7 Premier League veterans who defied age to dominate in the top flight
In the new FourFourTwo! Brighton's star striker keeps getting better with age. But can the Cumbrian complete his rise from bottom to top by convincing Gareth Southgate to hand him an England cap?
1. Teddy Sheringham
A flamboyant scamp and noted enjoyer of The Good Life throughout the prosperous '90s, it was all the more enjoyable when Sheringham used the latter half of his career to transform himself into a model of twinkly-eyed sophistication. As watchable a footballer as England has ever produced, he is the player for whom that classic adage was invented – and he duly clocked up more yards in his head than most do with their feet.
Sheringham was hardly a late bloomer – he made his Millwall debut at 16 – and yet his career only really picked up speed as it approached the two-decade mark. Having distinguished himself at Nottingham Forest and then Tottenham, Sheringham’s route to the top didn’t meet completion until he was signed by Manchester United, aged 31, to replace Eric Cantona (who, to put things in some sort of perspective, had just retired altogether at the very same age).
Four seasons at Old Trafford produced year-on-year improvement in his game, as well as an invaluable role in that epochal treble-winning side: mission accomplished for a player whose talent had hitherto not been vindicated with a medal. Aged 35 and a classier player than ever, he returned for a second cheery spell at White Hart Lane, manfully suppressing any managerial distate to notch double figures in both seasons and forge a tidy partnership with a young whippersnapper named Robbie Keane.
And still there was mileage. There followed a stint at Portsmouth, where his unshowy elegance quickly made him popular and useful in equal measure. Sheringham was last spotted in the Premier League pinging passes towards a dubiously acquired Carlos Tevez as West Ham clawed their way to top-flight safety – and onto Neil Warnock’s eternal (and lengthy) blacklist – in the spring of 2007.
2. Gary McAllister
A dependable player for the entirety of his career, McAllister makes it onto the list by dint of a spell at Liverpool that was the dictionary definition of an Indian summer. McAllister had helped Leeds win the league in 1992 as part of an all-Scottish engine room duo alongside Gordon Strachan, but his subsequent career had largely been spent scrambling around lower-mid-table with Coventry. His most high-profile moment was a costly (Uri Geller-inflicted, apparently) missed penalty in Euro '96.
When Gerard Houllier brought the Scot to Anfield as a 35-year-old in the summer of 2000, most thought a bit-part role – maybe even an eventual coaching one – was his reasoning. As it was, McAllister’s composed puppeteering from the heart of midfield was the driving force behind a three-trophy season, not to mention the most feted Merseyside derby goal of the modern era.
His influence outlasted his stay, too. “On away trips I timed my run to the bus so I could sit next to McAllister, absorbing advice,” a certain Steven Gerrard – who admitted he'd wondered why the Reds had bought him in the first place – wrote in 2006. “Every journey was like a lesson, with me an awestruck pupil. A masterclass on legs.” Phwoar.
3. Gareth Barry
For a while, it looked like Mesut Ozil might have ruined Barry’s reputation for good: it was his laboured, doomed pursuit of the German en route to a 4-1 hiding at the 2010 World Cup that became the defining moment of yet another miserable tournament for England. The midfielder – whose move to nouveau riche Manchester City already had people questioning his elite-level credentials – was an obvious scapegoat.
Yet he has since proved integral to every team’s he’s played for. It's not coincidence that Aston Villa sunk into their present state of ongoing misery shortly after Barry left the club, nor that a good deal of Manchester City fans – whose side spent two seasons unable to control games while Barry was doing exactly that at Goodison Park – came to reflect on his sale as something of a blunder.
For four years he was a mainstay at Everton until his departured, aged 36, in 2017 – but not before he'd broken the all-time Premier League record for appearances (beating a presumably miffed Ryan Giggs whose old First Division matches had suddenly been wiped from memory). There followed one more unhappy year at West Brom in the top flight, culminating in the Baggies' relegation.
Barry was never quick nor dynamic, wasn’t one to split a defence with a pass, has never been a dribbler and very rarely shot. All the makings, then, of the classic unsung hero – a role he became accustomed to playing over the years. As with many slow players, age actually served to enhance rather than dwindle his ability: with no pace to lose, he had much the same skill set as his younger days but a deeper well of wisdom with which to apply it.