Khamis, 28 November 2013

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Top Ten Golden Oldies

Ten players who got better with age.

 10. Sylvain Distin

The initial flickered idea that created the list, hence his inclusion. After being bought for a club record fee for a defender (£4million) in 2002, Distin rather stuttered through his Manchester City career despite being a first-team regular, largely thanks to the occasional individual error.

When Distin joined Everton in 2009 at 31, it seemed his career was on the wane. Four years and 170 games later, his performances have never been more consistent and, at 36 years of age in a fast-paced league, that is mightily impressive.

Had Distin played like this ten years ago, the Frenchman would surely not have been left without an international cap.

9. Brad Friedel

Compiling a countdown such as this tends to mess with the mind somewhat. Example A: Brad Friedel was almost 30 when he left Liverpool - that seems a lifetime ago now.

Given the paucity of options in his native US of A, Friedel reached 26 before he played a professional club match (Galatasaray), and his was a stuttering career until a move to Blackburn in 2000.

Since then, Friedel has become a diving, saving advert for professionalism and dedication - 78% of his career club matches have come after turning 30 as he built up a reputation as arguably the Premier League's most reliable goalkeeper.

8. Diego Milito

Milito's goal record had always been perfectly adequate at both Genoa (twice) and Real Zaragoza, but it seems remarkable that he reached 30 years of age before Inter took a chance on the Argentinean. It was a move that lit the blue touch paper on a career that was in danger of being filed under 'what might have been'.

Milito's second league start for Inter was the Derby della Madonnina against Milan in which he scored one and assisted two, and the striker motored on from such auspicious beginnings. He won the treble, scored both goals in the Champions League final and was named as Italian Player of the Year for 2010, and was also the top Serie A goalscorer during 2012.

Having scored 62 Serie A goals at the Nerazzurri despite starting just 107 matches, it seems crazy that Milito has just one goal for Argentina in the last ten years.

7. Andrea Pirlo

There is certainly a correlation between being a) Italian b) on this list and c) disgustingly good looking, and Pirlo starts such a trend off with a bang (and long cuddle afterwards).

Unfathomably allowed to leave Milan in 2011, and even more unfathomably allowed to leave to join Juventus, Pirlo went about teaching a lesson to Silvio Berlusconi and co by playing the best football of his career almost instantaneously. Within a year he had been named Juventus Player of the Year, fourth in UEFA's Player in Europe award, Serie A Player of the Year and had grown a marvellous beard. Simply phenomenal work.

6. Didier Drogba

Despite the obvious comparisons between Drogba and Romelu Lukaku, it is worth remembering that we must wait until 2019 for Lukaku to reach the age that the Ivorian was when he even joined Chelsea. Despite the club's back-to-back titles in 2004/5 and 2005/6, Drogba only scored 22 goals in those two seasons combined as he struggled to make a meaningful impact at Stamford Bridge.

But then, in 2009 when aged 31, Drogba's career suddenly gained a new lease of life. The striker scored 29 goals in 32 Premier League games and 37 in all competitions, a hat-trick on the final day rubber-stamping the Blues' title victory. Two years later and Drogba's penalty gave Chelsea their maiden Champions League trophy, named Man of the Match in the final.

5. Paolo Maldini

Paolo Maldini made 418 appearances for club and country after turning 30. That, ladies and gentlemen, is bloody ridiculous, especially when you consider that the defender retired from international football in 2002, seven years before his last game for Milan.

After a career founded on ventures forward from left-back combined with defensive solidity, Maldini moved to central defence after his pace began to fade and effortlessly transformed from a world-class full-back to a world class central defender. You'd be angry with jealousy if it wasn't for those Mediterranean blue eyes.

Ahead of Milan's 2007 Champions League semi-final against Manchester United, Alex Ferguson described Maldini's (then 38) quarter-final performance: "Maldini went through the entire 90 minutes without tackling. That is an art and he is the master of it. He is a great player."

4. Claude Makelele

When reminiscing on Makelele's club career one instantly thinks of Real Madrid and Chelsea, so it is surprising to realise that he didn't even move to the Spanish capital until the age of 27, and was brought to West London for £16.8million after his 30th birthday.

Under Jose Mourinho (after an initial season under Claudio Ranieri), Makelele became the heartbeat of Chelsea's title-winning side, labelled as the club's Player of the Year by the manager at the age of 32 and still a first team regular at 35.

Playing almost 120 games for Paris St Germain even after leaving Chelsea, Makelele's presence on this list is justified by the bizarre fact that he made over half of his career appearances after his 29th birthday.

3. Antonio Di Natale

Similarly to Milito before him, Di Natale's was a career threatening to dwindle up until 2009. He had scored reasonably regularly for Empoli and Udinese, had picked up six international goals and had reached 32 years of age. And then, seemingly out nowhere, it seemed as if all of his (Tony) Christmases had come at once.

From 2009/10 onwards, the forward scored more Serie A goals than he had in his previous eight seasons combined, becoming the first player since Giuseppe Signori in 1994 to win consecutive Capocannoniere (golden boot) awards in Italy. He's still going, and he's 36.

Since August 2009, only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have scored more league goals in European football than Di Natale at Udinese. That's a hell of a quiz question and some exalted company to be hanging around in.

2. Edwin van der Sar

Bosnich, van der Gouw, Culkin, Taibi, Rachubka, Barthez, Goram, Carroll, Ricardo, Howard.

The list of the ten incumbents following Peter Schmeichel in the Manchester United goal does not read well, demonstrating just how grateful the Old Trafford faithful were that van der Sar managed to save the best form of his career for his twilight years in Manchester.

If being named Man of the Match in a Champions League final victory at the age of 37 wasn't enough, he added both icing and cherry to a particularly sweet cake by setting a global league clean sheet record in the following season.

Van der Sar also added the UEFA Best European Goalkeeper award in 2009. I don't know what that would be on the cake, possibly those inexplicable little metal balls that threaten to break your teeth.

1. Fabio Cannavaro

This last one is quite easy:

Serie A winner (later revoked thanks to Calciopoli)
La Liga winner (twice)
Serie A Defender of the Year (twice)
UEFA Team of the Year
Serie A Footballer of the Year
Italian Footballer of the Year
World Cup winner
Ballon D'Or winner
FIFA World Player of the Year

Most international footballers would be rather pleased with such a list of honours for an entire career.

Fabio Cannavaro achieved all that after reaching 32. Jesus.


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