The 15 best footballers to play into their forties

Emmet Gates
  • Emmet Gates
  • Updated: November 14, 2021, 20:28 CET
  • 7 min read
Ibrahimovic, Maldini, Giggs & the 15 best footballers to play into their forties

Zlatan Ibrahimovic continues to star for both Milan and Sweden, despite recently turning 40 in October 2021.

The legendary Swede proved throughout his thirties that age is just a number when it is combined with talent and dedication.

And by the time Zlatan’s contract with Milan expires, he will be approaching his 41st birthday.

FootballTransfers takes a look at 15 of the best footballers to have played the game into their forties at the highest levels.

The best players of all time over 40

15. Kazuyoshi Miura

By far and away the oldest player on this list. Miura is still playing football well into his mid-50s. Born in 1967, the Japanese legend became the first player from his country to play in Serie A, when he joined Genoa for one season in 1994/95. He also had a spell with Dinamo Zagreb in the late ‘90s.

Miura is now in his fifth decade as a professional footballer, and he has spent most of his time playing in his homeland, and currently plays for Yokohama FC in the J-League.

14. Claudio Pizarro

The Peruvian hitman only retired last summer at the age of 42, and was still getting minutes on the pitch for Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga.

He failed to score in his last season at the club, but in 2018/19, he did manage to find the back of the net five times in only 673 minutes of football, more than he scored for Chelsea at the age of 29.

13. Marco Ballotta

Ballotta is the oldest player to ever play in the Champions League, having started all six of Lazio’s group stage games during the 2007/08 campaign at the age of 43.

Marco Ballotta was playing in the Champions League at 43

Marco Ballotta was playing in the Champions League at 43

The goalkeeper spent most of his career as a back-up at the likes of Inter, Parma, Brescia and Lazio. It was at the latter that injuries to Angelo Peruzzi and Matteo Sereni afforded Ballotta the opportunity to experience Europe’s elite competition. He would retire at the end of the season, past his 44th birthday.

12. Pietro Vierchowod

Vierchowod is arguably one of the greatest Italian defenders ever produced, and unquestionably the fiercest. A player so quick, strong and efficient at man-marking that Diego Maradona once labelled him ‘The Incredible Hulk’.

Vierchowod remained at a spectacularly high level into his 40s. He won the Champions League with Juventus in 1996 at the age of 37, signed for Milan that same summer, and continued to start for Piacenza in Serie A as the new millennium dawned.

He eventually retired in the summer of 2000 at the age of 41.

11. Peter Shilton

Shilton played well into his 40s, only retiring after officially reaching 1,000 league games with a myriad of different clubs.

He starred in England’s run to the semi final of Italia ’90 aged 40. His 125 caps for England still stands as the record number of appearances for the national side.

He retired in 1997 at the age of 47 after spending the season with Leyton Orient.

10. Francesco Totti

Totti was a one-club man, a born and bred Romanista who played for the club for quarter of a century.

Totti’s last season with the club coincided with his 40th birthday, however he was in a very public battle with coach Luciano Spalletti, who was trying to move the club on from the Totti era.

Both Totti and the Roma fans weren’t quite ready to say goodbye, but the end finally did come in May 2017, when Totti stepped on to the Stadio Olimpico turf for the final time, coming on for 36 minutes against Genoa.

He scored twice and provided three assists from only 363 minutes of football in his final season, showing that even at 40, he could still make a difference.

9. Roger Milla

Milla rose to fame at Italia ’90, when he scored four times in the tournament as a 38-year-old. Cameroon were the surprise package of the competition, and reached the quarter final thanks to his goals.

Four years later, Milla was dragged out of retirement to once again lead the African side at USA’ 94. He made history by being the oldest scorer at a World Cup, scoring his only goal in the 6-1 trouncing by Russia.

Cameroon exited the group stage this time around, but Milla’s place in history was secure.

8. Teddy Sheringham

Sheringham operated at a very high level into his early 40s, and still holds the record for the oldest goalscorer in Premier League history, at 40 years and 272 days.

Sheringham was one of the mainstays of the opening 15 years of the Premier League’s life, and scored the first goal ever broadcast on Sky Sports’ Super Sunday programme in August 1992.

Teddy Sheringham was still playing in the EPL at 40

Teddy Sheringham was still playing in the EPL at 40

Sheringham seemingly got better as he got older, and won the FWA Footballer of the Year award in 2000/01 at the age of 35 whilst at Man Utd.

He won the majority of his England caps after turning 30, and continued playing until the end of the 2007/08 season, retiring at the age of 42.

7. Stanley Matthews

One of England’s greatest ever players, and arguably their greatest ever winger, Matthews played into his fifties, with his last appearance for Stoke City coming just after his 50th birthday in February 1965.

Stanley Matthews was over 40 when he won the Ballon d'Or

Stanley Matthews was over 40 when he won the Ballon d'Or

Matthews was awarded the very first Ballon d’Or in 1956, and had a remarkable 35-year playing career.

6. Dino Zoff

Zoff was regarded as Italy’s finest shot-stopper for years (until another entry in this list eventually supplanted him).

He was 40-years-old by the time he won the World Cup with the Azzurri in the summer of 1982, having also lifted Italy’s only European Championship in 1968.

This makes him the only Italian to have ever won both honours.

Zoff was remarkably consistent, and won numerous league titles with Juventus, and a sole UEFA Cup in 1977. His last game for the Bianconeri came in the 1-0 defeat to Hamburg in the final of the European Cup in 1983.

5. Romario

One of the greatest finishers in the history of the game, the much-travelled Romario played into his mid-40s, and, inevitably, scored goals no matter where he went.

By the time he was 40, Romario was playing for Miami FC in the American second tier. Under the guidance of fellow Brazilian legend Zico, Romario scored 19 goals in 25 games.

Romario continued playing for a few more years, including yet another stint at Vasco da Gama, and again continued scoring goals.

He eventually retired in 2009 at the age of 43, having scored on five different continents.

4. Javier Zanetti

Javier Zanetti had a simply relentless motor. He spent the best part of two decades bombing up and down the flank for Inter, and barely missed a match throughout his entire spell at the club.

Bought in 1995, Zanetti was Massimo Moratti’s greatest ever signing. He stayed at the Nerazzurri for 19 years, eventually retiring in 2014 at the age of 41 after 858 games in all competitions and a sackful of honours won.

Zanetti was also highly versatile, and could play in any position in defence and midfield.

3. Gianluigi Buffon

Zoff has been usurped by Gianluigi Buffon to become arguably the greatest goalkeeper in the history of Italy.

Ibrahimovic, Maldini, Giggs & the 15 best footballers to play into their forties

Ibrahimovic, Maldini, Giggs & the 15 best footballers to play into their forties

Buffon made his debut in November of 1995 as a 17-year-old, and 26 years later is still playing.

Although a back-up after returning to Juventus in 2019, Buffon always produced when called upon.

And now, at the age of almost 44, he is impressing in Serie B for Parma.

2. Ryan Giggs

Ryan Giggs modified his game to prolong his career at the highest level. The swashbuckling, exuberant winger of his youth disappeared by the time he entered his 30s, as he became a more cerebral player.

Embracing yoga also helped Giggs extend his career, and under the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson, Giggs was part of all three of Ferguson’s greatest United sides.

Giggs retired in 2014 at the age of 41, making over 1,000 competitive appearances for the club and winning over 20 major honours.

1. Paolo Maldini

The model of consistency and elegance.

Paolo Maldini was a regular for Milan until the day he retired at the end of the 2008/09 season, aged 41.

The Italian didn’t always enjoy the best of relationships with the Milan fans, but gave everything for the shirt in a career that lasted 24 years. He played against everyone, from Maradona to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Maldini held the record for the most games in Serie A until it was broken by Buffon.

Unfortunately for Maldini, he never won anything with Italy – losing two major finals – but more than made up for it at club level, winning everything with the Rossoneri.