Soccer is not an old man’s sport. Yet, there are always those players who have difficulty hanging up their boots. Rather it is because they want to hang onto their youth and feel young, or they just simply need the money, there are plenty of soccer stars playing you may have forgotten about. Age can take its toll on a soccer player very quickly. It is sometimes remarkable some are still playing into their later years.
The rise of soccer leagues in North America like Major League Soccer, Australia’s A-League, Japan’s J1, and leagues in the Middle East have given ageing players an outlet to continue playing. In some leagues, like in Qatar or the United Arab Emirates, older players are getting massive paydays to sign up in the twilight of their careers.
It is easy for soccer fans to forget about certain players once they live the bright lights of top leagues in Europe. In recent years, the CSL in China has shown financial might. It has lured players away from teams in Europe due to the large salaries clubs are paying. Players have seemingly dropped off the face of the Earth when going to China to ply their trades.
Some players just simply fall out of the limelight and are forced to take a paycheck from whichever club will sign them.
20 Kazuyoshi Miura – Yokohama FC
Kazuyoshi Miura is 51 years old. Currently plying his trade with J2 League club Yokohama FC, Miura started his professional career in 1986 with Brazil’s Santos. Miura’s remarkable 32-year career has taken him from Japan to Brazil to Italy to Croatia to Australia and back to Japan.
Although he has never been a prolific goal scorer, Miura has an amazing physical make-up that has helped him stay healthy all these years.
Miura received 89 caps for the national team and scored 55 goals. He retired from the team 18 years ago at the age of 33. Few would have expected Miura would still be playing club soccer when he retired from the national side.
19 Fernando Torres – Sagan Tosu
Fernando Torres joined J1 League club Sagan Tosu in the summer of 2018. The striker had just won the Europa League trophy with boyhood club Atletico Madrid, but wasn’t offered a contract to return. Despite offers from North America and Europe, Torres decided to move to the Far East. Torres was one of the most prolific Premier League strikers with Liverpool from 2007 to 2011.
However, his January 2011 move to Chelsea seemed to ignite a steady decline for him. After scoring 65 goals in 102 games for Liverpool, Torres managed just 20 in 110 games for Chelsea. He was able to find goal scoring when he returned to Atletico in 2015, but for much of the time, Torres was the club’s third-choice striker.
18 Diego Forlan– Free Agent
Diego Forlan recently finished his contract with Hong Kong soccer club Kitchee. He is currently looking for another club and with the way he has taken care of his body, there's little doubt he will find one. Forlan was once ridiculed by soccer fans for his poor goalscoring return at Manchester United. However, a move to Villarreal in 2004 lit a fire inside him. He quickly became one of the top strikers in Europe. Forlan’s best spell came with Atletico Madrid from 2007 to 2011 when he scored 74 goals in 134 games.
As the strike partner of Sergio Aguero, Forlan led Atletico to the 2009-10 Europa League trophy. Later that year, Forlan helped Uruguay to fourth place at the World Cup. Most recently, he led Kitchee to the Hong Kong Premier League title.
17 Joe Cole – Tampa Bay Rowdies
Joe Cole has been living in the obscurity of lower league U.S. soccer since 2010. The former Premier League winner plies his trade with the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the United Soccer League. Many fans may have forgotten about Cole as North America’s soccer pyramid doesn't allow promotion and relegation, and it is doubtful he will ever reach MLS.
Cole is enjoying life in Florida outside of the bright lights of the Premier League.
Cole stated that he should've left England far sooner and joined a club in the United States. Cole has praised the lifestyle in Florida and recommend other countrymen to give the U.S. a try.
16 Robbie Keane – ATK
For anyone that hasn’t heard from 37-year-old Robbie Keane since he left the L.A. Galaxy in 2016, don’t worry. Keane has been playing in India with club team ATK. Keane even took over the managerial duties for the end of the 2018 season, scoring in the team’s final game as ATK’s player-coach.
Although ATK hasn’t officially announced whether or not Keane will return, hints have been dropped that he won’t. The veteran striker has had quite the career and doesn’t have to continue playing to improve his sterling goals record. Keane will go down as Major League Soccer and LA Galaxy’s most prolific striker. He was also one of the top five best-designated players signed by the league.
15 Xavi – Al Sadd
Now 38, Xavi stepped away from the bright lights of La Liga at the right time to join one of Qatar’s top teams. However, it must be said the league isn’t the highest of quality. Therefore, Xavi is still head and shoulders above many of the players plying their trade in the Middle East country. The eight-time La Liga winner pulled off a cup treble with Al Sadd in 2017. The club won the Qatar Emir Cup, Qatar Crown Prince Cup, and the Sheikh Jassim Cup.
It was reported Xavi’s original Al Sadd contract was for three years and paid €10 million a season. He signed a new deal in 2018 to keep him there until 2020.
14 Rafael van der Vaart – Esbjerg
Not long ago, Rafael van der Vaart was one of the most sought-after players in football. He came through the famed Ajax youth academy before starring for the club. He moved to Germany’s Hamburg SV in 2005 and tallied 30 goals in 74 games. In 2008, Van Der Vaart joined Real Madrid for €13 million, a paltry sum in today’s high transfer fee age. Things didn't go so well for him and he left the Santiago Bernabeu in 2010. Tottenham signed him for a mere €10m.
The midfielder regained his best form at White Hart Lane scoring 24 goals in 63 appearances.
His Tottenham career was short-lived, however, as the club moved him on in 2012 as a wave of new players came in. Since leaving Spurs, van der Vaart has failed to reach the same heights. The midfielder joined Esbjerg in Denmark last month. By the time the season ends, Van Der Vaart will have turned 36.
13 Wesley Sneijder – Al-Gharafa
At one time, Wesley Sneijder was one of the top attacking midfielders in the world. Not only was he highly regarded, but it seemed every top team was after his signature. In 2009, after two semi-successful years with Real Madrid, Sneijder joined Jose Mourinho at Inter. There, he won a historic treble and starred as the team’s No. 10. While at the apex of his career, Sneijder moved to Turkey’s Galatasaray.
Sneijder fall off the soccer map and spent five seasons in Turkey before showing up in France with Nice in 2017. He only played five times for Nice before being allowed to leave. He popped up with a massive paycheck in 2018 with Qatar’s Al-Gharafa, where he will see out the rest of his career.
12 Robinho – Sivasspor
Robinho had tremendous amounts of potential, yet the forward has never truly achieved long-term success. Pele stated Robino would be his ‘heir apparent’ when the player was just 15. A move to Real Madrid in 2005 never panned out despite many expecting him to become the best player in the world. A big money move to Manchester City failed to show just how good the Brazilian was.Although a successful transfer to AC Milan followed,
Robinho left for China before returning to Brazil. While awaiting what his future holds in Italy, Robinho is playing soccer for Sivassporin Turkey. The fall has been mighty.
11 Royston Drenthe – Sparta Rotterdam
Royston Drenthe was one of Holland's most talented players over the last decade. He signed with Real Madrid at the age of 21 and spent two seasons as the club’s left-back. However, Real Madrid was in a transition phase during Drenthe’s time at the club. Post-Galacticos and pre-Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid wasn’t the team it once was or would become. After leaving the Bernabeu in 2010, Drenthe bounced around to a variety of teams.
In 2016, he announced his retirement as he was ‘unable to find a club’. His retirement ended in July 2018 as Drenthe signed a contract with Sparta Rotterdam in his homeland.
Drenthe’s tale is one of a player with an enormous amount of potential. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, that potential was never achieved.
10 Ashley Cole - LA Galaxy
When Ashley Cole left Chelsea in 2014, he earned around $2.7 million a season. Now, as a member of the LA Galaxy, Cole makes $450,000 a season. He gave up the money to live a far more private life. The left-back has been a member of the Galaxy since 2016. His arrival at the club has coincided with its fall from being MLS’s premier team. The club won three out of five MLS Cups, but in recent years, it has only been a shell of its former self.
Cole has experienced the Galaxy’s latest lows and 2018 may see them miss the playoffs for a second straight year. Cole is set to be a free agent at the end of the season. He could sign on for another year in MLS as teams may want his extensive experience in their side.
9 Samuel Eto’o - Qatar SC
Samuel Eto’o may go down in history as the greatest soccer player to ever come out of Africa. A four-time Africa Football Player of the Year award winner, Eto’o has won three Champions League trophies and a host of other club soccer titles. Brought through Real Madrid’s youth academy, it wasn’t until he left the Bernabeu that Eto’o shone as a player. He became a star for Barcelona, where he scored 108 goals in 145 games.
He won two Champions League trophies with the club before moving to Inter and leading the Serie A club to the European Cup. Since leaving Inter, Eto’o has bounced around to England, Russia, Italy, Turkey, and now Qatar. Eto’o can not only sniff out goals, but he can sniff out the money, which he always gets paid in bunches.
8 Nigel De Jong – Al Ahli
Former Ajax, Manchester City, and AC Milan defensive midfielder Nigel De Jong is still making ankle breaking tackles. The 33-year-old is another of the big money signings made by a Qatar-based club. De Jong joined Al Ahli in 2018 after a brief stop off in Germany with Mainz. Although De Jong is getting older – like many of the other ageing stars Qatar clubs are signing – the midfielder has been brought in to raise the profile of soccer in the small country of 2.5 million people.
His defensive, hard tackling mentality may not help improve the country’s domestic league much.
It's a league with a poor quality of play and adding a defensive midfielder whose job it is to break up attacks won’t help the league improve its fluidity and appeal.
7 Ezequiel Lavezzi – Hebei China Fortune
In 2017, it was reported that Lavezzi earns an astronomical $1.023 million per week with Hebei China Fortune. Yes, PER WEEK! If the reports in the media were correct, then Lavezzi pulls down over $53M per season. The former Paris Saint-Germain forward was one of the first high-profile players to be lured to China. The large yearly sum would have been needed at the time to attract a player who could have played for nearly any team in the world.
It's debatable whether Lavezzi’s production for Hebei is worth the financial outlay. In just 54 games, Lavezzi has scored 29 goals while adding 22 assists. Despite the numbers and the salary, Lavezzi has been unable to lead Hebei to a league title.
6 Hulk – Shanghai SIPG
In 2016, Hulk joined Shanghai SIPG from Russia’s Zenit St. Petersburg. The club paid £45 million for the forward. Hulk is another of the growing list of former European players who make large salaries in China. Hulk’s salary is reportedly £320,000 a week. Although Hulk has moved around club football for large transfer fees and gets paid a heavy fee, he never truly succeeded in one of Europe’s top five leagues. In fact, Hulk never played for a club in a top-five league.
After turning professional with Brazil’s Vitoria he moved to Japan before finding moderate success with FC Porto in Portugal. It influenced Zenit to sign him. While he was a rising star with Porto, his big money move to Russia began his fall from mainstream soccer circles. He is only now remembered for his large weekly salary in China.
5 Gervinho – Parma
Arsenal and Roma fans will remember Gervinho for his long braids, headbands, and unique hairline. Gunners’ fans were happy to see the back of the Ivorian after just two seasons in which he scored nine goals. His move to Roma was more productive as he tallied 17 strikes in 71 matches. A move to Hebei China Fortune in 2016 followed his time in the Italian capital. The forward publicly admitted he joined Hebei China Fortune strictly for the salary.
Gervinho’s expedition wasn’t very successful on the pitch as he scored just four goals in 29 games over two and a half seasons.
Forgotten by many soccer fans, Gervinho joined Italy’s Parma in August 2018. He scored in his first start for Parma.
4 Alexandre Pato – Tiajin Quanjin
Alexandre Pato celebrated his 29th birthday in September 2018. It is easy to forget just how young Pato really is. It feels like the striker has been around forever because he made his professional debut at the age of 16. Pato was one of the fastest rising stars in world football when he joined AC Milan in 2007. For three seasons, Pato was one of the most exciting strikers around as he scored goal after goal. However, injury stopped Pato in his tracks and in 2011, he scored just once in 11 games.
Subsequent moves to clubs in Brazil, England, and Spain showed flashes of brilliance but nothing more. Many Chelsea fans will forget he was even there for a time. Pato now plies his trade in China with Tianjin Quanjian.
3 Roque Santa Cruz - Olimpia Asunción
At 37 year old, Roque Santa Cruz is still playing the game he loves. Santa Cruz starred with Bayern Munich and Blackburn Rovers in the 2000s scoring goals for fun. During his time with Bayern Munich, Santa Cruz won a litany of trophies. He moved to Manchester City in 2009 when the club began spending money on top players. However, injuries curbed Santa Cruz’s time at the Premier League club. He later moved to Spain and Mexico but failed to find the goal scoring form he once showed in Germany.
In all, Santa Cruz spent 17 years playing soccer in Europe.
In 2016, he joined Paraguay’s Club Olimpia and despite many waiting for him to retire, he keeps going.
2 Ryan Babel – Besiktas
In 2007, Ryan Babel made waves at the UEFA Under-21 Championship. It came on the back of his fourth season with Ajax. He had scored five goals in 27 games, and clubs around Europe began to be linked with him. The speculation influenced Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez to pay £11.5 million for Babel’s services. Despite looking promising early on, Babel’s performances soon looked more comical than productive.
Babel has stated since his Liverpool departure that he didn’t see eye-to-eye with Benitez. After leading a nomadic career for six years, Babel joined Turkey’s Besiktas in January 2017. Although many fans have forgotten about the striker, Babel has been able to revitalize his career with the club.
1 Emmanuel Adebayor – Istanbul Basaksehir
Emmanuel Adebayor was one of Europe’s more lethal strikers when he was at the top of his game. However, personal issues involving his family affected his on-field play. In 2016, things got even weirder for the Togo striker. It was widely reported he met with Lyon’s representatives to talk about a contract. Adebayor allegedly acted very unprofessionally during the meeting. It caused Lyon to re-think the deal and cancel it.
He bounced back, as in January 2017, Adebayor joined Turkey’s Istanbul Basaksehir. Although many fans have forgotten him, Adebayor has been able to score goals for his current team and perform well.