By Panos Bletsos
February 6, 1965. Stoke City take on Fulham and beat their rivals 3-1 for the Football League, which was at the time the top flight of the English championship. That game would probably have been long forgotten by now if it hadn’t coincided with the final outing of the legendary Stanley Matthews.
Affectionately known as “The Wizard”, Matthews ended his illustrious career that evening shortly after celebrating his 50th birthday. A feat virtually impossible for any outfield player to repeat in today’s strictly professional and highly competitive football. But what about the guys between the sticks?
Thanks to the nature of their position on the field, goalkeepers have often enjoyed (much) longer careers. On May 18, 1996 Toni Schumacher came on as a 88th – minute sub as Borussia Dortmund beat Freiburg 3-2 to be crowned German champion four years after his initial retirement – he was 42. Neville Southall played until he was 44, Pat Jennings and Thomas N’Kono well past 41, Lev Yashin, Gordon Banks, Michel Preud’homme, Joseph-Antoine Bell and Thomas Ravelli until after their 40th birthday, while Dino Zoff won the World Cup with Italy at the same age, in 1982! Most recently, Ed van der Sar only quit the game last summer as a Premier League champion with Manchester United at 41 and René Higuita retired at the tender age of 43, in January 2010.
So, even though you might think 40-year-olds wearing gloves on a football pitch is a thing of the past, this following Veteran XI may change your mind.
11. Simon Jentzsch (35)
Actually, the Augsburg goalie is about to celebrate his 36th birthday at the beginning of May. A former Germany U21 international, he was called up to the senior squad, but never made his debut. Jentzsch broke into the scene after impressing in his early days with Wolfsburg, but eventually lost his place to Swiss international Diego Benaglio. He’s still going strong with the Fuggerstädter, whom he joined in the summer of 2009 and helped reach the Bundesliga and the Pokal semis, both for the very first time.
10. Shay Given (35)
A couple of weeks younger than Jentzsch, the Ireland No 1 (and their most capped player ever) doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere anytime soon. A Newcastle United legend, featuring in no less than 462 matches spanning nearly 12 years, never really settled in at Manchester City, especially after the return of the impressive Joe Hart. Despite his age, Villa invested nearly 5 million dollars in Given and he’s overshadowed American international Brad Guzan. Expect some more scintillating performances in Euro 2012 as well.
9. Morgan De Sanctis (35)
The… youngest of my Veteran XI, as he only turned 35 at the end of March. Considered a natural as a teenager, he coincided with the likes of Angelo Peruzzi while at Juventus Turin, but went on to establish himself as one of the best Italian portieri with Udinese. After short spells abroad with Sevilla and Galatasaray he returned to his homeland for Napoli, impressing Cesare Prandelli enough to return to the national side frame. He will fight it out with Palermo’s Emiliano Viviano for a slot in the Euro 2012 23-man squad and might even face Given on June 18.
8. Quim (36)
Although he won five major titles in his six-year stint at Portuguese giants Benfica, Quim Manuel Sampaio da Silva has identified his name with Sporting de Braga, where he returned in the summer of 2010. He missed the whole of the following campaign after a career-threatening Achilles tendon injury, but he’s back and once again the Arsenalistas undisputed number 1, as they push his former side and Porto for their first ever Primeira Liga trophy.
7. Jussi Jääskeläinen (36)
Perhaps the best 200,000 Bolton Wanderers have ever spent, when they acquired his services from Finnish club VPS back in November 1997. Over the past 15 years or so Jääskeläinen fought off competition by a number of other goalkeepers to make it 527 appearances behind the Trotters defense. His contract runs out this summer and it will really be difficult to imagine the Wanderers without him, even though Hungarian international Ádám Bogdán looks like a decent replacement. Ironically, it was again Hungary that the Finn recorded his 56th and last cap in October 2010.
6. Sasho Shovkovskiy (37)
Dynamo through and through, the Kiev-born shot-stopper came through the ranks and was promoted to the first squad in 1993 – almost two decades ago! Regular in front of goal almost ever since, he’s amassed an incredible 543 appearances and won no less than 25 pieces of domestic silverware. The third most capped player (and top amongst goalkeepers) of Ukraine with 92 games under his belt has faced some stiff competition of late, but with Andriy Dikan seriously injured he’s expected to feature in this year’s showpiece event, feeling right at home.
5. Teddy Richert (37)
Girondins legend Ulrich Ramé and an Achilles tendon rupture slowed down his career with either Bordeaux and Lille in his mid-twenties after a bright start with Toulouse, but the Frenchman never gave in. Signed by Sochaux / Montbéliard in January 2002, initially on loan, Richert looked no further. In May 2007 he kept out Toifilou Maoulida and Ronald Zubar’s shots and helped Les Lionceaux beat Marseille 5-4 on penalty kicks and claim the Coupe for only the second time in their history. Out of contract at the end of next June, he was injured last week against Brest in what could have been his last ever pro match.
4. Mark Schwarzer (39)
Few will remember the Australian international moved to Germany, the land of his forefathers, when he left his home for Europe. He played little for Dynamo Dresden and Kaiserslautern before making the move to England, where he’s stuck since February 1997. He made a name for himself with Middlesbrough, with whom he reached the UEFA Cup final in 2006. He ended up on the losing side, a record he wasn’t able to improve with his current club, Fulham, four years on. He made his debut with the Socceroos in July ’93 and is their record appearance holder on 95. While his contract with the Londoners runs until mid-2013, he’s expressed his wish to play in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Why not, Mark?
3. Brad Friedel (40)
If you live in the States, you might know that the Tottenham Hotspur custodian will celebrate his birthday on May 18, blowing out 41 candles. Friedel has much in common with his Aussie counterpart. In the mid-‘90s he came to the Old Continent to try his luck with Danish club Brøndby and Turkish giants Galatasaray, before finally getting a work permit to play in England. Liverpool didn’t work out, but Blackburn Rovers and Villa did – and last summer he penned a two-year deal with Spurs. Contemporary to Kasey Keller, he ended his international career as early as February 2005, when he wasn’t even 34...
2. Francesco Antonioli (42)
The Italian made his debut with lowly Monza at just 16 against Juventus, one of the few clubs he didn’t play for… A blunder in the derby fixture against city rivals Internazionale wiped out his chances of a career with Milan and he went on to switch six clubs in nine years, before finally being recognized with Roma. He left the capital outfit in 2003, when he was already 34. Others might have called it a day, but Antonioli spent three seasons with Sampdoria, another three in his second spell with Bologna and in 2009 he re-joined Cesena, where he’ll probably hang up his gloves in the summer.
1. Rob van Dijk (43)
Nearly two years Van der Sar’s senior, Van Dijk has never been considered as one of the top Dutch goalies and he announced his retirement at the end of last season, after being in goal in Feyenoord’s worst ever defeat – a 10-0 loss at the hands of one of his former sides, PSV Eindhoven. However, he had a change of heart when Utrecht came calling after selling Michel Vorm to Swansea City. So far he’s featured in 14 games, one more than Paraguayan Roberto Fernández, who at 22 could be his son.
So, in some cases life indeed begins at 40. But when does a goalkeeper’s career end? Perhaps even Van Dijk is still young, at least by Peter Shilton’s standards. The Englishman was the one who really came close to matching Matthews. He retired at 47 after playing his 1,005th competitive game – more than anybody else anywhere.
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