Football is a game for the young and can chew you up and spit you out the second that you lose any of your prime agility. However, not everyone is built the same, and there are plenty of players who were able to continue having success later on in their careers. Most professional football careers end by the time someone turns 30, but then there are those who continue until nearly turning 40.
Who were the best players in football history after age 35, though? Let’s take a look at some of the all-time greats and what they were able to accomplish despite being a decade older than the average player on the pitch.
Welshman Ryan Giggs started off his youth career in the mid-1980s with Manchester City’s youth program before making his way across town to Manchester United in 1987. Three years later, he made his professional debut at just 16 years old and remained with the club for a very, very long time. By the time Giggs celebrated his 35th birthday in 2008, Giggs had already been a professional player with Man U for 18 years.
With Giggs on the squad, Manchester United won four Premier League titles after his 35th birthday, as well as an FA Community Shield. No other player has won as many top division English league titles, and the fact he was able to play for so long while still being productive is the biggest reason.
Italian Gianluigi Buffon is a goalkeeper who spent his early career with Parma before making his way to Juventus in 2001. After celebrating a dozen years spent with Juventus, Buffon celebrated his 35th birthday, but that wasn’t the end of his career. In fact, he would spend another five years with Juventus while also playing for Paris Saint-Germain and returning to Parma.
After turning 35, Buffon racked up a long list of accomplishments that would be worthy of a Hall of Fame career on their own. That includes seven Serie A titles, several Coppa Italia champions, and even a Ligue 1 title. Buffon won four Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year Awards after turning 35, as well.
Another Italian to make the list, Francesco Totti had a lengthy youth career with several clubs, eventually making his way to AS Roma. It was with the club that Totti spent his entire professional career, too, retiring in 2017 after 619 league appearances. Many of those came after Totti’s 35th birthday, and he still spent six more years with Roma before wrapping things up as one of the club’s all-time greats.
Tottie won a slew of awards after turning 35, including multiple sportsmanship awards and the UEFA President’s Award. Totti was able to score a dozen goals in the 2012-13 Serie A season and followed it up with back-to-back eight-goal seasons to show that he could still score with the young bucks. To tell you how long he played, his signature celebration was included with FIFA 17 for the PlayStation 4 while the FIFA franchise had just started on the Super Nintendo when his career began.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one of those players that seemed to get better the older he got, and he has a long list of clubs that he has played for. Some of Ibrahimovic’s more notable stints include Paris Saint-Germain, Inter Milan, and Juventus. In 2016, Ibrahimovic celebrated his 35th birthday while he was a member of Manchester United where he played for two years before heading to the United States and then returning to Europe to play for AC Milan.
Shortly after turning 35, Ibrahimovic helped Manchester United win the UEFA Europa League title as well as the EFL Cup and Community Shield. He was also nominated for the Ballon d’Or as one of the world’s best players. He’s been named the Serie A Player of the Month and won several MLS honors including two All-Star Game appearances and a 2019 Player of the Year honor.
Cristiano Ronaldo will be remembered as one of the greatest players in football history, and his longevity is one of the reasons for that. The Portugal native started his professional career with Sporting CP before becoming a household name as a member of Manchester United and Real Madrid during the 2000s and 2010s. In 2020, Ronaldo celebrated his 35th birthday and showed no signs of slowing down.
He was with Juventus at the time and made a return to Man U before signing a record-setting deal with Saudi club Al Nassr. Following his 35th birthday, Ronaldo led Juventus to the Serie A championship, as well as the Coppa Italia and Superocppa Italiana. He was also named the Serie A Footballer of the Year and Portuguese Player of the Year.