Footballers are condemned to relatively short careers, with the body’s inability to keep up with the rigours of playing a full 90 minutes at the highest levels, be it for the club or country. Here we parse through some former stalwarts who, unfortunately, staring down at the twilight years of their respective careers:
The Argentine has been a fixture in the national side for the past decade and more, not to mention one of the first names on the team sheet for Liverpool and Barcelona. Over the past season or two, however, clear chinks have appeared in his armour: once able to ply his trade energetically in both holding midfield or centre-back roles, Mascherano now seems fit enough only for the relatively less demanding centre-back position, and has lot quite a bit of the pace and bite that once made him one of the sure-shot brick walls in defence for some of the top teams in the world.
The Spaniard is an elegant, efficient operator on his day. When the chips are down for him, personally, though, he can be somewhat of a liability in midfield with a marked lack of pace and a propensity to try and overcome the same with poor challenges. In his prime at Everton, he was a well-sought-after property (infamously dubbed the ‘poor man’s Fabregas’ on his switch to Arsenal), but failed to create the same impact for the Gunners. With the rise to prominence of a revitalised and reinvented youngster in the form of Francis Coquelin, his spot seems now further away, to the point of being out of reach, over the horizon.
Arguably the best right-back in the Premier League for the past few seasons, the Argentine seems to have lost out his spot to Bacary Sagna in more recent times. The reason behind this is still unclear; perhaps there is some niggle that most supporters are unaware of, but at the age of 30 it seems unlikely that we will see the same barnstorming runs up and down the flank that made him such a potent force in attack for City and the national side, adding to the sometimes absolutely spotless tackles and interceptions that earned him his reputation today.
The Serbian has made Chelsea’s right-back spot his own for the better part of the past decade, with the assumption outside the club being that an able replacement simply wasn’t required, seeing his impeccable fitness. In attack, his pile-driver shots on goal and wicked crosses would wreak havoc, and he could comfortably slot into the centre-back position if required. This season, however, Ivanovic has looked nothing like the part – wingers with any hint of pace have found it easy to circumvent what was once an impregnable fortress in Chelsea’s right flank, and timid approaches to blocking shots (with an odd tendency to worry more about giving away a handball) have added to his woes.
In his heyday, the Englishman was built from the same mould as a Roy Keane or a Claude Makelele, with excellent tactical awareness for the game in defence and marauding runs into attack culminating mostly in a perfect final ball that would lead to clear-cut opportunities on goal. He was an integral part of Man City’s first title win of the Premier League era, but since has looked noticeably slower, especially since his move to Everton. And albeit he still contributes no little amount for the Toffees, the reduction in pace has led to the overcompensation in terms of riskier tackles, making him one of the most booked players in the English game.
This will come as little shock to most of the footballing world, but for a couple of seasons now, Wayne Rooney has not seemed the world-class talent he once undoubtedly was. Having lost just that yard of pace, his famed aggression now seems more like moaning to the referee and the outrageous goals that would make the Stretford end come alive seem to have disappeared. Added to this is the confusion over his ‘best position’ for club and country. With Rooney being on the wrong side of 30, it would take a remarkable turnaround for him to get back to his best, something that seems more unlikely by the week.
The current Czech captain has seen better days – there was a time his spot was in little contention for Arsenal, and his floating, effortless game with a sublime forst touch has led to some fantastic moves and goals. With the introduction of the likes of Santi Cazorla to the Gunners’ ranks, however, Rosicky seems to have sailed off into the sunset, with appearances few and far between. And even though his contributions at times have still been noteworthy, at 34, there is little scope for him creating the same terror from the advanced midfield positions with his fluidly orchestrated pass-and-moves.
The Real Madrid stalwart was easily one of the most feared defenders in the world a few seasons back, with his no-nonsense style earning him as many plaudits as it did criticism. There was no question, however, that his pairing with Sergio Ramos has been one of the best partnerships at the back in Europe over the past decade. The emergence of Raphael Varane has cast his place into a bit of doubt for Madrid in the past season and a half, and with numerous niggles further limiting his time and opportunity to regain his position in the team sheet, it seems to be all downhill from here for the Portuguese – as downhill it can be for a Galactico, anyway.