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Insight

Turning back the clock

Why age is no longer an obstacle for European football’s top strikers

WORDS Simon Hart | ILLUSTRATION Fausto Montanari

Zlatan Ibrahimović turning 40 feels like a pertinent moment to recall something he explained in issue 6 of this very magazine. “I’m never satisfied and I always want more,” he said of the inner drive behind his enduring powers as an elite footballer. “I remember that the moment a player goes above 30 is when they start to go down and they quit. Above 30 is when I started to become even better.”

Zlatan is certainly one of a kind. But when it comes to throwing Father Time a dummy the AC Milan striker, who entered his fifth decade on 3 October, may be in the vanguard of a growing movement – as his birthday week illustrated.

After all, four nights earlier, Cristiano Ronaldo, 37 in February, did not just establish an outright Champions League appearance record with his 178th outing in the competition, but also popped up with Manchester United’s added-time winner against Villarreal – the fifth goal in his first five starts since returning to Old Trafford. On the same evening, 33-year-old Robert Lewandowski scored twice against Dynamo Kyiv; his most prolific seasons for goals in the Bundesliga have come at the ages of 31 and 32, with 34 and 41 goals respectively, and already, at the time of writing, he has 16 goals from 12 club games this term.

Another 33-year-old, Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, reached October’s international break with ten goals from his first ten games, including a Matchday 2 penalty against Sheriff that meant he has now scored in 17 successive Champions League campaigns. And then there’s Lionel Messi, still producing goals of beauty like his first Paris Saint-Germain strike against Manchester City. Three weeks later, on Matchday 3, all four were on target again, notably Messi and Ronaldo with goals that downed Leipzig and Atalanta.

An interested observer of this Peter Pan movement is Nuno Gomes, the former Benfica and Portugal forward, who observes how football has changed even in the eight years since he kicked his last football professionally, aged 36. “I remember when we were arriving at 30 everybody was, ‘Oh no, he’s already 30,’” he says. “Now we can see more players passing 35, 36, 37. Nowadays they have more tools to be well prepared and [to structure their] rest time to prevent injuries. It’s a big improvement from the time I was playing, even.”

Zlatan Ibrahimović turning 40 feels like a pertinent moment to recall something he explained in issue 6 of this very magazine. “I’m never satisfied and I always want more,” he said of the inner drive behind his enduring powers as an elite footballer. “I remember that the moment a player goes above 30 is when they start to go down and they quit. Above 30 is when I started to become even better.”

Zlatan is certainly one of a kind. But when it comes to throwing Father Time a dummy the AC Milan striker, who entered his fifth decade on 3 October, may be in the vanguard of a growing movement – as his birthday week illustrated.

After all, four nights earlier, Cristiano Ronaldo, 37 in February, did not just establish an outright Champions League appearance record with his 178th outing in the competition, but also popped up with Manchester United’s added-time winner against Villarreal – the fifth goal in his first five starts since returning to Old Trafford. On the same evening, 33-year-old Robert Lewandowski scored twice against Dynamo Kyiv; his most prolific seasons for goals in the Bundesliga have come at the ages of 31 and 32, with 34 and 41 goals respectively, and already, at the time of writing, he has 16 goals from 12 club games this term.

Another 33-year-old, Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, reached October’s international break with ten goals from his first ten games, including a Matchday 2 penalty against Sheriff that meant he has now scored in 17 successive Champions League campaigns. And then there’s Lionel Messi, still producing goals of beauty like his first Paris Saint-Germain strike against Manchester City. Three weeks later, on Matchday 3, all four were on target again, notably Messi and Ronaldo with goals that downed Leipzig and Atalanta.

An interested observer of this Peter Pan movement is Nuno Gomes, the former Benfica and Portugal forward, who observes how football has changed even in the eight years since he kicked his last football professionally, aged 36. “I remember when we were arriving at 30 everybody was, ‘Oh no, he’s already 30,’” he says. “Now we can see more players passing 35, 36, 37. Nowadays they have more tools to be well prepared and [to structure their] rest time to prevent injuries. It’s a big improvement from the time I was playing, even.”

Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!

Gomes recalls having regular blood tests in the final years of his career and the accompanying data, which gave more detailed information on physical levels. That’s significant for a player in his thirties who, as he explains, has to focus more on recovery between fixtures. He remembers too the arrival of cryotherapy treatment, chuckling: “One or two minutes there and you’re a new guy coming out.” Which brings us to Gomes’s former Portugal colleague Ronaldo, who was still in his late twenties when he had a cryotherapy chamber installed in his home, thus ensuring a head start in his battle with Father Time. “I believe at a certain point he took care of everything regarding his body in terms of nutrition, when to rest,” adds Gomes. “He’s still one of the best players in the world because of those years when he started.”

Ronaldo, who at Juventus became the first thirty-something to hit 30 goals in a Serie A season, is not alone in his extraordinary rigour. According to The Times, Lewandowski’s obsessive attention to detail includes a sleeping coach and a diet that involves backwards eating: dessert, main course, then salad or soup. This is beneficial, apparently, for ensuring the separation of carbohydrates and proteins. This column can also cite the example of a 39-year-old striker in La Liga who is leaner than he was a decade ago with the help of the paleo diet: a caveman selection of lean meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Its adherents forego breakfast and eat only twice a day, specifically when hungry rather than just for the sake of habit.

Science and support systems provide a better platform for players wishing to prolong their careers and fully exploit all that on-field know-how. Yet perhaps they should also enhance our appreciation of those who carried on scoring long before football’s age of science dawned, at a time of heavy pitches and even heavier hits from defenders. Ferenc Puskás and Alfredo di Stéfano were both 33 when scoring four and three goals respectively in the 1960 European Cup final. Puskás (still top scorer in Spain’s top flight aged 37) went on to hit a hat-trick in the 1962 final at 35. In the Champions League era, the only older final scorer has been Paolo Maldini, who was 36 in 2005.

And Zlatan and Co still have some way to go to match the legendary English winger Stanley Matthews, who was 50 when he made his final top-flight appearance for Stoke City against Fulham in 1965. “Skill never leaves you; age is the enemy of footballers,” he wrote in his autobiography. And he did all he could to defy the ageing process: he fasted every Monday and avoided alcohol – but guzzled glasses of tomato and celery juice. And each morning he did an individual outdoor workout involving stretch exercises and sprints.

Though Matthews retired as a professional at 50, he only stopped playing football in 1985 after suffering a cartilage injury when playing for England’s veterans against Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. He was 70 years old.

Zlatan Ibrahimović turning 40 feels like a pertinent moment to recall something he explained in issue 6 of this very magazine. “I’m never satisfied and I always want more,” he said of the inner drive behind his enduring powers as an elite footballer. “I remember that the moment a player goes above 30 is when they start to go down and they quit. Above 30 is when I started to become even better.”

Zlatan is certainly one of a kind. But when it comes to throwing Father Time a dummy the AC Milan striker, who entered his fifth decade on 3 October, may be in the vanguard of a growing movement – as his birthday week illustrated.

After all, four nights earlier, Cristiano Ronaldo, 37 in February, did not just establish an outright Champions League appearance record with his 178th outing in the competition, but also popped up with Manchester United’s added-time winner against Villarreal – the fifth goal in his first five starts since returning to Old Trafford. On the same evening, 33-year-old Robert Lewandowski scored twice against Dynamo Kyiv; his most prolific seasons for goals in the Bundesliga have come at the ages of 31 and 32, with 34 and 41 goals respectively, and already, at the time of writing, he has 16 goals from 12 club games this term.

Another 33-year-old, Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, reached October’s international break with ten goals from his first ten games, including a Matchday 2 penalty against Sheriff that meant he has now scored in 17 successive Champions League campaigns. And then there’s Lionel Messi, still producing goals of beauty like his first Paris Saint-Germain strike against Manchester City. Three weeks later, on Matchday 3, all four were on target again, notably Messi and Ronaldo with goals that downed Leipzig and Atalanta.

An interested observer of this Peter Pan movement is Nuno Gomes, the former Benfica and Portugal forward, who observes how football has changed even in the eight years since he kicked his last football professionally, aged 36. “I remember when we were arriving at 30 everybody was, ‘Oh no, he’s already 30,’” he says. “Now we can see more players passing 35, 36, 37. Nowadays they have more tools to be well prepared and [to structure their] rest time to prevent injuries. It’s a big improvement from the time I was playing, even.”

Turning back the clock
Insight

Turning back the clock

Why age is no longer an obstacle for European football’s top strikers

WORDS Simon Hart | ILLUSTRATION Fausto Montanari

Zlatan Ibrahimović turning 40 feels like a pertinent moment to recall something he explained in issue 6 of this very magazine. “I’m never satisfied and I always want more,” he said of the inner drive behind his enduring powers as an elite footballer. “I remember that the moment a player goes above 30 is when they start to go down and they quit. Above 30 is when I started to become even better.”

Zlatan is certainly one of a kind. But when it comes to throwing Father Time a dummy the AC Milan striker, who entered his fifth decade on 3 October, may be in the vanguard of a growing movement – as his birthday week illustrated.

After all, four nights earlier, Cristiano Ronaldo, 37 in February, did not just establish an outright Champions League appearance record with his 178th outing in the competition, but also popped up with Manchester United’s added-time winner against Villarreal – the fifth goal in his first five starts since returning to Old Trafford. On the same evening, 33-year-old Robert Lewandowski scored twice against Dynamo Kyiv; his most prolific seasons for goals in the Bundesliga have come at the ages of 31 and 32, with 34 and 41 goals respectively, and already, at the time of writing, he has 16 goals from 12 club games this term.

Another 33-year-old, Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, reached October’s international break with ten goals from his first ten games, including a Matchday 2 penalty against Sheriff that meant he has now scored in 17 successive Champions League campaigns. And then there’s Lionel Messi, still producing goals of beauty like his first Paris Saint-Germain strike against Manchester City. Three weeks later, on Matchday 3, all four were on target again, notably Messi and Ronaldo with goals that downed Leipzig and Atalanta.

An interested observer of this Peter Pan movement is Nuno Gomes, the former Benfica and Portugal forward, who observes how football has changed even in the eight years since he kicked his last football professionally, aged 36. “I remember when we were arriving at 30 everybody was, ‘Oh no, he’s already 30,’” he says. “Now we can see more players passing 35, 36, 37. Nowadays they have more tools to be well prepared and [to structure their] rest time to prevent injuries. It’s a big improvement from the time I was playing, even.”

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

Zlatan Ibrahimović turning 40 feels like a pertinent moment to recall something he explained in issue 6 of this very magazine. “I’m never satisfied and I always want more,” he said of the inner drive behind his enduring powers as an elite footballer. “I remember that the moment a player goes above 30 is when they start to go down and they quit. Above 30 is when I started to become even better.”

Zlatan is certainly one of a kind. But when it comes to throwing Father Time a dummy the AC Milan striker, who entered his fifth decade on 3 October, may be in the vanguard of a growing movement – as his birthday week illustrated.

After all, four nights earlier, Cristiano Ronaldo, 37 in February, did not just establish an outright Champions League appearance record with his 178th outing in the competition, but also popped up with Manchester United’s added-time winner against Villarreal – the fifth goal in his first five starts since returning to Old Trafford. On the same evening, 33-year-old Robert Lewandowski scored twice against Dynamo Kyiv; his most prolific seasons for goals in the Bundesliga have come at the ages of 31 and 32, with 34 and 41 goals respectively, and already, at the time of writing, he has 16 goals from 12 club games this term.

Another 33-year-old, Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, reached October’s international break with ten goals from his first ten games, including a Matchday 2 penalty against Sheriff that meant he has now scored in 17 successive Champions League campaigns. And then there’s Lionel Messi, still producing goals of beauty like his first Paris Saint-Germain strike against Manchester City. Three weeks later, on Matchday 3, all four were on target again, notably Messi and Ronaldo with goals that downed Leipzig and Atalanta.

An interested observer of this Peter Pan movement is Nuno Gomes, the former Benfica and Portugal forward, who observes how football has changed even in the eight years since he kicked his last football professionally, aged 36. “I remember when we were arriving at 30 everybody was, ‘Oh no, he’s already 30,’” he says. “Now we can see more players passing 35, 36, 37. Nowadays they have more tools to be well prepared and [to structure their] rest time to prevent injuries. It’s a big improvement from the time I was playing, even.”

Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!

Gomes recalls having regular blood tests in the final years of his career and the accompanying data, which gave more detailed information on physical levels. That’s significant for a player in his thirties who, as he explains, has to focus more on recovery between fixtures. He remembers too the arrival of cryotherapy treatment, chuckling: “One or two minutes there and you’re a new guy coming out.” Which brings us to Gomes’s former Portugal colleague Ronaldo, who was still in his late twenties when he had a cryotherapy chamber installed in his home, thus ensuring a head start in his battle with Father Time. “I believe at a certain point he took care of everything regarding his body in terms of nutrition, when to rest,” adds Gomes. “He’s still one of the best players in the world because of those years when he started.”

Ronaldo, who at Juventus became the first thirty-something to hit 30 goals in a Serie A season, is not alone in his extraordinary rigour. According to The Times, Lewandowski’s obsessive attention to detail includes a sleeping coach and a diet that involves backwards eating: dessert, main course, then salad or soup. This is beneficial, apparently, for ensuring the separation of carbohydrates and proteins. This column can also cite the example of a 39-year-old striker in La Liga who is leaner than he was a decade ago with the help of the paleo diet: a caveman selection of lean meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Its adherents forego breakfast and eat only twice a day, specifically when hungry rather than just for the sake of habit.

Science and support systems provide a better platform for players wishing to prolong their careers and fully exploit all that on-field know-how. Yet perhaps they should also enhance our appreciation of those who carried on scoring long before football’s age of science dawned, at a time of heavy pitches and even heavier hits from defenders. Ferenc Puskás and Alfredo di Stéfano were both 33 when scoring four and three goals respectively in the 1960 European Cup final. Puskás (still top scorer in Spain’s top flight aged 37) went on to hit a hat-trick in the 1962 final at 35. In the Champions League era, the only older final scorer has been Paolo Maldini, who was 36 in 2005.

And Zlatan and Co still have some way to go to match the legendary English winger Stanley Matthews, who was 50 when he made his final top-flight appearance for Stoke City against Fulham in 1965. “Skill never leaves you; age is the enemy of footballers,” he wrote in his autobiography. And he did all he could to defy the ageing process: he fasted every Monday and avoided alcohol – but guzzled glasses of tomato and celery juice. And each morning he did an individual outdoor workout involving stretch exercises and sprints.

Though Matthews retired as a professional at 50, he only stopped playing football in 1985 after suffering a cartilage injury when playing for England’s veterans against Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. He was 70 years old.

Zlatan Ibrahimović turning 40 feels like a pertinent moment to recall something he explained in issue 6 of this very magazine. “I’m never satisfied and I always want more,” he said of the inner drive behind his enduring powers as an elite footballer. “I remember that the moment a player goes above 30 is when they start to go down and they quit. Above 30 is when I started to become even better.”

Zlatan is certainly one of a kind. But when it comes to throwing Father Time a dummy the AC Milan striker, who entered his fifth decade on 3 October, may be in the vanguard of a growing movement – as his birthday week illustrated.

After all, four nights earlier, Cristiano Ronaldo, 37 in February, did not just establish an outright Champions League appearance record with his 178th outing in the competition, but also popped up with Manchester United’s added-time winner against Villarreal – the fifth goal in his first five starts since returning to Old Trafford. On the same evening, 33-year-old Robert Lewandowski scored twice against Dynamo Kyiv; his most prolific seasons for goals in the Bundesliga have come at the ages of 31 and 32, with 34 and 41 goals respectively, and already, at the time of writing, he has 16 goals from 12 club games this term.

Another 33-year-old, Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, reached October’s international break with ten goals from his first ten games, including a Matchday 2 penalty against Sheriff that meant he has now scored in 17 successive Champions League campaigns. And then there’s Lionel Messi, still producing goals of beauty like his first Paris Saint-Germain strike against Manchester City. Three weeks later, on Matchday 3, all four were on target again, notably Messi and Ronaldo with goals that downed Leipzig and Atalanta.

An interested observer of this Peter Pan movement is Nuno Gomes, the former Benfica and Portugal forward, who observes how football has changed even in the eight years since he kicked his last football professionally, aged 36. “I remember when we were arriving at 30 everybody was, ‘Oh no, he’s already 30,’” he says. “Now we can see more players passing 35, 36, 37. Nowadays they have more tools to be well prepared and [to structure their] rest time to prevent injuries. It’s a big improvement from the time I was playing, even.”

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

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