Happy birthday to you!
© Getty Images

26. Paolo Maldini (43) would surely have cherished the chance to extend his incredible career by one more season. Having inherited a love for AC Milan from his father Cesare, Maldini was faithful to I Rossoneri from start to finish, collecting a stunning list of medals with the club, including seven Serie A titles and five UEFA Champions League wins. The defender never sought to steal the limelight, but football fans in Italy and beyond understood perfectly how integral he was to his team’s various triumphs. Maldini also took part in four FIFA World Cup™ final tournaments, from the 1990 edition on home soil to Korea/Japan 2002. At USA 1994 he came tantalisingly close to lifting world football’s most coveted trophy. On the continental scene, he appeared in three UEFA European Championships.

27. Raul (34) is still thrilling crowds with his finishing abilities. The superlative centre-forward enjoyed a memorable maiden campaign with Schalke last season, helping the Bundesliga side claim the German Cup and reach the Champions League semi-finals. Respected across the planet for his uncommon understanding of the game, the archetypal fox in the box is still a revered figure at Real Madrid, where he spent the large part of his career, winning six Liga titles and three Champions League crowns. With Spain, Raul contested a trio of FIFA World Cups and held his country’s scoring record until it was recently eclipsed by David Villa. He remains the most prolific marksman in UEFA club competition, however, and hopes to experience further success before hanging up his boots.

28. Fabien Barthez (40) deserves pride of place in the history of French international goalkeepers, having starred between the posts as Les Bleus enjoyed a golden period ushered in by their first FIFA World title in 1998. He was likewise an important element in their UEFA EURO 2000 win before claiming the FIFA Confederations Cup in both 2001 and 2003, and nearly added a second FIFA World Cup triumph as France succumbed to Italy in the Germany 2006 showpiece. In the club realm, Barthez turned out for Ligue 1 outfits Toulouse, Marseille, Monaco and Nantes, securing several trophies and most notably helping OM secure France’s first European Champion Clubs’ Cup victory. The charismatic custodian also had a spell with Manchester United, where he swelled his list of honours with a pair of Premier League titles.

29. Ever Banega (23) enjoys a reputation as a dangerous presence in the attacking third, the young midfielder having first called attention to himself as his native Argentina won the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007. A year later, he was in excellent form again as Argentina took Olympic gold, and since then he has carved out a regular place with the senior side. At club level, Banega did not have to wait long for success, snaring the Copa Libertadores with Boca Juniors before helping Valencia to Copa del Rey glory in Spain. Further accomplishments surely await.

30. Rami Shaaban (36) never truly got the chance to prove his worth during his prime. Despite garnering plenty of interest earlier in his career, the tall No1 was unable to establish himself as a top-drawer talent, notably being held back by injury during his time with Arsenal. For Sweden, he nonetheless served as back-up goalkeeper during Germany 2006 and at EURO 2008.

1. Patrick Kluivert (35) lit up stadiums across Europe with his goalscoring prowess. In 1994/95, he was a key member of the gifted young crop of Dutch players who drove Ajax to Champions League victory, notching the winning goal himself as the Amsterdam side beat holders AC Milan in the final. From there, like so many Ajax icons before him, the forward took his talents abroad, joining Milan in 1997 before embarking on a six-year adventure with Barcelona the following season. Kluivert quickly established himself in the Barça line-up and helped the Catalan giants secure the Liga crown in his debut campaign, later taking in stints at Newcastle United, Valencia, PSV Eindhoven and Lille. On the international stage, he advanced to the semi-finals with the Netherlands at the 1998 FIFA World Cup, and topped the EURO 2000 scoring charts in one of his three participations in the continental showcase. Since retiring, Kluivert has turned his hand to management, serving as assistant coach to the reserve sides at PSV and NEC before assuming his current role as head coach of Twente’s reserves.

2. Lamine Diatta (36) is one of the biggest names in Senegalese football, having played his part as the Lions of Teranga stunned football fans everywhere by toppling holders France at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan. He and his team-mates proved that was no aberration by then marching to the quarter-finals, and Diatta can also pride himself on having graced four consecutive editions of the CAF African Cup of Nations. The defender now with Etoile Sportive du Sahel represented a number of French clubs earlier during his career, including Toulouse, Marseille, Lyon and Saint-Etienne, and added spells with Besiktas, Newcastle and Hamilton Academical before heading for Qatar and Al Ahli.