Tag: Old footballers


The MLS is Like an Elephant’s Graveyard: a Place Where The Eldest Go to Die

According to a popular legend, when elephants reach an old age, they move away from their herd looking for a place to die. This is called an ‘elephants’ graveyard’. Have you seen ‘The Lion King’? Do you remember when Simba and Nala are attacked by hyenas for the first time? Well, that was an elephants’ graveyard.

American Major League Soccer is the football equivalent to that. A place where famous players with their best years behind their backs go to spend the final seasons of their careers.

Take for instance English players. As we already discussed on this blog, you won’t see many of them playing at major European leagues, but there are quite a few in the United States. In fact, they are the second most popular nationality among foreign players, just after Argentina. Among these 18 Englishmen you can find some big names, like Steven Gerrard, who is playing for Los Angeles Galaxy, or Frank Lampard, who plays for New York City FC. They both had very successful careers and they moved to the US in their mid or late 30s.

The chart below tries to visualise this trend: mature players from all over the world moving to the MLS at the end of the careers. The graph shows the difference between their current market value, and what they reached at the peak of their careers. I took the data from Transfermarkt, a very popular German website that publishes regular estimates of the market value of players in most leagues.
The players shown on the graph are those who suffered the highest losses in their market value. How many names can you recognise? Probably most of them, as these players had really successful careers in European football. Kaká shined at AC Milan and was sold to Real Madrid for a whopping figure. Steven Gerrard was a local hero at Liverpool for many years. David Villa was a key player in the most successful Spanish national team in history. Frank Lampard is the all-time leading goalscorer for Chelsea. Andrea Pirlo is a symbol of Italian football all over the world. Now they are all waiting for retirement in the USA.

Are there any other competitions that have became elephants’ graveyards? Let us know!

Players over 30 years old playing in 5 football teams

Which teams have more footballers over 30?

Following our series of posts about footballers over 30 years old, today we analyse how many ‘oldies’ are playing for each team in the 5 major leagues.

If you have read my last post about Italian players you might assume that the top 5 positions will be taken by clubs from the Mediterranean country. Well, your assumption is correct, 3 out of the 5 teams with the highest number of players over 30 are Italian.

But let’s move away from Serie A for a bit and have a close look to other competitions. What’s going on in La Liga? Rayo Vallecano’s squad includes 12 mature players, but what about the rest?


Alongside Rayo Vallecano, Deportivo de A Coruña and Real Betis also have a significant amount of players over 30.

Rayo Vallecano’s performance this season has been terrible, and they are currently in relegation positions. Among their oldies you can find former Spanish national team player Pablo Hernández (30) and striker Javi Guerra (33).

Deportivo, on the other hand, are doing a brilliant season (disclaimer: I’m a Deportivo fan). Its squad includes veteran players like former Newcastle player Jonás Gutierrez (32) or the historical Deportivo’s right back, Manuel Pablo (39).

Deportivo’s biggest rival, Celta de Vigo, are the team with the lowest number of veteran footballers in Spanish La Liga. Only the Argentinian defender, Gustavo Cabral, is over 30. Well, actually he is just 30 years old.

Players over 30 years old playing in la liga


Most German teams have less than 6 players over 30, but there are two exceptions: FC Augsburg and SV Darmstadt 98. Both teams are in the lower half of the table, holding 12th and 13th positions respectively

FC Augsburg’s squad includes former Arsenal goalkeeper Alex Manninger (38) and Estonian international Ragnar Klavan (30).

On the other hand, SV Darmstadt 98 has a very interesting ‘oldie’, Costa Rican Júnior Díaz. He is 32 years old and during the last World Cup he was deemed by FIFA as the fastest player of the competition.

Players over 30 years old playing in bundesliga


Manchester City and Stoke include 10 footballers over 30 in their squads, making them the two teams with the highest number of veteran players in the Premier League.

Fernandinho (30), Yaya Touré (32) or Jesús Navas (30) are some of the top players in Manchester City’s squad.

Stoke City’s ‘oldies’ include English defender Glen Johnson (31) and Nigerian striker Peter Odemwingie (34).

It’s worth mentioning that Tottenham Hotspurs only have one player over 30. Alongside Celta de Vigo, they are the team with the lowest number of veteran players in major European competitions.

Players over 30 years old playing in the premier league


As you can see in the chart below, on top the table there are two French teams with 9 players over 30 in their squads.

SC Bastia, currently in 15th position, have two former French international players: Mehdi Mostefa (32) and Sébastien Squillaci (35).

SCO Angers, currently in 3rd position, also has two former internacionals, Algerian Anthar Yahia (33) and Guinean Ibrahima Diallo (30).

Players over 30 years old playing in ligue 1


Last week I defined Serie A as a ‘haven for players over 30’, and the chart below proves me right. Just in Chievo Verona there are 13 veterans, including footballers Dario Dainelli (36) or Slovenian international Bostjan Cesar (33).

Players over 30 years old playing in the serie a

CC BY-NC the rik pics

Italian Serie A is a haven for footballers over 30

There are 564 players in the 5 major European leagues that are 30 years old or older. Well, at least that was the figure before the winter transfer window opened, now it might be slightly different.

In another blog post published a few weeks before Christmas I was surprised by the performance of mature Italian players and I promised to investigate if they grow old more gracefully than other nationalities. Well, I haven’t done a proper research this time, but I did have a look to the origin of these 564 players and, it’s true, there are lots of Italians!

Footballers in their 30s playing in major leagues

Defenders in Serie A

Serie A is the competition with the highest number of active players older than 30. They represent 26% of the total number of mature player in the 5 major leagues.

As you can see in the chart above, defenders are the most popular position for veteran footballers playing in Italy. Think in Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli from Juventus or Miranda from Inter Milan.

It’s interesting to see that Serie A players lead every single position except for midfielders, where Ligue 1 takes the lead, including names like Mathieu Valbuena (Olympique Lyon, aged 31) or Lassana Diarra (Olympique Marseille, aged 30)

Not even the veteran Premier League players are English

But where are all these players actually from? Which competition has more national players over 30? Well, there are quite big differences between leagues, as you can see in the chart below.

Nationality of players over 30

Ligue 1, La Liga and Serie A have a clear majority of national players, Bundesliga is divided in a perfect 1:1 ratio and in the Premier League there’s an overwhelming majority of veteran footballers from overseas.

But where these foreign players come from? The chart below shows the top 10 nationalities of players over 30. Outside the 5 countries we are analysing, Argentina and Brazil are the most popular origin.

Top 10 nationalities over 30


  • Serie A is the major European competition with the highest number of active players over 30
  • There are more footballers over 30 playing as defenders than in any other position
  • Less than 1 in 3 players over 30 in the Premier League are actually English
  • Italy is the country with more veteran players in the 5 major competitions, but most of them remain in Serie A.
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 transfermarkt.co.uk
  • 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 transfermarkt.co.uk 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.
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