When footballers reach a certain age, they may be tempted to quit their duties with their national team in favour of focusing on their club career and/or being with their families. That being said, it doesn’t mean necessarily that their playing ability has gone south as a result. In fact, a number of footballers can still play at an extremely high level despite having entered their 30s and headed towards retirement. The 10 men on this list are merely examples of that, if nothing else, and they’ve shown how capable they are on a club level following the end of their international careers.
Although a couple of these players have been subject to recent rumours of a switch to Major League Soccer, they’ve instead decided to keep playing in the top flight of different European leagues, even if just to prove that they’re still capable of performing at the highest level even if their career is on the downswing and/or they’re on the wrong side of 30. But regardless of their status as a player nowadays, their reputations based on their accomplishments on an individual and club level remain intact, and their decision to retire internationally – maybe a bit before their time in the case of some – hasn’t blighted their ability to keep performing well at a high level in the continent where the best club football in the world is played.
We’ve arranged this list based on their status as players in the top European leagues (these players play in England, Germany, Italy or Spain), as well as their salary converted either from pounds or euros to American dollars. Some salary figures listed here are based on weekly wages. Beyond everything else, these men are proof that age and international status is not as much of a hindrance as one might think. Here are 10 players who have proven that time and time again.
10. Miroslav Klose — Lazio ($2.8 million)
Miroslav Klose’s club career is not necessarily known as one of the more successful ones. The 36-year-old Polish-born striker has played for Kaiserslautern, Werder Bremen and Bayern Munich before switching to Serie A side Lazio in 2011. His international career for Germany, however, is far more prolific: he scored 71 times in 137 matches for his country prior to his retirement from international football after this year’s World Cup – which he won. On top of that, Klose – who makes $2.8 million this year – became the all-time leading World Cup goalscorer in this year’s tournament after scoring once against Ghana and again against Brazil.
9. Ashley Cole — A.S. Roma ($3.1 million)
It was a shock, at least for some, to see Ashley Cole retire from the English national team a little bit before he otherwise could have, especially since manager Roy Hodgson left him off the 23-man squad in Brazil in favour of 18-year-old Luke Shaw. However, the 33-year-old – who just signed for Roma in the Serie A – has a reputation that is nearly unparalleled for players in his position. As a member of Arsenal, the man making $3.1 million this season was a member of the 2003-04 “Invincibles” team that failed to lose a game that whole Premier League season, and he also won three Premier League titles during his time with the Gunners as well as Chelsea.
8. Nemanja Vidic — Inter Milan ($3.1 million)
Arguably one of Serbia’s greatest ever players despite being in his early 30s and with his playing career still very active, Nemanja Vidic will be entering a new chapter of his glimmering career as a member of Inter Milan in the Serie A. After leaving Manchester United earlier this year – the club he’d been playing for since 2006 – Vidic has gained several individual honours (such as winning Premier League Player of the Season twice) and team honours (five Premier League titles and one Champions League title) as a Red Devil. Internationally, the man currently making $3.1 million this year earned 56 caps as a member of a defensively-adept Serbian national team before retiring from the team in 2011.
7. Didier Drogba — Chelsea ($5.3 million)
He may have returned to Chelsea – better known as the club that helped make him a superstar – but really, Didier Drogba could have signed anywhere. He’s returned to the Blues after a brief stint in China with Shanghai Shenhua and again in Turkey with Galatasaray. At 36, he’s retired from the Cote d’Ivoire national team following another disappointing group stage exit, and it will be uncertain as to how he’ll perform in blue and white colours once again. No matter how this upcoming season pans out for him, Drogba – who makes $5.3 million this year – will still go down in history as one of the greatest African footballers to have ever graced a pitch.
6. Francesco Totti — A.S. Roma ($6 million)
To be able to play at a high level at the age of 37 is one kind of accomplishment, but to do so in addition to captaining your club and continuing to contribute offensively to the team is a whole different beast. Contrary to many footballers before him, Francesco Totti has made all of that look easy, and he’s making an astounding $6 million this year for someone his age. A one-club man for hometown club A.S. Roma since 1992, he’s won an incredible amount for his club: two Coppa Italias, one Serie A title and multiple individual honours. Internationally, he did even better: he’s a member of the FIFA 100, he was one of Euro 2000’s team of the tournament, and he captured World Cup glory with the Azzurri in 2006.
5. Xavi — Barcelona ($9.2 million)
He’s going to be spending one more season at the Nou Camp with the one club he’s spent his entire career with before possibly switching to the MLS, and he also participated in Spain’s ill-fated attempt at defending their World Cup trophy, but Xavi’s reputation as one of the best playmakers in footballing history is too hard to ignore. The fact that he’s won 25 trophies as a player – the most of any Spanish player to ever lace up a pair of cleats – should be proof of that. Going into his last season as a Barcelona player – and his first as an internationally-retired player – Xavi will surely hope to go out in style with a salary this year of $9.2 million.
4. Steven Gerrard — Liverpool ($12 million)
His playing career hasn’t finished yet but he’s already a member of the British Empire. Though his international career never ended up being that successful, Steven Gerrard’s importance to both the national setup and his club team Liverpool are not to be understated, having captained at both a club and international level. Following England’s premature exit from the World Cup this year, the 34-year-old midfielder they call Stevie G (who’s making roughly $12 million this year) retired internationally with 21 goals and 114 caps to his name. Despite that, Gerrard is still a massive part of Liverpool’s starting 11, and that isn’t expected to change leading up to the 2014-15 Premier League season.
3. Franck Ribery — Bayern Munich ($14 million)
Dubbed the “crown jewel of French football” by Zinedine Zidane, it’s incredibly shocking to see Franck Ribery retire from the national team thanks to the fact that he missed this year’s World Cup following a back injury that ruled him out of the tournament. Not only is he still arguably France’s best player, his accomplishments individually and with his club Bayern Munich are monumental: a Champions League title and four Bundesliga titles with Bayern, as well as being on the shortlist for last year’s Ballon d’Or. Winning UEFA’s Best Player in Europe award last year ain’t too bad either, and he’s still got a few good years left at 31 years of age and a current salary of $14 million.
2. Samir Nasri — Manchester City ($14.5 million)
He’s only 27, which makes Samir Nasri’s decision to retire from international football early thanks to Didier Deschamps snubbing him from France’s 2014 World Cup squad rather surprising despite reports of his attitude problems. The Manchester City attacking midfielder is still very talented regardless, and has won two Premier League titles with the club since he joined them from Arsenal in 2011. Nasri – who makes $14.5 million with City this year – also won French Player of the Year in 2010 and competed in two European Championships for Les Bleus in 2008 and 2012, despite being snubbed from the 2010 and 2014 World Cup squads (though the latter tournament was significantly more successful than the former).
1. Philipp Lahm — Bayern Munich ($14.5 million)
Although he’s known on club level for captaining Bayern Munich, Philipp Lahm’s accomplishments have surely solidified him as one of the best fullbacks not only in German history, but arguably football’s. Having retired from Die Mannschaft recently, fresh off the heels of helping Germany win the World Cup in Brazil this summer, Lahm – who makes $14.5 million this year – has also won the Bundesliga six times with Bayern in addition to capturing a Champions League title last year. At just 30 years of age, Lahm probably still has several good years left in him both at club and international level, but you can’t fault him for wanting to go out on top.