AUGUST 23, 2008 - Football : Luca Toni of Bayern Muenchen in action during the Bundesliga match between Borussia Dortmund and FC Bayern Muenchen at the Signal-Iduna Park on Augsut 23, 2008 in Dortmund, Germany. (Photo by Tsutomu Takasu)

Old footballers: is there any life for a goalscorer over 30s?

Wayne Rooney’s performance this season has been broadly discussed. Has the Liverpudlian past his prime peak? Is he going to be a competitive player after turning 30?

I can’t answer any of these questions, but I’ve found a few old footballers who were over 30 when they had their best performances in the 5 major European leagues (Premier League, La Liga, 1.Bundesliga, Serie A, Ligue 1) . This might give good old Rooney some hope.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Ibrahimovic arrived to Juventus from Ajax when he was 23-24 years old. Since then, the number of goals he scored for every 90 min tended to increase, with some drops in specific seasons.

He had one of the sweetest moments of his career playing for Inter Milan. When he was 27 he scored 0.78 goals per 90 minutes, his best ratio until then, and one year later he became Serie A’s Capocannoniere (top scorer) for the first time.

The following years Ibrahimovic started moving from one team to another and his performance declined but, after turning 30, he achieved the best results of his career.

When he was 31 he won Serie A’s Golden Boot for the second time, this time playing for AC Milan, and the 2 following years he also became Ligue 1’s top scorer as part of Paris Saint-Germain’s squad.

When he was 32 he reached the highest number of goals per 90 minutes of his whole career, a whooping 0.91.

This season he will turn 35 and in his first 7 games with PSG he scored 7 goals. Is he going to achieve the best performance of his career in his mid-30s? We’ll see.

Antonio di Natale

Antonio di Natale is a very interesting example because he was a below-average player for most of his 20s but had some amazing seasons when he was over 30.

He started playing in Serie A when he was 25-26, after the promotion of his FC Empoli from Serie B. This first season in Italy’s top competition was pretty good, scoring 0.6 goals per 90 minutes, a little bit over the average of top goalscorers.

When he was 27-28 he signed with Udinese Calcio, but his performance in the first few years was quite mediocre. His golden age, the best years of his career, started when he was 31-32 years old. He reached 0.87 goals for every 90 minutes played, and became Serie A’s Top scorer two years in a row, when he was 33 and 34.

In the years after his peak, his performance started to decline slowly, but he still scored more goals than most footballers his age and he was a key part of Udinese Calcio.

Luca Toni

Luca Toni’s career is worth mentioning. Like most goalscorers, he reached his best performance in his late 20s, and started declining since then. What makes this player special is that when he was heading for retirement, he rose like a Phoenix and became Serie A’s Capocannoniere (top scorer) when he was 38 years old.

Toni’s best years took place when he was playing for AC Fiorentina and scored 0.86 goals for every 90 minutes. He was 29 years old at the time. After that, he had a couple of good seasons at Bayern Munich and declined dramatically playing for Juventus. There was a year when he didn’t even play a single minute!

He signed with Hellas Verona aged 36-37 and had his second golden age playing for them. This season he will turn 39 still playing in Serie A, one of the most competitive leagues in the world.

Ruud Van Nistelrooy

Van Nistelrooy is the typical player that had a few good years in his early thirties and then declined. He started his career playing in Eredivisie and moved to the Premier League when he was 25-26 to became of Manchester United’s most dangerous strikers. The year of his arrival he scored 0.81 goals per every 90 minutes and the year after he became Premier League’s top scorer.

His performance got worse in the two following years, until, when he was 29-30 years old, he signed with Real Madrid and had a couple of great years playing in La Liga. When he was 31 he won the Pichichi Trophy, an award given to La Liga’s top scorer.

In his last 2 years playing for Real Madrid he suffered a series of injuries that kept him away from the pitch, so he didn’t play much. Nevertheless, looking to the graph it look like he improved a lot, that’s because he scored several goals in the few minutes he had, but it’s not enough to talk about a trend.

He spent the last years of his career playing for Hamburger SV and Malaga, with poor success.

Alexander Meier

Meier’s story is still to be written. Like Antonio Di Natale, he was a below-average player during his 20, but he started to stand out when he got closer to his 30s. Last season he scored 0.77 goals for every 90 minutes played and he became Bundesliga’s top scorer. Is this going to be a trend? We don’t know yet, but it is worth to keep an eye on him.

Francesco Totti

Another Italian! One day I’ll need to investigate if Italian players get older more gracefully than other nationalities.

Totti is already 39 and he’s still playing for AS Roma, as he has been doing since season 1992/1993. Even earlier if we count AS Roma Primavera, the youth set-up of the Italian team.

His performance tended to improve through time, despite having some bad seasons from time to time. His best years took place when he was between 27 and 34, but he peaked when he was 31. That season he became Serie A’s top scorer.

Totti’s performance declined in his late 30s, but he still had many minutes in Roma’s squad.

A few notes about the methodology

  • All the data comes from
  • I’ve analysed the top 2 goal scorers in each major European league since season 2000/2001
  • I started tracking each footballer’s progression when they started playing for one of the 5 major leagues. For example, I haven’t included the years Van Nistelrooy spent in Eredivisie. The reason why I did that it’s because doesn’t have data for every single league in the world.
  • The number of goals only includes those scored in national leagues
  • Age is approximate. I took in consideration the year of birth of the player at the end of each season.
  • In the graphs, there’s a peak in 40 year old players, that’s just because of Totti, so it’s not very representative. Not many players are still playing being that old.

Arrests at football games. A closer look to London teams

I’ve already mentioned in a previous post that Millwall is the English team with the highest ratio of fans arrested. In the last 10 years, 2.5 supporters were arrested for every 10,000 attendees to their games.

Is this a London phenomenon? Do football supporters from the capital get in trouble more often that the rest of the country? Well, actually they don’t. If you have a look to the chart below you’ll see that only 4 teams are above the national average: Millwall, Chelsea, West Ham and Tottenham. There’s something in the docklands…

10 years in arrests in London teams

The chart below analyses the evolution through time of the arrest ratio of current Premier League teams. Be aware that not all of them have been in the Premier League for the whole period, so I’ve used a different colour to highlight the years they spent in Championship.

The general trend is a decline in the number of arrests in the last decade, you can see that both in London teams and in the national average. Nevertheless, there are some teams that consistently perform worse than the national average, particularly Chelsea, West Ham and Tottenham (just at the beginning of the decade).

There are some interesting peaks that can be explained by particular incidents that provoked a higher number of arrests. For example, in season 2008/2009, West Ham reached their highest ratio for the whole series. This was the year when the Upton Park riot took place, a battle between Hammers’ and Millwall’s supporters. I couldn’t any particular event for the Spurs peak in 2005/2006, so I’ve you know what happened that year let me know!

Arrests in London Premier League teams

The main reason for being arrested is public disorder, followed by alcohol offences and violent disorder. But some offences are more common in some teams than in others. For example, Spurs are the club with the highest percentage of fans arrested due to alcohol offences. West Ham are leaders in racist chanting and an important percentage of Leyton Orient arrests were caused by pitch incursions, probably after last year’s game against Peterborough.

You can explore the interactive chart below to see which crowds are more likely to commit each type of offence. But careful, it doesn’t include data for 2009/2010 because that year the Home Office merged public and violent disorder in a way that we can’t compare it with other years.

Egypt fans light flares
as they celebrate a goal against Algeria during a World Cup 2010
qualifying soccer match in Cairo November 14, 2009.   REUTERS/Goran

Football hooligans are not dead. Which supporters are arrested more often?

In this second post about football-related arrests I’m going to add some context. Yes, it’s interesting to know that in the last decade almost 2,000 Man United fans were arrested, but this also has to do with the size of their support base. Old Trafford is the biggest ground in the Premier League and, when the Red Devils play at home, there are 75.335 people on average in the stadium.

Getting the approximate number of the fan base it isn’t a particularly easy task, so I used the attendance to home matches to weight the different crowd sizes. Please, be aware that this data also includes supporters arrested in other stadiums, but the attendance stats are only referred to the home grounds. Despite of this limitation, I still think that considering the home attendance is a good measurement and that it fits the purpose of this post. I must also warn you that I only have data about Premier League, Championship, League One and League Two. I have discarded those teams that have played some of the last 10 seasons in the National League as I wouldn’t be comparing the same time period.

Top 10. All competitions ratio

Manchester United is no longer on top, in fact, it is not even in the top 10! The team with the most fans arrested compared to their support base is actually Millwall. Surprised? Well, maybe not considering that Lions’ fans have been involved in some serious rioting in the last few years.  An interesting fact is that there is not a single Premier League team on this list, as most of them currently play in Championship and League One.

Top 10 Premier League

But what about the Premier League? There must be teams with a more problematic support base than others. Well there are, but the teams in the top 3 are actually very close to each other. Stoke City, Sunderland and Chelsea have around 1.3 supporters arrested for every 10.000 home attendees. This ratio also includes the seasons that Stoke and Sunderland played in lower divisions.

In a previous post I showed that the number of Manchester United fans arrested was twice as big as Manchester City’s. But, compared the home attendance, the difference is smaller.


Top 10 Championship


There is a very clear leader in Championship. Leeds United has a whopping ratio of 2 arrests for every 10.000 supporters. It’s not surprising considering that they have been involved in very serious clashes against other crowds, the last one just one month ago. In further posts we will take a close look to some of the most problematic teams. The chart above shows an interesting trend, the gap between the first positions of the top 10 and the last is quite wide. This means that there are just a few teams in Championship with a high ratio of arrests but that’s not the general behavior, as we will see in a little bit.

Top 10 League One

League One is a rough place, with teams like Millwall or Port Vale showing a worryingly high ratio of arrests. In this case, most teams show a higher ratio than in the two previous competitions. But, League Two is even worse. I haven’t created a top 10 for League Two because there are many teams that have recently played in the National League and I don’t have this data, but you can check the chart below to see what’s the ratio of arrests in each competition.

Arrests per competition




Players nationalities in the Premier league and other major competitions

It’s summer time! The Premier League is over, Barcelona is the new European Champion and sports pages are full of transfer rumours. I’m more interested in facts than rumours, so I’m not going to write about transfers.

Last week I downloaded a spreadsheet with the nationality of every single player in the 5 major European leagues (Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Ligue 1 and Serie A) and started looking for patterns. Do English teams sign more Spanish players than French? Which league has more players from outside Europe? Are there more Asians in Bundesliga than in any other competition?

I have found some interesting stuff that I will publish it in the following days. But, if you want to analyse the data yourself, have a look to this Tableau visualisation. If you find something interesting, let me know.

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