The sporting world loves a football wunderkind — someone who takes over a match despite being one of the youngest players on the pitch. For most players, however, it isn’t so easy to endure years of toil and sacrifice in the lower leagues. That being said, a select few manage to find their stride later in life. They even convert their experience into production on the grand stage. Noteworthy examples include:
Hall of Famer Teddy Sheringham had a solid early career with Millwall and Nottingham Forest. Still, it wasn’t until he joined Tottenham Hotspur at the age of 27 that his career really took off. Despite this, individual and team honors still eluded him.
A transfer to Manchester United remedied this, as Sheringham was a key player in the Red Devils’ Treble winning season of 1998-99. After this breakthrough, Sheringham continued to play for more than a decade. He retired in 2008 at the age of 42.
It took Gareth McAuley more than a decade of solid performances in the NIFL Premiership, EFL League Two, and Championship before he finally made it to the Premier League with West Bromwich Albion. His top goal-scoring season came at the age of 37. He also made twelve appearances for the National Team in Northern Ireland in 2016 — more than any other year in his career.
Jamie Vardy climbed the ranks of European football slowly but consistently. After solid seasons spent with FC Halifax Town and Fleetwood Town, Vardy finally made his ascent to the top with Leicester City.
Despite being with the squad since 2012, it took Vardy several years before he found himself playing for England on the international stage in 2015. Vardy continued to flourish — and in 2020 he became the oldest player to win the Premier League Golden Boot.
Antonio Di Natale
Italian football club Empoli enjoyed nine solid seasons from Antonio Di Natale, who helped the squad gain Serie A promotion. Not much was made of his transfer to Udinese in 2004, but it turned out to be the greatest move of his career. Di Natale would go on to flourish, scoring 191 goals in 385 appearances with the club.
Kevin De Bruyne
Now a star with Manchester City, Kevin De Bruyne began his career with some notable disappointment. His first stint in the Premier League, for example, was brief. After only three appearances with Chelsea, he made his way to Wolfsburg and the Bundesliga.
It was there that De Bruyne began to flourish as a player, winning Germany’s Footballer of the Year in 2015. Back in the Premier League with Manchester City, De Bruyne has become one of the best overall players in the world.
If the footballers referenced above are any indication, it really is never too late to make your mark. They should serve as enduring inspiration for people from all walks of life. No, not everybody can achieve athletic greatness at any time, but these examples remind us that the adage “slow and steady wins the race” is worth repeating.