheck in tribute to his greatness.
3. Lúcio, Centre-Back, Age 34
Last Club: Inter Milan (2009-12)
Lúcio was statistically excellent, making 112 tackles and intercepting the ball 140 times, but his positional discipline was nonexistent.
He wanted to charge out like a raging bull to win the ball, whereas he didn't dare play with such high risk under José Mourinho.
Lúcio's leadership of the back four was scant at best. Andrea Ranocchia was terrible. Yuto Nagatomo was consistently caught out of position.
It was as if Lúcio couldn't be bothered imparting his wisdom on his inexperienced teammates.
Not surprisingly, he announced his decision to leave the club.
Even though his final season was tainted, Inter Milan supporters shouldn't forget the vital role he played in their historic treble.
2. Clarence Seedorf, Attacking Midfielder, Age 36
Last Club: AC Milan (2002-12)
Clarence Seedorf’s football career can be summed up by two achievements: four UEFA Champions League titles and a 45-yard screamer in the El Derbi Madrileño.
Seedorf was an outstanding passer, who in recent times has shown glimpses of brilliance, though age has caught up to him.
He has set up various humanitarian projects in Suriname, which just goes to show what a great human being he is.
1. Didier Drogba, Centre-Forward, Age 34
Last Club: Chelsea (2004-12)
Didier Drogba wasn’t as efficient as Jimmy Greaves, but the Ivorian certainly left his mark on history.
Nine goals in nine cup finals, including the pivotal equalising goal in the 2012 UEFA Champions League final, a game Chelsea shouldn’t have won.
Arjen Robben, Juan Mata, Ivica Olić and Bastian Schweinsteiger choked from 12 yards out— but Drogba came up big one final time.
Please read Top 5 Realistic Centre-Backs for Massimo Moratti.
Statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com.