Picking a World Over-30 XI
Life may or may not begin at 40, but in the football world the number 30 has traditionally been a dreaded landmark. That birthday marks the beginning of the end for a professional player, who if they are fortunate will have around a few more years to prove their talents before retirement and a life of coaching or punditry looms.
That is not to say that those entering their fourth decade have nothing to offer; far from it. Some of the world's greatest stars kept their talents long into their 30s, while others only reached their true potential in the twilight of their careers; the famous "late bloomer" in the football world.
Indeed, according to many observers, certain positions, due to the importance placed on experience and nous over raw skill, are best filled with an old head or two.
Some of the most talented players currently in action have passed the dreaded milestone, and here we pick the best of the best in one very special team.
Due to the fact that they are generally not required to charge around the pitch for 90 minutes—honorable exceptions such as legendary Colombian Rene Higuita excluded for his unforgettable dribbles and entrances into play—goalkeepers can generally prolong their careers for longer than outfield players.
In a position that requires equal amounts of brain and brawn, it is often the case that the best goalkeepers are on the wrong side of 30. Spain, Italy and Brazil, three of the favourites for the World Cup in 2014, all sport veterans between the posts.
Gianluigi Buffon and Iker Casillas without a doubt enter into the argument for this position, as does Borussia Dortmund keeper Roman Weidenfeller, who, at 32, led his side to the Champions League final.
And for the complete keeper, why not Rogerio Ceni? The 40-year-old Sao Paulo legend not only stops goals, but has netted over 100 from free kicks and corners.
Along with goalkeepers, those in the centre of defence tend to prolong their careers a little longer than elsewhere on the field. Awareness and vision are vital for players in the middle, and both are skills best learned over time.
Full-backs, meanwhile, have a slightly more physically demanding remit; but that does not stop many from enjoying long and fruitful careers. Dani Alves stands out as a paragon of fitness, as do Maicon, Ashley Cole and Javier Zanetti to name a few.
In the middle, stalwarts such as Nemanja Vidic, John Terry and Andrea Barzagli stand out, while a special mention can be made for Uruguay and Colombia captains Diego Lugano and Mario Yepes, who continue to lead their nations well into their 30s. Daniel van Buyten too, who was a key part of an otherwise youthful Bayern side last year at the grand old age of 35.
Wingers and those in the middle who value speed and strength tend to end their careers relatively early. In the most demanding position on the pitch, however, there are a select few who resist the sands of time and continue to be talismanic for their sides.
Both Italy and Spain in international football are driven by two ageless wizards on the ball. Barcelona star Xavi would surely have lifted several Ballon d'Or trophies if not for a certain Argentine teammate, while Andrea Pirlo's elegant, almost languid style has made him an idol at Juventus.
To compensate for this team's lack of, shall we say, mobility, three midfielders will be picked. Xavi and Pirlo are no-brainers for the first two; while stars such as Juan Roman Riquelme, Xabi Alonso, Kaka and Franck Ribery duke it out for the final spot.
The sort of strikers who make it past the 30-year mark still at the top of their game usually have a few things in common. They are supremely talented, believe they are the best around and do not try to kill themselves on the pitch with unnecessary running when they are there to score goals.
Paris Saint-Germain star Zlatan Ibrahimovic, for his talent and sheer silent arrogance on the pitch, stands out as an obvious choice up front. So too Francesco Totti, capable of moments that will make your jaw drop to the floor at the age of 36.
David Villa and Miroslav Klose also enter into the equation for their prodigious scoring records at international and club level. Didier Drogba, after an impressive stint with Galatasaray, is still a force to be reckoned with; as is Diego Forlan, who enjoyed a great Confederations Cup to prove he still has the magic shown in the 2010 World Cup.
The Full over-30s XI
DANI ALVES VIDIC VAN BUYTEN COLE
XAVI PIRLO RIBERY
FORLAN IBRAHIMOVIC TOTTI
Who do you think deserves to be on this list? Any of your favourites missing? Let us know in the comments section.
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