Football has clearly had a preserving effect for many of the 2011/12 season’s newly retired stars, with an average age that comfortably exceeds 35.
A great many forwards will have breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing that Ivan Cordoba, Kakha Kaladze, Sol Campbell, Samuel Kuffour and Roberto Carlos have called time on their careers. And the sense of release must be greater still among the world’s defenders, who will no longer have to contend with the threat of goal machines such as Ruud van Nistelrooij.
FIFA.com brings you a non-exhaustive list of the experienced players who will be watching the action from the stands from now on.
Palmeiras will start next season without the presence of long-serving goalkeeper Marcos at the back. The 38-year-old, who lifted the FIFA World Cup™ with Brazil in 2002 and won 29 caps for A Seleçao, retires after spending his entire career at the club. Marcos made 532 appearances for the Sao Paulo side, with notable achievements including a Copa Libertadores victory in 1999 and consecutive Brazilian league titles in 1993 and 1994.
In a career that included 11 seasons and 527 games with Real Madrid, and 125 caps for Brazil, Roberto Carlos won almost everything there is to win. With his blistering pace and thunderous shot, he was the prototype of the attacking full-back. But one thing remains a mystery: was he an attacker in defender’s clothing, or simply a defender from another planet? Colombian defender Ivan Cordoba, meanwhile, retires from football having been part of the furniture at Inter Milan for the past 13 years. The 35-year-old made 395 appearances for the Italian side, with his incredible leap and solid tackling helping to make him a firm favourite with the fans.
With 73 caps for England, 303 appearances for Tottenham and 197 outings for Arsenal, powerful defender Sol Campbell, 37, is the kind of player whose retirement always leaves a huge void. Massimo Oddo, a FIFA World Cup winner with Italy in 2006, is another committed defender to have retired recently. The 36-year-old prepared for life after football by studying for a doctorate in sports management at the University of Teramo, with his thesis focusing on AC Milan’s medical centre.
Kakhaber ‘Kakha’ Kaladze has decided to hang up his boots at the age of 34, after nine seasons with AC Milan and two at Genoa. The versatile defender, who was as comfortable in the centre as he was at left-back or left midfield, is considered one of the best Georgian footballers of all time.
Moroccan defender Talal El Karkouri, 34, started his career at Raja Casablanca and was part of the ‘dream team’ of the late 1990s, with whom he won three Moroccan league titles and two CAF Champions League crowns. He was also a member of the Morocco side that finished runners-up in the 2004 CAF Africa Cup of Nations.
Belgian right-back Eric Deflandre, 39, won three French league titles with Lyon and was something of a specialist when it came to goal-line clearances. Deflandre also once had to assume goalkeeping duties for Belgium in their UEFA EURO 2000 match against Turkey, after keeper Filip De Wilde was sent off for a foul outside the area with no substitutions remaining. Czech international Marek Jankulovski, 35, won 78 caps for his country and was notable for being able to play with equal effectiveness in any position on the left side.
Andre Ooijer, another versatile defender, has retired at the age of 37. Ooijer won 55 caps for the Netherlands, and is part of a rare breed of Dutch internationals to have spent most of their career in their home country. Ghanaian defender Samuel Kuffour, for his part, spent the bulk of his career in Germany. The 35-year-old was a central figure for Bayern Munich for a decade, and is the most decorated African defender in Europe.
At the relatively young age of 31, Gabriel Milito has decided to draw a line under his career following several knee injuries. The Argentinian, who won 42 caps for the Albiceleste, returned to his first club, Independiente, in the summer of 2011. He had previously played in Spain for Zaragoza and Barcelona, where he was part of the formidable 2009 side that won six titles in a single year.
Diminutive midfielder Roberto Palacios, also known as El Chorri, spent the best part of his career in South and Central America. The 39-year-old scored 19 goals for Peru, and is the country’s most-capped player with 128 appearances.
Ruud van Nistelrooij, 36, boasts a hugely impressive goalscorer's CV, with 150 in 219 matches for Manchester United, 64 in 96 games for Real Madrid and 35 in 70 international outings for the Netherlands. A goal poacher par excellence, Van Nistelrooy was crowned top scorer in the Netherlands, England and Spain in his career – a record that commands respect. Towering forward Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, the scourge of shirt printers everywhere, has also retired after a career that included 27 caps for the Oranje and three league titles with PSV Eindhoven.
French forward Sylvain Wiltord, 38, was a FIFA World Cup runner-up with Les Bleus in 2006. He will forever be remembered, however, for scoring the equaliser in the final of EURO 2000 against Italy and taking the game into golden goal extra time. Former Korea Republic international Ahn Jung Hwan, 36, achieved a similarly memorable feat by scoring the golden goal in the Round of 16 that eliminated Italy from the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan. The goal earned him a place in football folklore alongside his Korea DPR counterpart Pak Doo-Ik, scorer of the historic goal that knocked Italy out of the 1966 FIFA World Cup England.
For some of these new retirees, the nostalgic lure of a return to the pitch may prove too strong to resist. That was the case for Paul Scholes, who made his Manchester United comeback in January having retired the year before. Former AC Milan goalkeeper Dida, meanwhile, recently returned to action in Brazil two years after announcing his retirement.