30 Is The New 20: Why Signing Tricenarians Is No Longer Taboo

The peak of a footballers career is getting later and later
07:00, 14 Jul 2022

There was a time, in the not so recent past, where signing a player over 30 was seen as a stupid decision. A decade ago, once footballers saw those giant 3 and 0 balloons on their birthday, and they unwrapped that comfy pair of slippers, they were well past their sell-by date and set for retirement. 

Even on Football Manager, those of us with any sort of ambition to make money and succeed would never go near a player that was over 30. It’s like throwing money down the drain, as those footballers deteriorate quicker than Michael Owen’s NFTs. But back in the real world, times have changed. 

Players over 30 are no longer cast aside to one side, but instead embraced and even coveted. Kalidou Koulibaly is all set to join Chelsea as a 31-year-old and remarkably, the Blues are set to offer him a five-year-deal. That length of contract, for a player of his age, would never have been considered in the past, but in this era, players can play at the highest level for longer than ever before. 

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Just look at his soon-to-be teammate Thiago Silva. He is now 37 but showed last year he is still one of the finest defenders in the Premier League to earn himself another one-year contract. At the same age Cristiano Ronaldo is a unique phenomenon, but his 18 league goals last term are testament to his longevity.

With the fitness levels and dietary restrictions players are forced to conform to from a young age, you can see exactly why their careers at the top are being extended. Long gone are the days of the 20th century when players would regularly go out drinking multiple times a week and not have their own dieticians or chefs. 

Roy Keane told Micah Richards: “I played a cup game before, Crystal Palace at home, and three hours before the game I had a kebab. A doner kebab. From the chipper. When you’re younger you get away with it but you pay for it later on. I lived by myself and I didn’t have any food in the house.”

Nowadays pre-match meals are designed by nutritionists and there is no way a doner kebab would suffice as proper fuel for a match. Times have changed, for the better for those of us watching the game. It may be stricter, but even the young players will reap the benefits of later in their career. Ronaldo is the prime example of a player that has taken fitness and wellbeing to the extreme across his 20-year career, as he famously shunned a Coca-Cola that was sat in front of him at a press conference and told everybody to instead “drink water.” That sort of mindset and discipline is exactly why he has been able to achieve so much in the game, but you don’t have to be a freak of nature to defy Father Time in 2022. 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is 40 and scored 100 more goals in his 30s than he did in his 20s, in over 100 less appearances. He has aged like a fine wine, while Luka Modric has reached new heights the later we have progressed into his career. As somebody that has never relied on his physicality, instead his mental agility and experience makes him one of the best in the world. His partnership with fellow tricenarian Toni Kroos has blossomed over the past decade as Real Madrid became champions of Europe again this summer. Karim Benzema played a huge role in that win and looks set to win the Ballon d’Or at the age of 34, having put in the best season of his career. 

Meanwhile, Jamie Vardy continues to defy the odds in the Premier League, and Virgil van Dijk and Kevin De Bruyne, arguably the two finest players in the division, are both into their 30s. But age really is now just a number, and now the peak for footballers is getting later and later.

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Best 30s XI

Courtois

Walker - Van Dijk - Koulibaly - Alaba

Messi - KDB - Modric - Ronaldo

Lewandowski - Benzema

Subs

Neuer

Ramos

Thiago Silva

Marcelo

Kante

Kroos

Salah

Mane

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