Starting XI of the Best Over 35s in World Football
The suggestion that Gianluigi Buffon, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and even the ageless Cristiano Ronaldo are all in their late 30s and early 40s is quite frankly offensive.
There’s no way those three athletes – who all competed in the same Coppa Italia semi-final on Thursday night – are actually the age their birth certificates say they are. To accept that reality you might as well accept the existence of alien life on earth, because it’s not human to be that good at any stage of your development, let alone at the (supposed) arse-end of your career.
They’re not the only ones claiming to be the wrong side of 35 and still absolutely smashing it, however, and to prove it we’ve thrown together a full XI of retirement home world beaters…
GK – Gianluigi Buffon (42)
No surprises here. The man continues to set the pace even though he now plays second fiddle to Wojciech Szczęsny in the Juventus goal, and serves as probably (definitely) the best backup keeper on the planet at present.
He’s kept 314 clean sheets in 667 games for Juve, by the way. Utter madness.
RB – Dani Alves (36)
Uhhhhh, I think you’ll find he’s actually a number 10 now.
What the football hipsters among you are shouting at their screens, probably. While factually accurate, however, it’s also true that he has assumed his natural role at right-back for Sao Paulo on more than a few occasions, and to be honest that just fits our system better.
Anyway, three Champions Leagues, six La Ligas, blah blah blah…you know the drill for Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona chosen ones by now. A freakishly good team of freakishly good players, many of whom are still killing it around the globe.
CB – Giorgio Chiellini (35)
Over 100 caps for Italy and eight Serie A titles with Juventus, there isn’t a central defender alive who doesn’t envy the career Giorgio Chiellini has had in Italy.
What they perhaps don’t envy is the cruciate injury that has ruled him out since August, but he might be the only 35-year-old you’d fully expect to bounce back from such a serious blow, but that’s because he’s forged of iron – that injury would have killed a mere mortal on the spot.
CB – Thiago Silva (35)
The dominant Brazilian is one of those guys you thought was only 24 up until you realised he was somehow 33 a couple of years ago.
Not that his age has slowed his game down, however. He’s still a key part of a PSG team that is absolutely flying domestically and in Europe. Having won league titles in Italy and France, he’s another who has so far dodged Champions League glory but will be hoping he can bring that wait to an end in what could be his swansong season in Paris.
LB – Adriano (35)
Remember him? Barcelona’s trusty utility man turned understudy to Jordi Alba? His diligence on the ball and aptitude with both feet would later make him an important player in two seasons at Beskitas, before returning to Brazil in the summer of 2019.
He now stars for Athletico Paranaense, as his reputation as a player who can feature literally anywhere continues to earn him admirers.
RM – Joaquin (38)
Still casually knocking in hattricks and single-handedly keeping Real Betis upright in La Liga standings, others might be slowing down but Joaquin seems to be getting better with age.
He’s missed just two games in all competitions and has another season left on his contract, so you can reasonably expect the former Valencia star to play in the top flight past his 40th birthday.
CM – Santi Cazorla (35)
Still going strong doesn’t quite cover it for Cazorla. He’s been involved directly in 18 goals in his 25 appearances for Villarreal this season as Javier Calleja’s men jostle for position in an increasingly intense scrap for European football, having seemingly put the injury issues that plagued him at Arsenal behind him.
He’s out of contract in the summer, but the way he’s going, if he does leave Villarreal, then it’s likely to be for another top-flight club.
CM – Andrés Iniesta (35)
It’s perhaps a reflection of Spain’s dominance over the last decade or so of domestic, European and international football that as the 1980s-born players are on their way out, it’s the Spaniards who are on top – in midfield, at least.
The latter part of the ’00s and the early part of the ’10s saw a certain type of diminutive, technically proficient central midfielder come into fashion, and there is no better ambassador for that role than Andrés Iniesta, who for a long time was the best midfielder on the planet. He now plies his trade in Japan but you’d wager he could still go with the best of them.
LM – Franck Ribéry (36)
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo raised the bar for what is expected of a wide forward immeasurably; so much so that a generation of wingers and attackers who would previously have been remembered as among the greatest ever have seen their accomplishments dwarfed in comparison.
One such player is Ribéry, who registered a stupendous 124 goals and 182 assists for Bayern Munich over 425 games. Those stats won the Bavarian giants nine Bundesliga titles, and he’s expected to play a key role for Fiorentina once he gets back on his feet after surgery on his ankle.
CF – Cristiano Ronaldo (35)
As hard as it is to believe, yes, Ronaldo is actually 35. He’ll probably play til he’s 70, however, so fear not.
He was criticised for failing to hit his Real Madrid heights at Juventus, but 20 goals in 20 Serie A appearances this season have quickly buried that assertion. He’s hell-bent on bringing the Champions League trophy to Turin and on his current form, you wouldn’t bet against him.
CF – Zlatan Ibrahimovic (38)
The incorrigible nomad himself. Not many players sack off the big-time for an MLS payday, tear it up stateside, then realise they still have a lot to give at 38, return to Europe, and continue as if they’ve never left.
He’s simply incapable of failing to score goals, and his three already in his second spell with Milan indicate that is not for changing in the near future.