Ranking World Football's 30 Best Players in Their 30s
Everybody in football enjoys seeing the emergence of a next generation of stars and watching as they attempt to climb to the top of the game. Those in the autumn of their career, though, can often be forgotten.
While the likes of Ryan Giggs, playing at the age of 40, will always be the exception rather than the rule, modern scientific advancements should allow players to sustain their peak levels longer. Indeed, many of football's current leading stars are already in their 30s.
Who, then, are the best of those already heading into the final stage of their careers? Bleacher Report attempts to rank the top 30 players already past their 30th birthday (as of April 1, 2014).
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English centre-back Rio Ferdinand's performances have been well below his peak levels for some time now, but he was one of the very best in the world in his younger years. Only last week, he enjoyed a fine last stand against Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
Togo striker Emmanuel Adebayor has always been incredibly talented but has lacked the consistency over the course of his career to make the step up to the top level. This season, though, he has enjoyed a new lease of life with Tottenham.
One of the most consistent and underrated players of the past decade, Argentine central midfielder Esteban Cambiasso narrowly misses out on our list. His absence, though, owes much to the consistently poor performance of his Internazionale side over the past few seasons.
Another who falls into the underrated category, Argentine playmaker Dario Conca has shone in both Brazil and China for a number of years. Last year, he was the undisputed best player in Asia, while he was Player of the Year in Brazil in 2010—his last full season in the country.
30. Antonio Di Natale (Udinese)
Now 36 years old, Antonio Di Natale has reached double figures for goals in each of the past eight Serie A seasons but is set to call time on his career at the end of the current campaign.
Known for his finishing abilities, the versatile forward was twice the highest goalscorer in Italy despite playing for a club not traditionally viewed as one of Italian football's giants.
This summer will see Di Natale complete a decade at the Friuli stadium, where he has become an Udinese icon. He may frequently be the oldest player on the pitch, but he remains the club's biggest goal-threat.
29. Rodrigo Palacio (Internazionale)
Argentine forward Rodrigo Palacio was 27 by the time he made his much anticipated move to Europe in 2009, but has improved with each passing season since his arrival.
Now in Milan with Inter, Palacio is by far the Nerazzurri's most dangerous attacking player, with his combination of pace, skill and composure difficult to subdue over the course of 90 minutes.
His country's wealth of attacking options has greatly limited his exposure at international level, but he has the potential to make a significant impact at this summer's World Cup if selected.
28. Kaka (Milan)
Brazilian attacking midfielder Kaka returned to AC Milan a hero last year, following a five-year sojourn in Spain with Real Madrid, and has hit the ground running.
Kaka may lack the explosive quality of his younger years but remains a wonderfully elegant runner with the ball at his feet and an incisive passer.
It is highly unlikely that Kaka will make a return to the Brazil side ahead of the summer's World Cup, or on any great scale in the future. His prime years, though, will live long in the memory.
27. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Schalke)
Schalke forward Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has never quite hit the heights expected of him earlier in his career but has remained one of European footballs best finishers for a number of years.
In 13 Bundesliga appearances this season, Huntelaar has found the back of the net on 11 occasions. For the third consecutive season, he has now scored double figures in the German top flight.
The presence of Robin van Persie will likely mean that Huntelaar will have to be content with a substitute role for Netherlands at this summer's World Cup, despite an excellent record at international level.
26. Maxwell (PSG)
Brazilian left-back Maxwell has enjoyed a renaissance in Paris over the past three seasons, transforming his reputation from Barcelona bit-part to important first-team player with one of Europe's biggest clubs.
As a result, the full-back is now once more on the radar with his country ahead of this summer's World Cup and has added significantly to his trophy cabinet already full to the brim from spells with Inter, Barcelona and Ajax.
Maxwell is a dependable figure in defence, while also perfectly competent on the ball heading into more advanced areas. He may be unfashionable, but there are few better in his position at the present time.
25. Didier Drogba (Galatasaray)
Ivorian striker Didier Drogba no longer possesses the pace of his Chelsea days, but he makes up for such deficiencies with great intelligence and strength in his play.
Drogba has always been an excellent finisher, off either foot or with his head. But, over the years, he has consistently proved that there are few better when it comes to bullying defenders and putting his side on the front foot.
His finest hours in that respect may have come in a Chelsea shirt, but he leads the line for Galatasaray by example, occupying defenders and allowing those around him space in which to shine.
24. Andrea Barzagli (Juventus)
Another who has consistently improved with age, Italian defender Andrea Barzagli's composure in playing the ball out of defence and positional awareness have been major factors in the rise of Juventus over recent years.
Since his 2011 return from Germany, where he had been with Wolfsburg since 2008, Barzagli has ranked among the best defenders in Serie A and been an incredibly consistent performer.
He will partner his Juve defensive colleagues in an Azzurri shirt once more at this summer's World Cup, a competition he won under the guidance of Marcello Lippi in 2006.
23. Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus)
The “Swiss Express,” defender Stephan Lichtsteiner’s role at right wing-back has been a major factor in Antonio Conte’s Juventus side’s success over the past few seasons.
From his position, he contributes both goals and assists for his side with regularity and is a solid figure in defence, rarely being caught out of position.
He cost Juventus around €10 million to recruit from Lazio three seasons ago and has proved great value for money ever since as an integral cog in a highly successful Juve machine.
22. Bacary Sagna (Arsenal)
Since his 2007 move to the Emirates Stadium from Auxerre, France right-back Bacary Sagna has been one of the most consistent defenders in the English Premier League.
While Sagna's time in North London may have coincided with a long, trophyless spell for the Gunners, his personal performances have deserved better over that time period.
Sagna's future remains up in the air for the time being, with contract discussions having failed to reach a mutual understanding. Should he wish to consider other offers, though, there will be no shortage of suitors.
21. Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United)
Serbia centre-back Nemanja Vidic may not have had his best season in a Manchester United shirt, but he is still capable of commanding defensive performances when required.
His display against Bayern Munich this past week will go down as one of the finest in his time at Old Trafford over a period in which he and Ferdinand, for a number of years, formed Europe's strongest central defensive combination.
Vidic is bound for Inter Milan at the end of the season and, with pace far from his strongest suit, he should find his new surrounds better suited at this stage in his career. In the right system, he is still a terrific player.
20. Iker Casillas (Real Madrid)
Long rated as one of the world's best goalkeepers, 32-year-old Iker Casillas enjoys a strange existence at present, operating as Real Madrid's first-choice in Champions League and cup ties only.
When he does play, though, he is as competent as ever and is rarely at fault for any goals his side may concede. Casillas is a fine shot-stopper, and while his all-round game may not be perfect, he remains trusted by Spain boss Vicente del Bosque.
Quite what the future holds for Casillas remains unclear. However, for all his travails over the past 18 months, he remains one of the world's most talented goalkeepers.
19. Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid)
Real Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso remains an integral piece in the jigsaw at the Santiago Bernabeu, despite the addition of Asier Illarramendi as his supposed long-term replacement last summer.
Alonso's intelligent reading of the game, discipline in covering for his more attacking colleagues and outstanding passing range, though, are not easily replaced. For now, he remains as crucial as ever.
Liverpool suffered for his exit, and Real Madrid, too, are weaker for his absence. He is often an underrated figure in the wider football community, but fans of the clubs for which he plays are only too aware of Alonso's influence and ability.
18. Carlos Tevez (Juventus)
Argentina striker Carlos Tevez has proved a major success in Turin this season, helping Juventus to what will likely be another Serie A title and the latter stages of the Europa League.
Throughout his career, he has been greatly admired for his skill and work ethic. Yet, for all his plaudits, Tevez has never gone on to be a central figure in a truly great side. Attitude problems and the inability to sustain form have held him back.
In Italy, Tevez has perhaps his final chance to make a sizeable indent at the very top level of European football. He must take it, with his presence in his country's squad for this year's World Cup already highly unlikely. His talent is in real danger of going unfulfilled.
17. Daniele De Rossi (AS Roma)
Roma central midfielder Daniele De Rossi has stayed loyal to the Giallorossi through thick and thin over recent years, despite attractive offers from some of Europe's biggest clubs.
Last summer, it was Manchester United who were supposedly enquiring about his services. Once more, though, he chose to remain in Rome and has seen his side rise up into a likely second-place finish and a Champions League return.
De Rossi deserves to be on football's biggest stages; he is too good to remain at a mid-table or Europa League side for long. At international level, though, he has managed to achieve the success his talent deserves.
16. Petr Cech (Chelsea)
Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech remains one of the finest in his profession and, over the coming weeks, has a real opportunity to further add to his trophy cabinet as Chelsea hunt for both Premier League and Champions League titles.
Cech is a good shot-stopper, but it is in his overall command of his area that he excels. He is a fine all-round goalkeeper and has come through a tough spell of a couple of years ago to regain his former authority.
It will be interesting to see over the coming 12 months how Cech's career in West London progresses. He now has fierce competition from Thibaut Courtois for his place in the Blues side, and the Belgian will not be prepared to wait much longer.
15. Ashley Cole (Chelsea)
Chelsea defender Ashley Cole is another player whose future remains undecided as the end of the season approaches, having dropped out of the Blues side at the expense of Spaniard Cesar Azpilicueta.
When he features, though, he rarely disappoints and remains likely to be an important player for England at this summer's World Cup—although his lack of club action is now casting doubt on his inclusion.
Should the impasse continue, Cole will likely find another club this summer and will have a number of high-level options to choose from.
14. Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus)
One of the goalkeeping greats of the past 20 years, Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon remains one of the very best around in his position and looks set to secure another Serie A title in the coming weeks.
In every aspect of his game, from claiming high balls to shot-stopping and commanding his defence, Buffon has consistently proved himself to be one of the very best around.
Juventus' success owes much to the calming presence of their captain at the back, and they would be loath to lose him while he remains such an important asset.
13. Francesco Totti (AS Roma)
Another of the very best players in Italy's recent history makes our list, with a resurgent Francesco Totti having been integral in Roma's rise to challenge at the top of the Serie A table this season.
Totti is a phenomenon who perhaps has not quite received the silverware that his talent deserved. Consistently, though, he has come up with excellent performances for a Roma side whose level has fluctuated massively.
Now 37, Totti will likely have another shot at the Champions League next season for what could be the final time. Whether Roma perform well or not, it will be a pleasure to see a player of Totti's quality on that stage once more.
12. Dante (Bayern Munich)
Brazilian centre-back Dante was a late bloomer in every sense of the word, having spent the majority of his career in relative obscurity with both Lille and Standard Liege.
While Borussia Monchengladbach offered him a platform upon which to impress, it was only with his 2012 transfer to Bayern Munich that he obtained an opportunity to shine among Europe's elite.
He has not disappointed.
From nowhere, Dante has made himself one of the most respected central defenders in European football and will head to the World Cup as part of the Brazil squad. A recent contract extension has also silenced all doubts over his immediate future.
11. John Terry (Chelsea)
Chelsea centre-back John Terry's career had appeared to be heading for a swift ending under former manager Andre Villas-Boas and, indeed, there was some reluctance from Rafael Benitez to use the long-serving captain during his spell at the Bridge.
Terry, though, has shown resilience throughout his career and has once more fought back to claim a regular starting berth. Alongside Gary Cahill this season, he has generally been excellent once more.
The return of long-time mentor Jose Mourinho has undoubtedly helped, with his more cautious approach well-suited to Terry's ageing legs. The former England captain, though, has always proved himself when written off and has done so once more.
10. Andrea Pirlo (Juventus)
Possibly the most discussed midfielder of the past few seasons, there has been amazing levels of interest in Andrea Pirlo's role in Juventus' side since his 2011 transfer from AC Milan.
His arrival was the catalyst for Antonio Conte's side to kick on and seal Serie A success; a triumph that they have repeated in every subsequent season.
Pirlo's ability to control the game from the base of midfield separates him from the mainstream. He is a special player with wondrous technique when passing the ball that has only improved with age.
9. Dani Alves (Barcelona)
Barcelona and Brazil full-back Dani Alves has been at the top of the game in terms of full-back play for a number of years and shows little sign of letting up at the present time.
Soon to be 31, the former Sevilla man will be an important figure for his country at this summer's World Cup but will first hope to add further titles to his extensive collection with Barcelona in both La Liga and the UEFA Champions League.
In keeping with many of his Brazilian predecessors, Dani Alves has helped evolve the role of a full-back into an increasingly important member of the attacking unit. When he eventually chooses to move on from Barcelona, he will take some replacing.
8. Arjen Robben (Bayern)
Dutch winger Arjen Robben has enjoyed the best spell of his career in Germany with Bayern Munich since joining in 2009, having appeared to be wandering after up-and-down spells with both Real Madrid and Chelsea.
Robben has since played a major role in three visits to the Champions League final, ultimately clinching his first success in the competition with an 89th-minute winner against Borussia Dortmund last year.
Playing predominantly from the right flank, Robben's pace and dribbling ability has seen him cause defenders Europe-wide problems for the best part of a decade. His approach of cutting onto his left-foot may be predictable, but it remains highly effective.
7. Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
Having seen his powers wane as a box-to-box midfielder, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard was in need of a reinvention if he was to remain a relevant force at the highest levels of the game.
As part of Brendan Rodgers' resurgent Liverpool side, though, he has carved a role for himself at the base of midfield where his passing skills can be used to great effect to feed his side's quick and creative players.
Gerrard is technically good enough to make such an adaptation to his game and has begun to excel in his new role in the second half of the current campaign. In theory, his move deeper should also add a number of years to his career at the top level.
6. Robin van Persie (Manchester United)
One of world football's most naturally gifted strikers, Robin van Persie is a genuine match-winner and played a major role in Manchester United securing the Premier League crown last season.
While his current campaign has been hit by injuries, he has hit double figures for the fourth consecutive Premier League season—albeit someway down on the 26- and 30-goal hauls managed over the previous two years.
There have been recent debates about Van Persie's role in the United side, and how he would be best used alongside the club's other attacking talents. The Red Devils, though, are undoubtedly better off for his presence.
5. Xavi (Barcelona)
One of Spanish football's all-time greats, Xavi Hernandez has been the central figure in Barcelona and Spain sides that have swept aside all before them for much of the last decade.
Teammate Andres Iniesta was the man who often made the difference on the big stage, while the skill and composure of Lionel Messi has gone unmatched. Xavi, though, was the man who made his team tick.
While the Spain international can no longer close down opponents with the ferocity of earlier years, his skill when it comes to recycling possession and opening up gaps remains unparalleled. When absent, he is generally sorely missed.
4. Yaya Toure (Manchester City)
Yaya Toure last season took much criticism for his ability to go missing in games against weaker opponents, only deeming it fit to put in a performance when a bigger opponent came to town.
The Ivorian, though, has responded magnificently. The 2013-14 campaign has been his best in City colours, with his total of 17 league goals unbelievable for a player who had scored just six goals in each of his previous three campaigns.
When rampaging from midfield, he can be almost impossible to rein in. The addition of Fernandinho has freed him up to play a more attacking game, demonstrating some moments of deft skill to add to his brute force.
3. Franck Ribery (Bayern)
Per the results of the FIFA Ballon d'Or voting, French winger Franck Ribery was the third-best player in world football in 2013 and certainly enjoyed the best year of his professional career as part of an all-conquering Bayern side.
Playing from the opposite flank to Robben, Ribery's quick feet and low centre of gravity made him a nightmare for defenders to restrain, and he came up with several important contributions as Bayern secured a clean sweep over the course of the year.
He is not in the same league as either Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo but remains a fine player who has matured in his playing style over recent seasons. He has the chance this year to press his claims for Ballon d'Or recognition once more, with Bayern flying in all competitions.
2. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG)
What is there to be said about PSG and Sweden forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic that has not already been said? He is a sensational player, whose legend now matches his ability.
Ibrahmovic's recent marketing campaigns may be questionable, but his talent and contribution to Paris Saint-Germain's success is not. He is the attacking spearhead upon which their side is built.
A mountain of a man, with a deftness of touch that few can rival, Ibrahimovic has now scored double figures in goals for the eighth consecutive season across three countries. Already, in less than two complete campaigns, he has amassed an astonishing 75 goals in the colours of PSG.
1. Philipp Lahm (Bayern)
Ever since his emergence on the scene a decade ago, Germany full-back Philipp Lahm has been a model professional in terms of consistently turning in top-level performances.
Whether it be at right-back, left-back or, more recently, as a defensive midfielder, Lahm has simply excelled whether in the colours of club or country. There are few players who can claim such sustained excellence across a number of positions.
Lahm's role in Bayern's success has been often overlooked, but it is upon the likes of Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger who the entire side has been built. He may lack the thrilling tricks of many at the top of this list, but no one matches Lahm for consistent brilliance.
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