AC Milan’s first win in a decade at the Stadio San Paolo in Naples came on Monday evening thanks to two goals from their main man Zlatan Ibrahimović. The inspiring frontman now has 10 goals in 6 matches, scoring a brace on four of those occasions. Feeling comfortable at “home” and with a determination to bring AC Milan “back to where it should be” looks to have contributed to an incredible start for the 39-year-old Swede.
Zlatan has always shown he has complete self-belief, having been quoted as saying “Zlatan doesn’t do auditions” in response to a trial offer from Arséne Wenger at Arsenal. Ibrahimović has never exactly lacked in confidence on or off the pitch – and the world woke up to his talents when he scored that audacious solo goal in 2004 for Ajax:
Refusing to Act His Age
At the age of 36 Zlatan found himself at Manchester United where he managed 28 goals and 10 assists in 2016/17 for a side in a deep transitional period and, arguably, in the toughest league in the world. Next port of call was L.A. Galaxy, where upon his arrival he paid for a full-page ad in the L.A. Times with a simple message that read “Dear Los Angeles, You’re Welcome.” He certainly earned the gratitude of Galaxy fans when he went on to score 52 goals in 56 games for the American side!
Zlatan’s body does not seem to be letting up, and to date he has scored more than 550 goals spanning across 4 decades. This begs the question: is age really just a number?
According to GQ Italia, Zlatan follows a strict dietary plan, which allows no room for frozen foods, pasta or ice cream. The food he eats is weighed on a scale and measured to the exact gram, all under the watchful eye of his personal chef. He is also a black belt in Taekwondo, and he has been known to put his martial-art skills to use on the pitch, not least when scoring that famous leaping bicycle kick against England in 2012.
In case you need a refresher, here is that goal vs England. The commentary alone makes this one worth a re-watch:
“I am like a fine wine – I improve with age.” Zlatan said back in his PSG days, and how right he was. AC Milan currently sit 4 points clear of defending champions Juventus and although it’s still early in the season look set to challenge for the scudetto. If the big man were to lead the Rossoneri to their first league title in 10 years, would it be the greatest achievement for a footballer or athlete at that stage of their career?
On that note, let’s take a look back at some of the other footballers who also came from good vintages…
Francesco Totti: Il Gladiatore
A man whose face is carved into the theoretical Mount Rushmore of Italian football is undoubtedly a reasonable comparison, with a tally of 619 appearances after dedicating 28 years to his home club Roma, before finally calling it a day at the age of 40. Totti was fearless, passionate and unstoppable at many points in his career, never more so than in the 2006 World Cup tournament.
Going into the finals there were injury concerns around the Italian striker, but he recovered in time to play all 7 games of their campaign – including the semi-final and final – despite having to play with metal plates and screws in his ankle following surgery. For Totti, it seems the love of the game and the love for his club was too much to stop him from giving it everything, year on year.
Here is a video of some European memories, including the goal against Man City which made him the oldest player to ever score in the Champions League:
Ryan Giggs: King of the Dribble
Like Totti, Ryan Giggs was a one-club legend, scoring a league goal in every season he played with United (except for the final one) in a career which lasted from 1990 to 2014. Consistency throughout his career with goals and assists to contribute to every season right up until the end makes it impossible to leave him out of this list. In his penultimate season he played no fewer than 22 games in the Premier League as Manchester United claimed the league title.
According to the Manchester Evening News, Ryan Giggs stopped driving sports cars because of the effect it had on his hamstrings. In order to further prolong his club career he improved his diet and retired from International football with Wales in 2007. However, ‘Giggsy’ puts his longevity down to Yoga, improving both his “flexibility and strength” and enabling him to train regularly. It certainly seemed to pay off, as the Welsh Wizard played on until the ripe old age of 39.
Viewers of a sensitive nature be warned: this next video contains a fair amount of chest hair:
Javier Zanetti: El Tractor
Another in our entry of Old Masters, Javier Zanetti can certainly boast an impressive trophy cabinet. Five Scudetti, four Coppa Italia, four Italian Super Cups, a Champions League, a UEFA Cup and a Club World Cup, (*and breathe!*). Zanetti comes in at 8th in the list of the most appearances of all time with 1,102, behind 1st place Peter Shilton with 1,390 official appearances, although many of those were spent at lower league clubs.
Zanetti on the other hand, at age 36 achieved potentially an unbeatable feat, when he captained his side to a Champions League win under manager Jose Mourinho. Zanetti revealed that the secret to his extended career was hit fitness – of course – but in particular his strength. He told Fox Sports Italia that strength was “fundamental” to his game and that he “leg pressed 500kg and with one leg I managed 310kg” – not bad for an old guy!
Check out some of his 2010 Champions League highlights:
More Golden Oldies
It’s hard to pin-point one main factor as to why these players were able to succeed so late in their careers, although one thing you can be sure of is their absolute dedication to playing football. Whether it was down to dieting, gym work, yoga, genes or just a stubborn refusal to quit – these players all enjoyed careers at the highest level at an age when most of us struggle to get up from the sofa. Single-minded in thought, their sole focus was football, and they never wasted their energy on anything which might detract from their performances on the field.
Let’s finish with some honourable mentions, which must go out to the likes of Beckham, Buffon, Iniesta, Klose, Ramos, Raul, Scholes, Seedorf and Xavi; all of whom managed more than 100 Champions League appearances over the course of their careers. And of course Buffon and Ramos aren’t finished yet, and show no signs of stopping any time soon!