Tradition tells us to expect footballers to be at their best in their mid to late-20s – but occasionally we experience the unexpected joy of a player peaking much later.
A player’s ability through their career typically follows a bell curve in which they gradually improve before reaching their best and then slowing down in their 30s and then retiring.
These players, however, did not follow tradition and all enjoyed the best spell of their careers in their later years.
Antonio Di Natale
The ultimate late bloomer, Di Natale had never scored 20 in a single season before, at the age of 32, he smashed in 29 for Udinese in 2009-10.
He then scored 28, 29, 26 and 20 goals in his next four seasons, finishing as the top scorer in Serie A twice and winning the Italian Footballer of the Year award in 2010.
Incredibly, between 2009 and 2011, only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo scored more league goals in Europe, and Di Natale was still scoring goals for Udinese in 2016 when he finally retired at the age of 38 – two years after saying he would do so.
Zlatan would argue he was a world-class footballer from birth, but the Sweden striker has actually scored more than half of his entire career goals since turning 30.
His figures are perhaps slightly inflated by his four seasons with PSG in France, but no matter what you think of Ligue 1, to score 50 goals in 51 games as Ibrahimovic did as a 35-year-old in 2016-17 was quite remarkable.
What’s more, he then headed to England for the first time in his career and scored 28 goals in a season for Manchester United before crossing the Atlantic to break America, too.
Now he’s back at AC Milan, and an impressive second half of 2019-20 proved he shows no signs of letting up. Continue reading