30 World Football Stars Who Peaked in Their 30s

Mark JonesFeatured ColumnistMarch 7, 2014

30 World Football Stars Who Peaked in Their 30s

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    Sometimes there really is no substitute for experience.

    Quite often teams need an older head to help guide them through their most difficult moments, with the extra quality and know-how provided by those more experienced players quite often helping deliver results when backs are against the wall.

    Some footballers thrive with that extra responsibility, and actually improve as a result.

    Here are 30 footballers who didn't just get older, they got better:

     

Xavi

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    Turned 30: 25th January 2010

    Barcelona ace Xavi was already a multiple La Liga winner and held Champions League and European Championship winners' medals when he turned 30, but as he entered his fourth decade he seemed to improve even further.

    His midfield excellence helped lead Spain to the 2010 World Cup, he won the World Soccer Player of the Year award in the same year and finished third in the Ballon d'Or voting in 2010 and 2011, when he won a third Champions League crown.

    A second European Championship arrived in 2012, whilst he'll go for a second World Cup this summer.

Paolo Maldini

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    Turned 30: 26 June 1998

    Paolo Maldini's career seemed to improve the older the AC Milan and Italy legend got, with trophies seemingly added on a yearly basis.

    He won a couple of Serie A titles, was named in the team of the tournament as Italy reached the Euro 2000 final and was part of the team which reached Champions League finals in 2003, 2005 and 2007.

    Maldini was named man of the match as Milan beat Juventus in Manchester in 2003, he gave his side a first-minute lead before the dramatic turnaround against Liverpool in Istanbul two years later, and then lifted the trophy as captain as Milan beat the same opponents in Athens two years later, the defender's fifth European Cup at the age of 39.

Pavel Nedved

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    Turned 30: 30 August 2002

    The Czech Republic's Pavel Nedved had impressed at Euro 96 and with Lazio in his younger days, but he really kicked on after turning 30 at the start of his second season with Juventus.

    He would end it with a Serie A winners' medal and a runners-up one in the Champions League as well as being awarded the Serie A player of the year award and, most impressively, the Ballon d'Or.

    He was then included in three consecutive UEFA Teams of the Year, and made the team of the tournament for Euro 2004 after guiding the Czechs to the semi-finals.

Didier Drogba

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    Turned 30: 11 March 2008

    Ivorian goal machine Didier Drogba came to professional football late, and although he achieved plenty in the game before his 30th birthday, including two league titles with Chelsea, it was arguably later in his career that he found his best form.

    He was at his unstoppable best as he fired 37 goals in Chelsea's double-winning season of 2009/10, when he claimed the Premier League's golden boot trophy for the second time in his career.

    Injuries may have taken their toll in his later years at Stamford Bridge, although Drogba still unforgettably converted the winning penalty as the club won their first Champions League crown against hosts Bayern Munich in 2012.

Fabio Cannavaro

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    Turned 30: 13 September 2003

    Already a fine defender throughout his 20s, Italy's Fabio Cannavaro certainly improved with age, and that's not just his ruggedly handsome good looks.

    He won four consecutive league titles with Juventus and Real Madrid between 2004 and 2008, but of course most notably captained his country to the 2006 World Cup success in Germany when aged 32.

    The central defender won both the Ballon d'Or and FIFA World Player of the Year awards that year (when both were still separate trophies) and also picked up the World Cup's Silver Ball award.

Rui Costa

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    Turned 30: 29 March 2002

    Rui Costa turned 30 during his first season at AC Milan in Italy, where he starred for five years and picked up a Serie A title, an Italian Cup and a Champions League winners' medal.

    He was one of the driving forces in the Portuguese team which reached the final of Euro 2004 in their own country, scoring a fantastic goal in a quarter-final victory over England along the way.

    The playmaker moved to Benfica for his last two seasons as a professional in 2006. 

Eric Abidal

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    Turned 30: 11 September 2009

    Barcelona didn't win anything in Eric Abidal's first season with them in 2007/08, but that soon changed as the French defender neared and then turned 30 in 2009.

    He won four La Liga titles and two Champions Leagues with the Catalan giants, both of which were achieved by beating Manchester United in the final.

    Abidal emotionally returned from being diagnosed with a tumour on his liver to lift the trophy in the latter success at Wembley.

Christian Abbiati

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    Turned 30: 8 July 2007

    For years Christian Abbiati was merely a dependable understudy at AC Milan, a club he joined from Monza at the age of 21 in 1998.

    A loan switch to Atletico Madrid when he turned 30 seemed to inspire him though, and upon his return he has been Milan's No. 1 keeper in five of the last six seasons.

    Although without international recognition since 2005, Abbiati was a key part of the Rossoneri team which won the Serie A title in 2010/11, when the goalkeeper played 35 times in the league.

Dennis Bergkamp

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    Turned 30: 10 May 1999

    Dennis Bergkamp was already a pretty special player in his 20s, but he seemed to hit another level once he entered his 30s as he experienced the most success of his Arsenal career.

    He won two of his three Premier League titles and three of his four FA Cups post his 30th birthday, scoring that memorable goal at Newcastle along the way too.

    The Dutchman was revered as a hero on the Highbury terraces right up to his retirement in 2006, ending with 120 goals for the Gunners.

     

Antonio Di Natale

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    Turned 30: 13 October 2007

    Udinese's Antonio Di Natale must look forward to each and every one of his birthdays, as he really is a living embodiment of getting better as he gets older.

    He turned 32 during the 2009/10 season, in which he grabbed 29 goals before following those up with 28, 29 and 26 strikes in the following three campaigns.

    He was the Serie A top scorer in two of those seasons, as well as the Italian Footballer of the Year in 2010.

Juan Sebastian Veron

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    Turned 30: 9 March 2005

    Good form at Parma and Lazio earned Juan Sebastian Veron his then-record move to Manchester United for £28.1 million in 2001, but after flopping there he was eventually able to resurrect his career as he got older.

    He turned 30 during a spell at Inter Milan when he won a Serie A title and two Coppa Italia, before a move back to his first club Estudiantes saw his form recover as he earned his place back in the Argentina national team.

    He won two South American Footballer of the Year awards as well as two Argentinean Footballer of the Year awards whilst he was also named as the Most Valuable Player in the Copa Libatadores in 2009.

Paul Scholes

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    Turned 30: 16 November 2004

    Already a pretty special player in his 20s, Paul Scholes' form for Manchester United improved after he retired from international duty after playing for England at Euro 2004.

    He won five of his 11 Premier League titles post-2004, with the first of those in the 2006/07 campaign arguably the most impressive as he was voted into the PFA Team of the Year.

    He won the Champions League the following season and was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2008.

Brad Friedel

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    Turned 30: 18 May 2001

    After his spell at Liverpool never really took off, US international goalkeeper Brad Friedel switched to Blackburn shortly before he turned 30 in November 2000.

    It was there that he established himself as one of the goalkeeping stalwarts of the Premier League, kicking off a record run of consecutive appearances that also took in games for Aston Villa and Tottenham and ended in October 2012 at an impressive total of 310.

    He won the League Cup in his first season at Blackburn in 2001/02.

     

     

     

Edwin Van Der Sar

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    Turned 30: 29 October 2000

    A living embodiment of the notion that goalkeepers get better as they get older, Edwin van der Sar made the somewhat surprising move from Juventus to newly-promoted Fulham just before he turned 31 in 2001.

    Four consistent seasons at Craven Cottage caught the eye of Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, with the Scot deciding to make the Dutch international the experienced last line of defence in his team.

    Van der Sar won four Premier League titles in his six seasons at United, whilst he also saved Nicolas Anelka's penalty in the penalty shootout win in the 2008 Champions League final.

Gary McAllister

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    Turned 30: 25 December 1994

    A consistent member of the Leeds United side throughout the 1990s, Scottish international Gary McAllister then went on to impress at Coventry City post his 30th birthday, before a shock free transfer move to Liverpool in the summer of 2000 when he was 35 years old.

    Despite the misgivings about his signing, McAllister went on to be the inspirational figure behind Liverpool's treble cup success and Champions League qualification in his first season, scoring vital goals in the UEFA Cup semi-finals and final as well as a stunning late winner in a Merseyside derby.

    He stayed at Liverpool for one more season before rejoining Coventry and retiring in 2004.

Andrea Pirlo

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    Turned 30: 19 May 2009

    Andrea Pirlo played for two seasons at AC Milan post turning 30 in 2009, winning the Serie A title in the latter.

    He moved to Juventus on a free transfer in 2011, and since his move to Turin his game has taken on another level.

    He's won Serie A titles in his two full seasons at the club and looks set for a third, whilst he was man of the match in three of Italy's matches as they reached the Euro 2012 final, was voted into UEFA's Team of the Tournament and was named Serie A Player of the Year for 2012 and 2013.

Craig Bellamy

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    Turned 30: 13 July 2009

    Regarded as something of a wild child in his younger years, Welsh international Craig Bellamy has benefited from becoming older and wiser since turning 30 in 2009.

    He impressed at Manchester City in the 2009/10 season, before a loan switch to his boyhood club Cardiff City and then a second spell at Liverpool in the 2011/12 season.

    A more well-rounded player than he was during his first period at Anfield in the 2006/07 campaign, Bellamy was a key player for Kenny Dalglish's side as they won the League Cup and reached the FA Cup final, before he moved back to Cardiff and helped them gain promotion to the Premier League last season.

Mark Schwarzer

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    Turned 30: 6 October 2002

    A consistent presence at Middlesbrough for 11 years, Australia's Mark Schwarzer was part of the furniture on Teeside and broke Dennis Bergkamp's record of 315 games to become the longest-serving foreign player at a Premier League club in 2007.

    His spell at Middlesbrough included an appearance in the UEFA Cup final, before a move to Fulham in 2008 led to him making even more impressive and consistent displays as the Cottagers reached the Europa League final in 2010, only to lose out to Atletico Madrid.

    A move to Arsenal fell through that summer, and after three more seasons at Fulham he moved to Chelsea for this season, during which he has made his first ever appearance in the Champions League at the age of 41, making him the oldest player to debut in the competition.

Teddy Sheringham

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    Turned 30: 2 April 1996

    Never blessed with the greatest of pace, getting older only seemed to improve Teddy Sheringham's awareness and both his positioning and goalscoring abilities.

    He'd just turned 30 by the time he struck up his impressive partnership with Alan Shearer as England reached the semi-finals of Euro 96, before a move to Manchester United a year later.

    He was a key player as United did "the treble" of winning the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League in 1999, scoring the equalising goal as the Red Devils remarkably came from behind to beat Bayern Munich in the final of the latter.

    He was named the Football Writers' Player of the Year after his final season at United in 2001.

Didier Deschamps

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    Turned 30: 15 October 1998

    Having lifted the World Cup just a few months before he turned 30 in 1998, France's Didier Deschamps then enjoyed another season at Juventus before a switch to Chelsea saw him win the FA Cup in 2000.

    He was arguably even more impressive during the Euro 2000 victory than he was at the 1998 World Cup, before seeing out his career as a member of the Valencia squad which reached the 2001 Champions League final.

Gianfranco Zola

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    Turned 30: 5 July 1996

    Gianfranco Zola was 30 when he joined Chelsea in 1996, and considering the riches and the vast array of fine players who have arrived at the club since it is no mean feat that he is considered by many Blues fans to be the greatest player to ever play for the club.

    He won the Cup Winners' Cup, two FA Cups and the League Cup whilst at Chelsea, where he was named as the Football Writers' Footballer of the Year in 1997 and Chelsea's Player of the Year in 1999 and his final season in 2003.

    Zola was awarded an OBE in 2004.

     

Marcos Senna

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    Turned 30: 17 July 2006

    Born in Brazil, Marcos Senna's impressive career at Villarreal led to him being called up by the Spanish national team when he became a naturalised Spaniard in 2006, the same year he turned 30.

    He was involved in the 2006 World Cup squad, helping create a midfield harmony that would go on to help the Spanish dominate on a global scale.

    Senna stayed in the squad for Euro 2008, where he was a vital part of the squad that beat Germany in the final, with the midfielder named in UEFA's Squad of the Tournament. He was also named Spanish Player of the Year in 2008, and last summer joined the newly-formed New York Cosmos.

Peter Schmeichel

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    Turned 30: 18 November 1993

    A part of the Danish side which surprisingly won the European Championship in 1992, Peter Schmeichel was already established as a top goalkeeper for Manchester United before he turned 30, but he certainly improved afterwards.

    Several fine saves helped him win four of his five Premier League titles post-30, whilst he lifted the Champions League trophy with United in his final game for the club in 1999.

    Later spells with Sporting Lisbon, Aston Villa and Manchester City followed, but it is at Old Trafford that the Great Dane is remembered most fondly.

Theo Zagorakis

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    Turned 30: 27 October 2001

    A steady, if unspectacular player at Leicester City in his younger days, it was back in his native Greece that midfielder Theo Zagorakis really found his best form.

    Consistent displays for AEK Athens earned him the Greek captaincy heading into Euro 2004, where his side stunned Europe to deliver the trophy in one of the most remarkable shocks of the modern game.

    Shortly before he turned 33, Zagorakis was named as the Player of the Tournament in Portugal, whilst he saw out his career at Bologna and PAOK Salonika.

Henrik Larsson

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    Turned 30: 20 September 2001

    In the season he turned 30, Henrik Larsson scored 35 goals in 47 games for Celtic, before improving that output to 44 and 40 strikes in the next two seasons.

    Larsson was included in the Euro 2004 Team of the Tournament and a move to Barcelona followed, with the Swede helping win two La Liga titles and the Champions League in 2006.

    A loan move to Manchester United came about in 2007, a year after he'd been awarded the MBE for services to football.

Giovanni Van Bronckhorst

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    Turned 30: 5 February 2005

    Always a more-than-capable midfielder in his younger days, Giovanni van Bronckhorst's career was transformed when he became a left-back at Barcelona in the season he turned 30.

    He won back-to-back La Liga titles and the Champions League with the Catalans, before a move back to first club Feyenoord saw him continue playing until 2010, when he captained the Netherlands at the World Cup at the age of 35.

    Van Bronckhorst scored a stunning goal in the semi-final win over Uruguay, but was on the losing side in the final against Spain.

     

Oliver Kahn

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    Turned 30: 15 June 1999

    Six of goalkeeper Oliver Kahn's eight Bundesliga winners' medals came after he turned 30 in 1999, whilst his man-of-the-match display and crucial penalty saves saw Bayern Munich beat Valencia in the 2001 Champions League final.

    He won the Golden Ball award for the World Cup's best player as Germany reached the final in 2002, the same year that he was runner-up to Brazil's Ronaldo in the FIFA World Player of the Year.

    Kahn was nominated as Europe's Best Goalkeeper for four successive years between 1999 and 2002.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

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    Turned 30: 3 October 2011

    Is Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the best form of his career right now? Probably.

    He won the Serie A title with AC Milan the year he turned 30, before a switch to Paris Saint-Germain and a Ligue 1 title that looks like it'll be followed up with another one this season.

    Ibrahimovic has scored a stunning 72 goals in 82 appearances for PSG, whilst he has also bagged 20 strikes in his last 19 games for Sweden.

Laurent Blanc

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    Turned 30: 19 November 1995

    Laurent Blanc joined Auxerre, Barcelona and then Marseille in the years after he turned 30, with everything leading up to his presence at the heart of France's defence at their own 1998 World Cup.

    Blanc scored the World Cup's first Golden Goal when France beat Paraguay in the last 16, although some dreadful acting from Croatia's Slaven Bilic cost him the chance to play in the World Cup final as he was suspended.

    Two years later though, Blanc played a key role as France won the Euro 2000 Championships, after which he retired from international football and had an underwhelming spell at Manchester United.

     

Cafu

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    Turned 30: 7 June 2000

    Although he won plenty before turning 30 in 2000, Brazilian right-back Cafu picked up plenty of awards in the new millennium, too.

    He won the Serie A title with Roma in 2001 before captaining Brazil to World Cup glory in Korea and Japan in 2002.

    A successful spell at AC Milan followed as he picked up a Serie A title and reached two Champions League finals against Liverpool, winning one, before Cafu bowed out of football aged 38 in 2008.