In modern football, it’s potential that hogs the limelight. The most fervent excitement surrounding a club’s playing roster is reserved for the rising stars – young players with acres of potential. Players who represent hope and promise success.
Globally recognised starlets such as Neymar, Stephan El Shaarawy, James Rodriguez, Isco and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have analysts drooling over swollen transfer fees and brilliance that may surpass what has been forecasted.
But while we continue to search for the next big thing, it is easy to forget the contribution of the game’s veterans.
Long after age has dulled their physical attributes, they are the players who have developed the cunning and vision to remain relevant in the world’s top leagues.
They are the source of dressing-room morale, a father-figure to younger players, and often form the backbone of a club’s legacy.
In a tip-of-the-cap to the game’s elder statesmen, I’ve constructed a dream team of current players that could participate in an over-35s league.
I have opted for a 4-3-1-2 formation, including a flat four defence, three central midfielders and a trequartista sitting behind two strikers.
GK – Brad Friedel – Tottenham Hotspur and USA
Such was the form of the American shot-stopper at the start of the 2012-13 season, Friedel managed to keep France captain Hugo Lloris out of the Tottenham starting lineup. Lloris has since stolen the number one jersey at Spurs, but Friedel is breathing down his neck after signing a deal that will keep him at White Hart Lane until 2014.
Friedel is the current holder of the Premier League record for most consecutive appearances with 310. His career has spanned 16 English Premier League seasons, including notable stints at Blackburn and Aston Villa. A real monster of a goalkeeper with a booming presence.
RB and captain – Javier Zanetti – Inter Milan and Argentina
You don’t get nicknamed “The Tractor” for standing still.
Javier Zanetti is the embodiment of strength, resilience and stamina.
The Argentine has operated across a variety of positions during his glorious 18-year stay with Inter Milan, playing as a left or right fullback, on either wing, as a screening midfielder or part of a midfield trio.
More impressive is that his major club achievements have come since he turned 30. His post-2005 trophy cabinet includes five Serie A titles, four Italian cups, and one Champions League title in 2010. He has also set the record for the most number of appearances for the Argentina national side. Zanetti has announced that he will retire from football at the end of the current season, but with Inter pushing for a Champions League return – there is still much to be done for this workhorse.
CB – Sylvain Distin – Everton and France
The Frenchman is widely lauded for his hunger and tenacity, and he has been a rock for Everton this year as they continue to push for an unlikely Champions League spot. Distin, named Everton’s players’ player for the 2011-12 season, has been involved in 13 consecutive English Premier League seasons, racking up more than 350 appearances with stints at Newcastle United, Manchester City and Portsmouth, before he joined Moyes’ Blues in 2009. Distin himself says Everton are playing their best football since he joined from Pompey, and he is hoping for a new deal that will take him beyond 2013 at Goodison Park.
CB – Alessandro Nesta – Montreal Impact and Italy
The monolithic Italian is plying his trade in the MLS with Canadian Club Montreal Impact after dominating Serie A for almost two decades. Even though he has stepped down to a lesser league, the former Lazio and AC Milan man still oozes class.
Considered by many as one of the best centre backs to have ever played the game, Nesta was named Serie A defender of the year four consecutive times between 2000 and 2003. Injuries forced his retirement from the Italian national team after a successful 2006 World Cup campaign, but Nesta continued to be a sought-after commodity, turning down invitations to come out of retirement for Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup.
LB – William Gallas – Tottenham and France
William Gallas: the bad boy of this veterans’ XI. The versatile defender has been constant presence in the English Premier League for the past 12 seasons, being the first player to have appeared for London clubs Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham.
Gallas has pace and power, which has unfortunately been overshadowed by controversy on several occasions. The Frenchman reportedly threatened to score deliberate own goals while at Chelsea, was stripped of the Arsenal captaincy for slagging off his team-mates in an interview, and infamously scored from Thierry Henry’s deliberate handball assist to deny Ireland a place at the 2010 World Cup.
Nonetheless, Gallas has been handed the captain’s armband a number of times under Andre Villas-Boas at Tottenham this season and is holding out for a deal that could keep him at White Hart Lane beyond 2013.
RCM – Georgios Karagounis – Fulham and Greece
Karagounis’ achievements at club level, while not insignificant, have been far overshadowed by a stellar international career. A combative midfielder with deadly set piece delivery, the Greece captain arrived at Fulham on a free transfer last summer after finishing a second lengthy spell at Panathinaikos.
Karagounis debuted for the national team as a 22-year-old in 1999, and might be best remembered for scoring a rocket against Portugal on the way to his country’s shock Euro 2004 win.
He captained Greece at the 2010 World Cup and at last year’s European championship in Poland and Ukraine, netting the winning goal against Russia to send the Greeks through to the quarter finals. Karagounis marked his 122nd appearance with the national side during a recent 2014 World Cup qualifier against Bosnia and Herzegovina.
CM – Paul Scholes – Manchester United and England
Heralded by his peers as one of the finest all-round midfielders to play the game – the Ginger Ninja slots in at the centre of our three-man midfield.
Scholes’ entire professional career has been spent at Manchester United, his combination of fierce tackling, slick passing and sensational goals a big factor in amassing 10 premier league titles, two champions leagues and four FA cups.
Scholes retired at the end of the 2010-11 season, after 17 years in the first team. Even though a testimonial match was played in Scholes’ name, Sir Alex Ferguson dusted him off and reinstated him in midfield halfway though 2011-12. United missed out on the title to Manchester City last year, and with both sides fighting for honours in 2012-13, Scholes’ contribution is not to be understated.
LCM – Ryan Giggs – Manchester United and Wales
The evergreen Welshman is into an astonishing 23rd season at Manchester United, and can genuinely lay claim to being the most influential face of the Premier League era. Gigg’s personal records include the most premier league trophies (12) and most premier league appearances (607), while he is the only player to have scored in 16 different Champions League tournaments.
Giggs cut his teeth as a marauding winger but in recent seasons has moved infield – his vision and class winning him the PFA Players’ Player of the Year for 2008–09. Though his influence is not what it was on the pitch, Giggs is still at the very core of what has made his club a success for two decades.
CAM – Clarence Seedorf – Botafogo and Holland
The Dutch livewire still boasts supreme speed and fitness, while his short passing game and penchant for long-range goals makes him an ideal choice for the slot behind the strikers.
Seedorf is playing in the Brasileiro Série A with Botafogo after a highly-decorated 21 years in Europe – including 10 years with AC Milan.
He was the first player to win UEFA champions league trophies with three separate clubs (Ajax, Real Madrid and AC Milan) while his highlights reel contains some truly astonishing goals.
Seedorf impressed with nine goals in 21 matches for Botafogo last season as his team finished seventh in the league. He’s a gift that keeps on giving.
ST – Francesco Totti – AS Roma and Italy
In Rome the saying goes: No Totti, No Party. The talismanic leader has spent his entire career at the capital club, his role shifting between a wide forward, a lone striker, a supporting striker and playmaker over 23 seasons.
Totti might be the all-time leading Serie A goalscorer with 221 strikes, but he has not accumulated club accolades befitting a footballer of his stature – his trophy cabinet sporting just one league title and two Italian cups.
The big one, however, came in 2006 with the national side – his World Cup win including a controversial penalty to sink the Socceroos in the round of 16.
What’s more, Totti is still finding the net – with six goals and six assists in first half of the current Serie A season.
ST – Antonio Di Natale – Udinese and Italy
Antonio Di Natale is arguably the least heralded of this fantasy line-up – but quite possibly the most dangerous.
The Italian marksman only gets better with age.
Di Natale enjoyed moderate success with Empoli, before he joined current Serie A club Udinese in 2004. He netted consistently in his first five seasons with the Zebrette, but advancing years have seen his goals-per-game return increase dramatically.
The past three seasons have yielded 30 goals each, with Di Natale bagging the Serie A top scorer award in 2009-10 and 2010-11. He is at it again in 2012-13, with 10 goals so far in the league and three in Europe.
Furthermore, Di Natale has represented his country at the past three major international tournaments, and was named Italian player of the year in 2010. A worrying sight for any defender.
Did Alex get it right? Who would be in your team?