Better with age
Liverpool’s 32-year-old midfielder James Milner has already broken the Champions League assists record by setting up nine goals on the Reds’ route to the 2017-18 Final. In this slideshow, we pick out seven other players who actually got better in their 30s…
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.
Aged 31 to 36, Di Natale scored 120 league goals in five seasons between 2009 and 2014; 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.
By the time of his 30th birthday in 2003, Giggs had won seven Premier League titles, three FA Cups and the Champions League. 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 even more influential as a result – and prolong his career until he was 40 was an even greater achievement.
The current Wales boss won 11 major trophies in his 30s, as well as his only PFA Player of the Year award in 2009. 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."
Makelele was already over 30 when he joined Chelsea from Real Madrid in 2003, but his advancing years didn’t stop him from redefining the role of the defensive midfielder in English football. His five years in London brought two Premier League titles, three domestic cups and a place in the 2005 FIFPro World XI.
The Kinshasa-born French international retired from Les Bleus in 2004 to concentrate on his club football, although he came out of retirement to help France reach the World Cup Final two years later.
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, 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 Elland Road did eventually earn him 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.
Pirlo was allowed to leave Milan after his contract expired in 2011 following an incredibly successful decade with the club - the playmaker won two Serie A titles and two Champions Leagues at San Siro. The Rossoneri hierarchy felt Pirlo was past his best at 32, but they were proved dramatically wrong in the seasons that followed.
Juventus hadn't won a trophy for eight years when the World Cup-winning midfielder arrived in Turin in 2011, but Pirlo was inspirational as the club won four league championships in a row and reached the Champions League Final in 2015.
Sheringham had already enjoyed relative success with Nottingham Forest and Tottenham, but the best spell of his career came after he joined Manchester United at the age of 31 in 1997. The striker won three Premier League titles, the FA Cup and the Champions League at Old Trafford, famously scoring the injury-time equaliser against Bayern Munich in the final of the latter competition in 1999.
It was a similar story at international level, with Sheringham's first competitive goal for England - the second in the Three Lions' superb 4-1 defeat of the Netherlands at Euro '96 - coming two months after his 30th birthday. The former Millwall striker continued playing into his 40s, eventually hanging up his boots as a 42-year-old in 2008.
Totti is one of the greatest one-club men ever. Roma and he were one; each incomplete without the other. He won his only Scudetto in 2001, yet it was Luciano Spalletti's decision to convert the boyhood Giallorossi fan into a lone striker five years later 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 Serie A 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.
Edwin van der Sar
When Peter Schmeichel left Manchester United in 1999 on the back of their Treble-winning season, the Dane left a gaping hole to fill. It wasn’t until Van der Sar joined the club six years later that the Red Devils found an adequate replacement.
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 Fulham. He then enjoyed the most successful period of his career in Manchester, winning four Premier League titles and the Champions League under Alex Ferguson.
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, while he finished fourth in the Ballon d’Or vote aged 31 in 2013.
Toni 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, scoring 31 league goals in his debut campaign to win the European Golden Shoe. The following summer he helped Italy lift the World Cup, memorably netting twice against Ukraine in the quarter-finals.
Shortly after his 30th birthday, Toni moved to Bayern Munich and finished as Bundesliga top scorer in 2007-08. 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 the 38-year-old was crowned Serie A’s joint-top scorer at Hellas Verona in 2014-15.
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