There’s not much love for elder statesmen at the top these days – but David Cartlidge has plenty for this lot...
Naldo (Wolfsburg, 33)
Naldo, even at 33 years old, must still be one of the Bundesliga’s most reliable individuals. Wolfsburg’s metamorphosis into Champions League participants has had many contributing factors, but one of the biggest has been the form of their Brazilian defender signed from rivals Werder Bremen in 2012.
Naldo has been nicknamed ‘the Beast’ (alongside greats like Jon Parkin and Brian Jensen, of course) thanks to his physical capabilities which not only help him fend off attackers but also make him a force at the other end – in his three full seasons at Wolfsburg he’s struck 16 league goals, in part thanks to a cannonball free-kick that terrifies opposition walls.
Phil Jagielka (Everton, 33)
Only recently named Everton’s first-ever England captain, Jagielka is currently performing two important roles for the Merseyside outfit. Firstly he’s focusing on his own game, proving to be a solid, dependable presence in defence. But he’s also mentoring a future star in John Stones, showing him what it takes to be a true professional. At 33, Jagielka is still in excellent condition and could play on for a while longer yet in the unrelenting Premier League.
Xabi Alonso (Bayern Munich, 33)
Alonso has long been the epitome of class in football. Few players have been easier on the eye to watch, with the former Liverpool star possessing a fine passing range and level of control within his game. So much so that when he became available, Pep Guardiola acted quickly to steal the player from Real Madrid.
At Bayern Munich he soon became an integral part of the team, delighting his boss with the kind of technical ability that keeps the Bavarians ticking. The player himself is still soaking up knowledge too, admitting that he’d learned the most in his career in the last year under Guardiola. Still a guaranteed starter wowing stats lovers with his metronomic passing.
Ruben Castro (Real Betis, 34)
Take note young Spanish strikers, and pay attention to two 34-year-olds at the top of their game in La Liga. In their mid-20s, Castro and Aritz Aduriz (below) were hardly inspiring, but getting older has matured and improved the pair.
Betis man Castro is more of a poacher, who despite his age still packs speed and most of all accuracy in and around the penalty area. His finishing is now a refined feature of his game – he’s got four goals this season for the promoted side – but his approach play isn’t too shabby: Castro weighs in with the odd assist and is a nuisance with his movement.
Aritz Aduriz (Athletic Bilbao, 34)
Aduriz is a more physical threat than Castro, using his upper-body strength and ability in the air to unnerve defenders. Since signing for a bargain €2.5m in 2010 he’s lead the Athletic frontline with great pride – very much expected at a club like Athletic – but most of all quality. Aduriz provides energy in abundance, and for a while now has carried his team. With five net-ripplers to his name this term, he’s showing no signs of slowing.
Heurelho Gomes (Watford, 34)
Gomes might have thought his spell at the very top was over, but just short of his 35th birthday, the Brazilian is back and going strong in the Premier League. His 14 clean sheets in 44 appearances were decisive as Watford achieved promotion from the Championship last season, and so far he’s shown no signs of reclaiming the calamity tag that plagued him at Spurs. Gomes is showing a steely character and determination to help retain Watford’s top-flight status, and restore credibility to his own name.
Maxwell (PSG, 34)
Maxwell has recently confirmed he’ll be leaving European football at the end of the current season, but regular watchers of PSG would argue he could still play on at the top. Despite being 34, Zlatan’s best mate is a consistent performer whose levels rarely drop.
He’s akin to Javier Zanetti in this sense: neither fast nor technical but a reliable player who won’t let his team down. Young pretenders will challenge for the PSG left-back spot but Maxwell has set an impeccably high standard – just ask Lucas Digne, who moved on loan to Roma after failing to displace the Brazilian.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG, 34)
Still PSG’s talisman at 34 and now their all-time leading scorer after netting twice against Marseille in early October. "I think I'm still improving, even if I'm getting older," he told PSG's official website. "I'm still here, doing what I know how to do and doing it better and better.
"I'm like wine – I get better with age. I don't feel like I'm getting old... quite the opposite. I'm stronger and stronger mentally. I'm still hungry and that will help me keep reaching my goals."
Doubt him if you dare. The Swedish hero’s current form has been typically devastating – he returned from the international break with a winning brace against Bastia to follow goals against Moldova and Liechtenstein; those, after that double against Marseille and two against Nantes and Guingamp. All in all, it’s eight in seven for the man who’s allowed to get through life on first-name terms.
Dirk Kuyt (Feyenoord, 35)
Kuyt’s return to Feyenoord this summer showed there is still room for sentiment in football, but also that the Dutchman has no plans to relax just yet. In fact, the Liverpool favourite has seven goals in nine games for the club he made his name with, only recently smashing in an incredible first-half hat-trick against Heerenveen. Kuyt will no doubt be a big factor in Feyenoord’s attempts to get back on top in Dutch football this season.
Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus, 37)
Buffon has been omnipresent in Italian football for quite some time now, even when Juventus were demoted to Serie B. The legendary glovesman stayed as the Old Lady resurrected themselves, one of few players at the top of their powers to remain.
The Italian was rewarded for such loyalty just last season as Juventus reached the Champions League final, only to end up losing to Barcelona. On the way there, and in the showpiece itself, Buffon again proved his world-class credentials and that even at 37 he could still be mentioned in the same breath as Manuel Neuer. Juve’s backup goalkeepers will have to wait a while longer yet.
Antonio Di Natale (Udinese, 38)
Di Natale continues to represent Udinese in a way that no other player could. His brilliance keeps the club from north-eastern Italy punching above their weight (if not quite the case this season), and hopeful of taking bigger scalps season upon season. Since moving into his 30s the ex-Italy striker has come alive, proving to be one of the most deadly finishers in the world. (In fact, between 2009 and 2011, only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo scored more goals).
In November 2014 he hit the hallowed 200-goal mark in Serie A, an achievement only five other players have made (Silvio Piola, Francesco Totti, Gunnar Nordahl, Giuseppe Meazza, José Altafini). And nearly all of those players spent their careers at big clubs.
The best bit is that he’s now 38 and still keeping his team’s younger attacking pups at bay. A true legend.
Hilton (Montpellier, 38)
Centre-back Hilton, meanwhile, is a great story in himself. At 38 he remains Montpellier’s captain and maintains a high standard of fitness, allowing him to continue playing not far short of his 40th birthday. At the highest level it’s an incredibly difficult feat, but the Brazilian is the perfect example of a model professional.
Since 2007 he’s been named in Ligue 1’s team of the season four times, showing age has only increased his intelligence to take up better positions and cover for his lack of pace. In 2011/12 Hilton won the title with Montpellier too, an unprecedented success achieved in part thanks to some sterling displays from the stopper. He’s still going strong this season, having played 90 minutes in every match so far, and will again be relishing a battle with the likes of Ibrahimovic and youngster Alexandre Lacazette.