At age 40, most professionals who at one time played at the FIFA World Cup™ have since retired. After hanging up their boots, many would have embarked down the coaching route, some would have tried their hand at punditry, while others are simply happier to enjoy their well-earned retirement.
The same can’t be said for all, however, with a small number of remarkable World Cup veterans currently defying the ageing process by still playing professional football in their 40s. FIFA.com takes a look at some of the extraordinary few who are showing that age is just a number.
Cup triumph at 41
Having amassed a plethora of titles and personal honours for club and country, 84-time Brazil international Ze Roberto is no stranger to extraordinary accomplishments. And last season, the former Real Madrid and Bayern Munich star achieved another impressive feat: winning the 2015 Copa do Brasil with Palmeiras and being named in Brazil’s Campeonato Paulista team of the year at age 41.
After an illustrious career spanning 22 years, Ze Roberto announced his intention to retire at the end of the Brazilian season but his love of the game is far from diminished. “My motivation is the passion I have for playing football,” Ze Roberto, who played at France 1998 and Germany 2006, told FIFA.com in 2014.
“For as long as I can remember, ever since I was a child, my dream was to play football and even I get surprised that I’m still playing at a high level. I’m very grateful for this opportunity and I thank God for the gift that he has given me – and, of course, for my genes!”
2002 veterans still going strong
Ze Roberto is not the only South American-based player showing incredible longevity, however, with three-time World Cup star Roberto Acuna still playing in the top-tier of his native Paraguay with Rubio Nu at 44. After reaching a century of international caps in 2011, El Toro (The Bull) also holds the accolade of representing his country at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup.
“I’d just helped 12 de Octubre win promotion to the first division and I didn’t feel so keen about training and playing any more,” Acuna told *FIFA.com *before last year’s Beach Soccer World Cup. “At the time, my father-in-law was running the beach soccer team at the Paraguayan FA and he suggested I try it out. I said no at first and then I decided to give it a go. When I started playing for Garden Club it was just a hobby, but we won the competition and I liked it. I was hooked before I even realised and then came the call-up to the national team.”
Like Acuna, Juan Carlos Valeron also featured at the 2002 FIFA World Cup and is himself defying the supposed age barrier by still playing into his 40s. The former *La Roja *midfielder is currently the oldest player plying his trade in Spain’s La Liga with hometown club Las Palmas.
Speaking to UEFA.com, Valeron said: “I'm living out these final stages of my career as I always have done: I feel it could be my last year, but then there are always circumstances that make you decide to play on. I feel strong.”
*The golden goalies
*While a goalkeeper traditionally has a longer career-span compared to outfield players, Dynamo Kyiv’s 41 year-old shot-stopper Oleksandr Shovkovskiy is showing no signs of letting up. A star at Germany 2006 – where he became the first keeper in the tournament’s history not to concede in a penalty shoot-out – Shovkovskiy amassed 92 caps for Ukraine, as well as claiming a staggering 14 league titles with Dynamo Kyiv.
Still going strong after making his debut in 1993, Shovkovskiy has conceded that the keeper’s position has evolved considerably since then. “The goalkeeper's role has changed a lot,” he told UEFA.com. “Now the keeper is one of 11 players who help in both defence and attack. Nothing stands still. Tactical emphases, formations, interplay between the lines, players operating in between the lines – all that has developed and got better.”
Similar to Shovkovskiy, other 40-plus goalkeepers still playing today include Shay Given, Oscar Perez Rojas, Mark Schwarzer, Seigo Narazaki and Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi – all of whom featured at the World Cup.
*Evergreen forward nearing 50
*While he never played at the World Cup, a special mention must go to Japan’s Kazuyoshi Miura, the country’s oldest player at 49. Having made his debut for Brazilian side Santos in 1986, the much-travelled frontman netted an incredible 14 goals on the road to France 1998, but never featured at the tournament with the Samurai Blue.
"I'll continue to give everything I have,” the time-defying veteran said.