In light of Ryan Giggs and Craig Bellamy's efforts for Great Britain at the 2012 Summer Olympics, we've decided to put together a starting XI of the best veterans still actively contributing to their club's—and sometimes their country's—success in world football.
For the sake of fairness, we've set the age limit at 33 and above. Some players are experienced enough to be considered veterans by the age of 28, but here we want to honor the guys who, like Giggs and Bellamy, have kept performing at a high level for longer than usual.
Goalkeepers are known for their ability to play well into their late 30s and sometimes 40s, so there's understandably a plethora of options to choose from here.
However, one man clearly stands out above the rest: Gianluigi Buffon, who finally rediscovered himself with Juventus this past season and reminded us why we once considered him the best goalkeeper in the world.
Distant seconds include Tim Howard, Brad Friedel, Christian Abbiati, Morgan De Sanctis, Arruda Helton, Mark Schwarzer, Rogerio Ceni and Marco Storari.
At left-back and right-back, there are hardly any high-quality players above the age of 33 in world football. Because the positions are so demanding and require the player to be fully fit and capable of running up and down the pitch, teams prefer to fill these positions with younger players.
Nevertheless, the seemingly ageless defender Javier Zanetti slots in our lineup at left-back. At the age of 38, Zanetti somehow finds the energy to keep running and running and hardly ever misses a game. Last season, Zanetti played as a right-back, a right midfielder, a right winger, a left-back, a central midfielder and a defensive midfielder. Incredible for anyone, let alone a man of his age.
At right-back, we have Carles Puyol. Puyol is also featured a bit out of position here, since he's traditionally a centre-back for Barcelona and Spain, but in previous years he has featured regularly for Barca as a right-back, especially in the pre-Dani Alves days.
Finally, at centre-back, we have Rio Ferdinand and Lucio. Both didn't have the best of club seasons, but they ended their season on a good note. Ferdinand recovered from some terrible early-season form to end the season as one of United's most reliable centre-backs, and Lucio too was one of Inter's most reliable centre-backs before leaving Inter for Serie A champions Juventus.
Two honorable mentions go out to Alessandro Nesta and Ricardo Carvalho. Both endured tough seasons, culminating in a move to the MLS with the Montreal Impact for Nesta. Carvalho, on the other hand, has been told he may leave by Jose Mourinho but appears likely to stick it out with Real Madrid and take whatever playing time he can get.
The competition for places in the team is much tighter in midfield, where it is easier for players to extend their careers than it is on defense.
The first pick for the team is easy: Frank Lampard looked terrific for Chelsea towards the end of the 2011-12 season and has looked solid in preseason for his team as well.
The next pick is also fairly straightforward: Andrea Pirlo was excellent for Juventus in 2011-12, and he looked near untouchable at Euro 2012. If he carries his Euro 2012 form into the new season, Juventus could potentially go unbeaten in the domestic season once again.
The final pick in midfield goes to Ryan Giggs, who at the age of 38 has reinvented himself as a central midfielder but still makes excellent runs and connects well with his teammates. He currently has a goal and an assist for Team GB through two games at the Olympics.
There are several honorable mentions who barely missed the cut here. Mark Van Bommel would've given Giggs some serious competition had he not decided to return to his homeland with PSV, and the same goes for Seedorf, who will likely play out the final stage of his career with Brazilian side Botafogo.
Then credit must also be given to Massimo Ambrosini, Anatoliy Tymoschuk, Paul Scholes, Michael Ballack and Dejan Stankovic for remaining in their respective teams' rotations beyond the age of 33.
None of these guys remain regular starters on their teams, but they make anywhere from 15-20 starts along with a few substitute appearances here and there. At their age, that's still a very respectable and meaningful contribution.
Up front, competition is tightest, as forwards who score goals are almost always able to find a new suitor or club with which to extend their careers.
Our first choice here is Antonio Di Natale, who continues to record remarkable goal totals with Udinese. He's coming off a solid Euro 2012 in which he scored against Spain, and he doesn't look likely to burn out any time soon.
Next up is Diego Milito. Inter Milan may have struggled in Serie A, but Milito most definitely didn't. In fact, 2011-12 was Milito's most successful season ever for Inter, as he recorded 24 goals in 38 matches for the Nerazzurri.
Our final pick up front may be a bit controversial, but we're going with Claudio Pizarro. With little Werder Bremen, Pizarro managed to score 18 goals and record 10 assists, earning himself a move up to Bayern Munich at a stage when most players make major moves down.
There's a whole host of honorable mentions, so we'll just run through them all quickly here. Fabricio Miccoli just barely missed the cut, due to Palermo under-performing in a weaker league than the Bundesliga, but he had a magnificent season in 2011-12. Raul, too, might have featured on here had he stayed with Schalke after recording 15 goals in the league.
Beyond them, Didier Drogba, Francesco Totti and Alessandro Del Piero all had their moments this past season, even if overall they struggled to make an impact. Miroslav Klose enjoyed a fine resurgence in club football and might have featured in this lineup had his season not been cut short by an injury that also negatively affected Lazio's Champions League hopes.
Finally, Craig Bellamy looked sharp when played by Liverpool, though he was rather under-utilized by Kenny Dalglish.
What do you think? Should someone in the honorable mentions have been included ahead of someone in the starting lineup, or was someone left out altogether?
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