If you've just bought Football Manager, there's a chance that you've just transfer-listed every player at your club over 30.
It's a cliche that players are over the hill by that point. Staring down the barrel of MLS football, being skinned by a player half their age and the general "he used to be fantastic" comments thrown around social media, it's easy to see these tricenarians as grandads of the game.
But it's not completely true; 30 is the new 25. These 30 players are still in their prime - better than ever in some cases - and still more than capable of keeping up with those young whippersnappers...
30. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
.@acmilan wins against @ASRomaEN: 1-2 🔴⚫🔥️@Ibra_official scored his 150th goal in #SerieA💎 #RomaMilan #WeAreCalcio pic.twitter.com/5WbNYK2Q5KNovember 2, 2021
Zlatan Ibrahimovic isn't just over 30 - he's now over 40.
The grand old man of the European game, Ibra has matured from being a flashy young upstart to become an eternal target man. Back at AC Milan, he's found an unexpected renaissance - coinciding with the club's rebirth as a Scudetto contender - and he's still leading the line wonderfully.
29. Luka Modric
There was always a sense that Luka Modric was to be cherished; he was slight - too slight for English football, some thought - and graceful. In his 30s, he's become ever-more deft and defiant.
Now 36, he's on the way down - but he's doing so with his trademark brilliance.
28. Kieran Trippier
Kieran Trippier only made a handful of appearances for England's youth teams. He was sent on loan by Manchester City and was never considered a prodigy. Instead, he's honed his craft to become a better defender and even more stellar crosser: now 31, he's one of the finest full-backs in the world.
27. Emil Forsberg
Emil Forsberg always had the air of a luxury playmaker. Now 30, he's matured into quite the force of nature at RB Leipzig, combining with younger talents and sharing his experience nicely. He's still doing it on the international stage, too.
26. Edinson Cavani
CAVANI MAKES IT TWO 🏹A perfectly timed pass from Ronaldo to set up Edinson Cavani for a sweet finish to double United's lead 📺 Watch reaction live on Sky Sports Premier League pic.twitter.com/fzxY5LCySeOctober 30, 2021
You'd be forgiven for expecting Edinson Cavani's move to Manchester United to just be another Alexis Sanchez saga. He plugged United into the mains last season though, aged 34 - and as a role model to the likes of Rashford and Greenwood, he's been superb with his goals, his pressing and his work-rate.
25. Simon Kjaer
The hero at the heart of Denmark's run to the Euro 2020 semi-finals, Simon Kjaer has used all his experience and leadership to become a pillar for club and country. The centre-back is arguably more important than he ever has been, having turned 32 this year.
24. Marco Reus
We were robbed of Marco Reus's peak. Much of his 20s were spent on the sidelines - including the 2014 World Cup, which he missed - but here's to his 30s. At 32, he looks as wonderful as ever in the no.10 role for Marco Rose at Borussia Dortmund.
23. Wissam Ben Yedder
Wissam Ben Yedder is 31 now and what might have seemed like a retirement plan in Montecarlo is actually far more impressive. The French striker moved to Monaco in 2019 and has since struck at a ratio of one in two: he's still got a lot more gas left in the tank, too.
22. Jamie Vardy
Jamie Vardy absolutely loves winding up opposition fans 😂🦊 pic.twitter.com/INi0Hu1N5pJanuary 11, 2021
Jamie Vardy was 29 when Leicester City won the Premier League. You could have forgiven him for retiring on the spot after that point, having climbed to the pinnacle of the English game from almost the very bottom.
Instead, he's gone on to become one the country's defining frontmen, hitting nearly 150 league goals for Leicester and being a constant thorn in Premier League defenders' sides. The Foxes keep signing players to eventually replace him - but it looks like Vardy's going on forever and ever.
21. Georginio Wijnaldum
Gini Wijnaldum's Liverpool departure made sense in a way. At 30, he should be slowing down now. But having proved at the Euros just how dangerous he still is, maybe the Reds could have given him longer; the Dutchman is still the complete midfielder and when he's up to speed at PSG, he could be deadly in the Champions League latter stages.
20. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Neville: "Everything is absolutely perfect about this counter-attack" 👏Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang finishes off a fine team move and Arsenal have a commanding lead against Tottenham!📺 #ARSTOT on Sky Sports PL📲 https://t.co/AmympGmLP2 pic.twitter.com/BxQqUALzQVSeptember 26, 2021
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang looked spent last season, having battled malaria and personal issues in a tricky season at Arsenal. What a return this time around though: the 32-year-old is pressing even harder and linking up fantastically with Emile Smith Rowe. He looks back to being the complete striker - and the Gunners' season hinges on him once more.
19. Jordan Henderson
Jokes were often made about his first touch; comparisons to Steven Gerrard never helped. But now he's 31, we can surely all appreciate just how magnificent Jordan Henderson has been to Liverpool. The midfielder has become a lynchpin to one of the greatest sides in the world - and his experience, positioning and ability to dictate play has all been key to Jurgen Klopp's team.
18. Antoine Griezmann
Antoine Griezmann wasn't quite on the scrapheap but his career looked to be waning after a move to Barcelona. Why Barca sent him back to the one manager they knew could rehabilitate him is still perplexing - but the 30-year-old has recaptured the lightning at Atletico Madrid.
17. Angel Di Maria
Angel Di Maria was all about precision and timing at his peak. Now 33, he may have lost a yard of pace and some of his stamina - but his eye for perfection remains intact. The Argentinian is still beautiful to watch - now linking up with Lionel Messi, it's like watching two old masters at work.
16. Lorenzo Insigne
Pintsized wideman Lorenzo Insigne is 30 - but you'd be forgiven for mistaking him for a teenager, the way he toys with defenders and dashes down the line. He's still as powerful as ever and with Napoli leaning on his experience, he's become a giant of Italian football with age.
15. Michail Antonio
That is a brilliant team goal from West Ham! 🙌Declan Rice scores again in the Europa League, but it's all about the control and pass from Michail Antonio... 🤤Lovely stuff!#UEL pic.twitter.com/vY1Mgj4z8cSeptember 30, 2021
In 2008, he was at Tooting & Mitcham. In 2012, he'd been farmed out on loan five times. Even deep into his West Ham career, Michail Antonio was deemed a right-back - so his recent ascension to becoming one of the most prolific no.9s in Europe is nothing short of extraordinary.
The 31-year-old epitomises the energy and intensity of David Moyes's team, running himself into the ground and pouncing on anything that comes to him. There's still plenty more to give too, you'd expect...
14. Toni Kroos
Toni Kroos tore teams apart at the 2014 World Cup as a no.10. He matured into a no.8 under Zinedine Zidane, winning multiple European titles. Now 31, he's receding deeper and deeper, as his almost unparalleled passing range and unbelievable reading of the game comes to the forefront of his abilities. He's still one of the most extraordinary midfielders on Earth.
13. Kyle Walker
What a bargain Kyle Walker has turned out to be. The £50m man has been integral to every title under Guardiola, as well as both of Gareth Southgate's tournaments for England: now 31, he's showing no sign of slowing either. He's still one of the most reliable full-backs at the elite level.
12. Thomas Muller
Thomas Muller's Bayern Munich career could well have been over in 2008, had Louis van Gaal not noticed the forward's ability to "interpret space". Now 32, Muller's had over a decade to investigate the pockets that defenders won't pick him up in. The German is part of the furniture in the Bundesliga and still as dangerous as he ever has been.
11. Karim Benzema
That is the best touch you will see in a very long time 🤩Euro 2020: Karim Benzema has ARRIVED 💥#FRASUI | #ITVFootball | #Euro2020 pic.twitter.com/GoCSaxkqT0June 28, 2021
Karim Benzema may be the last man standing strong from BBC at the Bernabeu - but he needs no one else. The 33-year-old has become the complete forward for Real, spearheading the side with goals, assists and gasp-worthy link-up play, while his return to international duty over the summer had all the majesty and mystique you'd expect.
He looks ageless. You wouldn't put it past him to carry over another three years to play at Euro 2024.
10. Manuel Neuer
We'd never really had a sweeper keeper to compare Manuel Neuer to. Would he lose his greyhound-from-a-trap reaction to meet an onrushing striker? Would he have to adapt his game?
The truth is that after a slight dip, the 35-year-old is still world-class. The Bayern captain is no closer to retirement than he was when the club brought in Alexander Nubel and he looks like he'll still be Germany's no.1 for years to come. The sweeper keeper's going strong.
9. Ilkay Gundogan
Ilkay Gundogan has most certainly improved with age. One of the most intelligent midfielders of a generation though, it's definitely a surprise to see him top-scoring as a false nine for City last season.
We've come to expect the unexpected, though. Now 31, Gundogan has been a key component to both Klopp and Guardiola, turning his hand at any midfield role asked of him. That he returned from such a serious injury early in his City career is testament: that he's become such an intense presence is nothing short of extraordinary. Viva Ilkay: and may he long keep surprising us.
8. Roberto Firmino
Roberto Firmino is often seen as the most expendable of Liverpool's front three - but Jurgen Klopp still rates him as the one who's world-class every single day.
The Brazilian's job was always to use space and awareness more than the other two and now he's 30, he's approaching the time in his career in which he's really mastered what has been an almost unique role in the Premier League. He's still lovely to watch - and he's still as important as the Reds need him to be.
7. Cristiano Ronaldo
𝗜𝗻𝗲𝘃𝗶𝘁𝗮𝗯𝗹𝗲. Cristiano Ronaldo ⚽️⚽️@ManUtd | #UCL pic.twitter.com/CiilV3GwHBNovember 5, 2021
Things have been difficult for Manchester United since signing Cristiano Ronaldo. Sure, some of that is related to his pressing and (lack of) work of the ball - but when you plug in CR7, expect to light up the stadium.
The Portuguese forward is in the conversation as the greatest-ever for a reason. It's almost scripted that the 36-year-old must get in on the action - especially in Europe - and with moments of magic to lift United from whatever mire they've sunk into, the move has been worth it for some just to see Ronaldo doing what he does best.
6. Riyad Mahrez
Riyad Mahrez may have broke through at Leicester City but he's spent the prime of his life at the Etihad.
Now 30, he's become the spark of unpredictability that Pep uses to unlock the tightest defences and the Algerian was the decisive factor in taking City to the Champions League last season. His wizardry is now legendary - and the no.26 is the man to turn to do something no one else can see coming.
5. N'Golo Kante
A late bloomer, N'Golo won the ball from everyone and won hearts while doing so. He was 25 when he burst into the limelight - now 30, he's showing no signs of leaving it.
The Frenchman made his name from bustling box to box and tackling anyone in his way - but as he grows older, he's finding his feet as someone who's in the right place in the right moment a lot more. The Champions League final proved it: he's now won everything there is to win and is looking to do it all again as a leader in Chelsea's side.
4. Virgil van Dijk
If ever there was a footballer who could have been born 30, it's Virgil van Dijk. 6'4, always vocal and always a presence, the Dutchman has always seemed this age.
Now that he's back for Liverpool, you can see his importance. He's still the most commanding centre-back in world football, virtually no one can match his exquisite passing range and he's dominant beyond belief. He could still be bullying strikers for another 10 years if he keeps this up.
3. Kevin De Bruyne
Kevin De Bruyne is 30 years old now - and with that comes the expectation to put Manchester City on his back. He does that a lot more now and whether he's used in midfield or further forward, he's capable of leading by example.
The brilliant Belgian has become one of the greatest footballers of a generation, as his chance creation shows no sign of letting up. He was unreal in City's title charge and though injuries have scuppered him somewhat since, he's still the one name in the side you can't help but be drawn to watching.
Physical, intelligent and with eagle-like vision, it's going to be fascinating to see the latter years of his career and what kind of player he becomes.
2. Lionel Messi
There was always a worry that in his later years, Lionel Messi could well drop in form - but even half of Messi's talent is one of the best footballers in the world.
What we didn't expect was for the little genius to up sticks and move to Paris. It's been a slog for all involved at the Parc Des Princes but the Argentinian has still shone intermittently for his new employers - and he's finally bagged that international trophy this year, too.
You get the feeling that even if he didn't actually run, he could still dictate games at the top level until he's 50. Now 34, he might well be one of the best footballers on Earth until he decides otherwise.
Keylor Navas, 34
Joel Matip, 30
Cesar Azpiliceta, 32
Eden Hazard, 30
Lucas Vazquez, 30
Ciro Immobile, 31
Raul Jimenez, 30
Marcos Alonso, 30
Duvan Zapata, 30
Thiago Alcantara, 30
1. Robert Lewandowski
It's almost as if there was a button that was pressed in Robert Lewandowski's head when he stopped being 29.
Since hitting the big 3-0, Bayern Munich's prolific Pole has gone up another level in productivity. He is one of only two players, alongside Johan Cruyff, to win the European treble while being top-scorer in all three competitions, and first to do it as sole top scorer - and he's scored over 150 goals since he turned 30.
He's now 33 and seemingly on an upward trajectory. It's an absolutely stunning late-career blossom that could well cultivate with the Ballon d'Or. Who knows what he has planned for his 40s...
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