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10 players who peaked after turning 30

10 players who peaked after turning 30
(Image credit: Getty)

Turning 30 is a daunting prospect for any professional footballer. It's the age top level professionals begin to question what life might have in store after they hang up their boots. Some, like Eric Cantona, even decided to call it a day as soon as their twenties ended. 

But, for others, 30 is merely the start of a new chapter. Those on this list have taken their game to new levels after the big 3-0. All were magnificent players before reaching their fourth decade, but each hit their peak at the age others were slowing down. 

Zimmerframes at the ready...

Karim Benzema (30 in 2017)

10 players who peaked after turning 30

(Image credit: Getty)

"He's getting better by the day... like a fine wine!" Gushed Real Madrid gaffer Carlo Ancelotti following his sides's 3-1 defeat of Chelsea in the Champions League quarter-final first leg on Wednesday. Benzema scored a hat-trick at Stamford Bridge but his overall performance was breathtaking, as he hustled and harried opponents all night. 

The Frenchman went from wondered with Lyon, to support act at Real during the CR7 years, to being the main man since the Portuguese left in 2018. Since Ronaldo's departure, Benzema has scored over 120 goals in all competitions for Real and re-joined the France squad... all after the age of 30. 

Luka Modric (30 in 2015)

Luka Modric

(Image credit: PA Images)

Don't get it twisted, Modric was a superb player for Tottenham in the Premier League and during his first three seasons in Madrid. The Croatian claimed a Champions League and Copa Del Rey in his late twenties, but it was after reaching the dreaded milestone that things really took off. 

Since then, the playmaker has been key to a further three European Cups and two La Liga titles with Real. He also inspired his nation to the final of the 2018 World Cup, winning the tournament's Golden Ball at the age of 32, before collecting a Ballon d'Or at 33. Modric remains one of the most effective creative midfielders in world football despite being closer to 40 than 30. 

Stanley Matthews (30 in 1945)

10 players who peaked after turning 30

(Image credit: Getty)

It's scarcely believable that Matthews won a Ballon d'Or *triple-checks notes as surely this can't be true* eleven years after turning 30. Stan also played so well in the 1953 FA Cup final – at the practically ancient age of 42 – that Blackpool's victory is still known as 'The Matthews Final' to this day. Matthews is the only player on this list to receive knighthood, which he was granted at the age of 50, while still an active professional footballer. In total, the outside right managed more than 850 appearances for club and country over a career spanning 34 years, 23 of which came after he entered his fourth decade. What a legend. 

Fabio Quagliarella (30 in 2013)

10 players who peaked after turning 30

(Image credit: Getty)

Still leading the line for Sampdoria at the ripe old age of 39, the burly Italian has taken advantage of the warm weather and slower pace of the Italian game like few others.

Quagliarella had enjoyed a perfectly solid Serie A career when he pitched back up at his current club at the age of 33 in 2016. Many thought the Italy international would simply wind down his playing career in familiar surroundings after spells with Napoli and Juventus. They were wrong: Qualiarella has gone on to score more than 90 goals for the mid-table club, winning the Serie A golden boot in 2019, with 26 league goals. That season, aged 35, included an eleven-game scoring streak which matched Gabriel Batistuta's long-standing record. Mama Mia! 

Antonio Di Natale (30 in 2007)

10 players who peaked after turning 30

(Image credit: Getty)

The quintessential late bloomer. Di Natale scored 102 club goals before turning 30 and 181 after that milestone. The diminutive Italian also won the Capocannoniere – Series A's golden boot – twice after the age of 33 and was also crowned Italian Football of the Year in 2010 at Udinese, three years after his 30th. 

Fabio Cannavaro (30 in 2003)

Fabio Cannavaro

(Image credit: PA Images)

After winning the UEFA Cup as part of the famous Parma team of 1999, at the age of 25, Cannavaro didn't win another major prize until just before his 33rd birthday... breaking his losing streak with the World Cup in 2006. The Italy captain added the FIFA World Player of the Year Award and the Ballon d'Or that year before leaving Juventus to sign for Real Madrid, where he made more than 100 appearances and winning two La Liga titles. In terms of Indian summers, Cannavaro's was a scorcher!

Brad Friedel (30 in 2001)

Players who peaked after turning 30

(Image credit: Getty)

The gloveman only rocked up in European football in 1997, when Liverpool signed him at the age of 26. Friedel still holds the record for the most consecutive appearances in Premier League history. Beginning with Blackburn’s home game against West Brom in August 2004 – when he was already 33 – the American played 310 straight games until he was dropped by Spurs for a match against Aston Villa in October 2012 – a whole eight years, six managers and three clubs later. A leader, fine great communicator and ultimately, a superb shop-stopper. 

Jamie Vardy (30 in 2017)

Jamie Vardy

(Image credit: PA)

The former Stocksbridge Park Steels striker's story is well known by now. From non-league football to the summit of English football in just four years. And while Vardy's greatest achievements – the 2015/16 campaign which saw him win the Premier League golden boot and FWA POTY gong as Leicester were crowned champions of English football – culminated just before he turned 30, he has kept up that form into his fourth decade. Vardy has scored 94 Premier League goals after turning 30, and now sits 14th in the all-time scoring charts. Just imagine if he'd started his career as well as it has ended...

Teddy Sheringham (30 in 1996)

Yes, we know it seems odd to include a player that won the Premier League golden boot three years before turning 30, but Teddy just kept getting better. Already past the dreaded landmark before Euro 96, the former Nottingham Forest and Spurs man signed for Manchester United at the age of 31 and enjoyed the best years of his career at Old Trafford. A key part of the 1999 treble-winning side (it was he, after all, who scored the equaliser against Bayern at the Now Camp), Sheringham was later crowned the PFA and FWA POTY in 2001, at the age of 33. He'd go on to play until 42. 

Gary McAllister (30 in 1994)

Another man well-remembered for his role at Euro 96 (or, more accurately, Uri Geller's role at Euro 96), McAllister had already played 19 seasons as a professional when Liverpool signed him, aged 35, in the summer of 2000. The Scot added guile and composure to a team containing a clutch of talented local lads and inspired them to a cup treble in 2000. A great player before 30, but a truly majestic one thereafter. 

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Ed McCambridge
Ed McCambridge

Ed is a staff writer at FourFourTwo, working across the magazine and website. A German speaker, he’s been working as a football reporter in Berlin since 2015, predominantly covering the Bundesliga and Germany's national team. Key FFT features include an exclusive interview with Jude Bellingham following the youngster’s move to Borussia Dortmund in 2020, a history of the Berlin Derby since the fall of the Wall and a celebration of Kevin Keegan’s playing career.