Every World Cup brings with it some “passing of the torch” moments that involve aging stars having to, after the competition, step aside so that a new generation can help its national team grow. The 2014 FIFA World Cup will be the last time that a handful of stars and even all-time greats will take the pitch at world football’s biggest party.
One player worth mentioning didn’t even get an invite to the gathering.
Here are 10 footballers who may be playing (or have played) in their final World Cup.
10. Honorable mention: Landon Donovan, United States
It wasn’t supposed to end this way.
Donovan has, for many years, been a polarizing figure among United States supporters. His reputation for being a “me before team” athlete has rubbed some in the media and in the US fan base the wrong way, but at the same time Donovan has also been a loyal solider who happened to net the most famous goal in his country’s history.
Those of us who were not in US Men’s National Team training in May won’t know all that happened between Donovan and head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. What is public knowledge is that Klinsmann didn’t choose Donovan for the World Cup squad, and the current LA Galaxy star could hang his boots up before the 2018 tournament comes along.
Donovan probably deserved better, but what’s done is done.
9. Tim Howard, United States
Casual American fans are (about eight years too late) appreciating the US No. 1. Howard has been the most valuable player in his team’s squad this summer, and there are some analysts who believe that the Everton ‘keeper is the best American to ever play the position – ever.
Howard is, however, 35 years old. This was likely his last dance while on world football’s biggest stage.
There have, for years, been rumors that Howard will end his playing days back in Major League Soccer. Regardless of where or even if Howard is playing club football four summers from now, it is now time for the US to look to the future as it pertains to the country’s starting goalkeeper.
Thanks for everything, Tim.
8. Tim Cahill, Australia
Assuming that Cahill has in fact played in his final World Cup, he sure went out with a bang. The 2013 MLS MVP candidate netted two tallies, and Cahill hit a true Goal of the Tournament contender in his country’s 3-2 loss to Holland.
Cahill may seem like an ageless wonder, but the truth of the matter is that the great equalizer eventually catches up with every professional athlete. It has been speculated that the New York Red Bulls man could make a switch to Australia’s A-League after the 2014 campaign, and Cahill may call an end to his playing days before 2018 rolls around.
7. Steven Gerrard, England
2014 has been unkind to Stevie G. He was on the unfortunate end of what is now a very famous slip while playing for Liverpool in a match against Chelsea. He then unintentionally assisted club teammate and Uruguay bad boy Luis Suarez when playing for England in a World Cup contest versus Uruguay.
Since England were unceremoniously knocked out of the World Cup, it has been reported that Gerrard will retire from international duty. As good as he has been for club and for country, his moving on from featuring for England is what’s best for his country, a nation which desperately needs to look toward the future if it is to get out of the group stages of the 2018 World Cup.
6. Didier Drogba, Ivory Coast
The striker who has seemingly been linked with MLS clubs since 2012 (the latest rumor is that he could be on the verge of joining the Seattle Sounders) is in the twilight of his football career. He turned 36 years old this past March, and Drogba was relegated to bench duty at the start of the World Cup.
Drogba is, for his performances on the pitch and also for his various charity work, a highly respected individual in world sport. He would, even at his age, be a gem for MLS, but his joining the North American top-flight this summer is not a guarantee. Drogba could cash in on one more European contract before September.
5. Gianluigi Buffon, Italy
It’s somewhat hard to imagine a World Cup without this Italian goalkeeper featuring for his country. Buffon is regarded as being at least one of the greatest ‘keepers to ever play on the world’s stage. He has played a part in four different World Cup competitions, and Buffon has hoisted the trophy while wearing his nation’s kit.
His legendary career is winding down, and it isn’t known how much Buffon has left in the tank. It was no secret that he was never at full fitness during the 2014 World Cup. Even when not at his best, Buffon still managed to pull off some fantastic and memorable saves.
4. Rafa Marquez, Mexico
Two years ago it would have been hard to believe that Marquez would ever again play for El Tri in a World Cup. He then turned the clock back, having a major role in Mexico qualifying for the World Cup. Marquez’s good run continued, as he played very well in the group stage portion of the competition.
Then came June 29. Marquez was ruled to have been guilty of committing a foul inside of the penalty area during stoppage time, a controversial decision that propelled the Netherlands to a win and that knocked Mexico out of the competition. That foul will be the final meaningful moment of Marquez’s World Cup career.
3. Frank Lampard, England
There was irony in Lampard captaining England in what was, for The Three Lions, a meaningless World Cup match-up versus Costa Rica, a game that fittingly ended in a scoreless draw. England’s tournament was already over before kickoff of that contest, and Lampard represented the old guard that, in hindsight, should have been replaced before this summer.
He has dimmed the lights on his international duty and apparently also on playing in England. Rumor is that he will sign for MLS expansion side New York City Football Club, maybe even before this World Cup concludes. Lampard turned 36 years old this past June.
2. Xavi, Spain
What was truly a golden age for Spanish football came to an end at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Spain were bounced from the tournament after back-to-back losses, but that disappointment doesn’t take away from what they achieved as a unit. They sandwiched a World Cup victory in between two European Championships, and odds are that they will be at least one of the favorites to win the Euro two years from now.
Xavi, arguably the best play-maker in the world when in his prime, has done it all. He has hoisted La Liga, Champions League, Euro and World Cup trophies. He has netted numerous individual honors. The 34-year-old could end up signing one more big contract overseas, or he could join NYCFC before the 2015 MLS season begins.
1. Andrea Pirlo, Italy
“Everybody Loves Andrea Pirlo” perfectly sums up the world’s love affair with the Italy maestro. Not quite the player that he once was, Pirlo still, at 35 years old, had the goods to feature for a World Cup side that largely disappointed this past June. Italy actually relied far too heavily on the midfield marvel in the competition, and the country will need to find a new savior if it is to advance past the group stages four years from now.
Fans of international football may not have to say goodbye to Pirlo just yet. He has suggested that he may attempt to feature for Italy at the 2016 European Championship. Here’s hoping his legs can hold up for two more years.