[This is a guest post by Euan Barnes]
Being a professional football player is one of the most financially rewarding jobs in the world.
The top players earn millions of dollars a year from their clubs, as well as receiving sponsorship deals from other companies to help boost their incomes. You have to go pretty far down the football pyramid in many countries before you’re at a point where the players are not making a very comfortable living.
That being said, it is in comparison to others a very short career. The average retirement age for a footballer is 35 years old, which means for most there’s still a lot of life left to live where you’re not on those astronomical wages anymore. Many footballers decide to go into punditry or start their own businesses to maintain the lifestyle they developed whilst they were still playing.
There is a small number of footballers who managed to keep their careers going for much longer than their teammates. It takes immense physical training to keep competing in football into your late 30s, but some players even kept going into their 40s. One man, in particular, is still going at the age of 54.
The Over 40s
There are plenty of goalkeepers who have managed to play beyond the 40 mark, but that is not as impressive given the less physically demanding nature of the role. Midfielders such as Ryan Giggs who played for Manchester United until he was 40 deserve much more praise. He puts his lengthy career down to taking up yoga after a bad injury when he was young. He realised that he needs to do everything he can to make sure he maintains a peak physical performance, be it through personal trainers or maintaining an extremely strict diet.
Another famous player who breached the 40 mark is Brazilian legend Rivaldo. The ex-Barcelona forward didn’t hang up his boots until he was 43 years old. Whilst obviously maintaining an extremely healthy lifestyle was vital for Rivaldo, the trick to his long career seemed to be heading to less competitive leagues before he got too old. By the age of 32, he had started playing in divisions such as the Brazilian Serie A and the Greek Superleague, which are not as physically demanding as when he was playing for Barcelona or AC Milan.
Other outfield players who deserve recognition for their commitment to a long career are Ze Roberto who also kept going until 43 after playing for sides such as Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, as well as Aleksandar Duric who was still playing professionally beyond his 44th birthday.
As impressive as the careers of all the aforementioned players are, they don’t compare to a certain Japanese player called Kazuyoshi Miura. This player is still turning out for Yokohama FC at the grand old age of 54.
Whilst the player, affectionately known as ‘King Kazu’, has never troubled the top level of football, he did have a short spell in Italy with Genoa. He also became the first Japanese player to win the Asian Footballer of the Year award, receiving the accolade in 1993.
He has spent most of his career playing in Brazil and Japan, with spells in Croatia and Australia. As you would expect, he has broken multiple age-related records. In 2017, he became the oldest goalscorer in professional football when he netted the winner against Thespakusatsu Gunma.
Kazuyoshi Miura has clearly been gifted with immense natural fitness but that’s still something that has to be meticulously managed to keep playing at 54. Each year he takes a trip to the Asia-Pacific to work on his physical state with a personal trainer. All year round his diet and exercise regime is impeccable, and he leads a calm lifestyle with his family.
It’s one thing remaining fit enough to be able to play football, but it’s another for the club to continue giving you new contracts. The club has to decide that the player is worth continually paying money to. Given Miura’s reputation as the oldest professional outfield player, he now holds immense commercial value to the club and the Japanese second division.
He doesn’t play very regularly anymore because of his age, but he still makes big headlines every time he signs a new contract or scores a goal. This elevates the public attention on his club and Japanese football as a whole. When he eventually does decide to call it a day, expect the news to make headlines all over the world.
Overall, it’s clear that there are different ways to go about making sure a football career goes on longer than the average, but there is no substitute for a player meticulously looking after their body and managing their diet.
It’s very helpful if a player can void any serious or repetitive injuries as that is a common cause of an early end to a career. Spreading your time over some less competitive leagues is a good way to extend a career, but as has been the case for Kazuyoshi Miura, bringing great commercial value to the club and league is likely to snag you a new contract as long as you can still hold your own on the pitch.