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7 players who actually improved in their 30s

Edwin van der Sar

Life began after three decades for these evergreen stars, remembered by Tom Seymour

Antonio Di Natale

Di Natale didn't make his Serie A debut until the age of 25. By the time he was 30, he'd netted 47 times in the Italian top flight for Empoli and the club he became synonymous with, Udinese.

Between 2009 and 2014, aged 31 to 36, Di Natale scored 120 league goals in five seasons. During that same period, only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo netted more. He retired in 2016 with 209 strikes in the division, placing him sixth on the all-time list.

Perhaps Di Natale needed to find his home before finding his form – he turned down numerous offers for more money and opportunities to win trophies with other clubs to remain in Udine. 

"I think that what I've done with Udinese will go down in the history of the club," Di Natale told FIFA.com in 2013. "I don't see that as something insignificant. The truth is that I've found my natural home in Friuli and I've never thought about leaving a team, a town and a family - the Pozzos (Gianpaolo Pozzo is club president) – who have adopted me like a son."

Edwin van der Sar

When Peter Schmeichel left Manchester United in 1999 on the back of their Treble-winning season, the Dane also left a gaping hole to fill.

The Red Devils continued to win trophies under the guidance of legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson, but half-baked replacements Fabien Barthez, Tim Howard and Roy Carroll failed to meet the high expectations that had been set.

Then, in the summer of 2005, United paid Fulham £2m for a then-34-year-old Van der Sar. Ferguson would later describe the deal as "right up there with my best signings".

The Dutchman had won the UEFA Cup and Champions League with Ajax earlier in his career, but a difficult spell at Juventus left the goalkeeper needing to rebuild his reputation at Craven Cottage. Then at Old Trafford, Van der Sar enjoyed his best ever form, winning four Premier League titles in six years and making the vital penalty shootout saves that won the club Europe's biggest club trophy once again in 2008.

Francesco Totti

There aren't many footballers who can genuinely be described as a one-club player - even Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard ended his career at LA Galaxy.

Yet for Totti this was the case. Roma and he were as one; incomplete without the other. The forward spent more than 24 years in their first team and made 619 Serie A appearances. Only Paolo Maldini has more for an outfield player.

In 2001, Totti won his one and only Scudetto, yet it was Luciano Spalletti's decision five years later to convert the Italian into a lone striker that really reinvigorated his career. The season he turned 30, in 2006/07, Totti enjoyed his most prolific campaign with 26 league goals.

Having made his Roma debut at 16, the Italian icon had scored 124 league goals by his 30th birthday. By the time of his retirement a decade later that total was 250, second only to Silvio Piola on the all-time list.

Jack Charlton

So often in the shadow of younger brother Bobby, Jack's own personal successes are nothing to be sniffed at and were largely achieved in his later years.

Charlton spent his entire career at Leeds United, yet didn't win the First Division title until the age of 33 and the FA Cup at 37 - 12 months before announcing his retirement - along with four other trophies after turning 32.

The centre-back's time at Leeds did eventually earn England recognition, but not until days before his 30th birthday. Not that it stopped Charlton getting 35 caps, playing in three international tournaments and lifting the World Cup alongside his brother in 1966.

NEXT: When you're Serie A's top scorer aged 38

Luca Toni

Di Natale, Totti and now Toni: Italians just seem to age better. The striker had enjoyed some success in Italy's lower divisions but it wasn't until joining Fiorentina, at the age of 27, that his career really took off.

That first season with La Viola, Toni scored 31 league goals - making him the first Italian in history to win the European Golden Shoe award. The following summer he helped Italy lift the World Cup, memorably netting twice against Ukraine in the quarter-finals.

Shortly after celebrating his 30th birthday, Toni moved to Bayern Munich and finished as Bundesliga top-scorer in 2007/08 as the Bavarians won the league and cup Double. After disappointing spells with Roma and Juventus, it seemed as if the forward's time at the top was spent – but those thoughts were banished when he joined Hellas Verona in 2013, aged 36.

In 2013/14, Toni scored 20 Serie A goals. The next season he went even better, netting 22 times to be crowned the league's joint-top-scorer alongside Mauro Icardi. He was 38, making him the oldest player ever to achieve the feat.

Toni retired in 2016 after scoring against Juventus in his final match - the 306th of a career that took so long to get going.

Ryan Giggs

By the time of his 30th birthday in 2003, Giggs had won seven Premier League titles, three FA Cups and the Champions League. Therefore some may consider his inclusion here a little odd.

There's no doubt that the Welshman was brilliant in his younger days as an explosive winger, but his ability to shift into central midfield, becoming more influential as a result, and prolong his career until he was 40 was an even greater achievement.

The current Wales manager won 11 major trophies over the age of 30, and his only PFA Player of the Year award in 2009, aged 35. As Gary Lineker said: "He's just a brilliant professional and he's defying Father Time to play how he does at the very top level in club football."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

"I feel young, I feel like Benjamin Button," said Ibrahimovic upon signing for LA Galaxy in March. "I was born old and I will die young."

Not averse to poetic metaphors or self-aggrandising, the Swede may well have a point when comparing himself to the fictional character who aged backwards. As a youngster, Ibrahimovic was clearly supremely talented and won plenty of silverware before turning 30, but following a less-than-satisfactory season at Barcelona in 2009/10 there were questions about whether the striker would ever truly fulfil his potential.

Leaving Barça for Milan just before his 30th birthday in summer 2011 turned him into a legend, though. Largely due to his prolific form during four years at PSG, Ibrahimovic has scored 254 of his 468 goals for club and country since reaching 30.

The 36-year-old came closest to winning the Ballon d'Or when he finished fourth in 2013, aged 31 – the same year he was also named in the FIFA World XI for the only time.

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