Didier Drogba and the 20 Veterans Still Playing at the Highest Level

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistMarch 18, 2014

Didier Drogba and the 20 Veterans Still Playing at the Highest Level

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    Tuesday evening's Champions League matches sees Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba return to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea, still going strong at 36 years of age for current club Galatasaray.

    Of course, Drogba was a Chelsea hero in his prime, even scoring a Champions League-winning penalty shootout kick for them before leaving the club. His 14 goals this season speak volumes over his enduring ability to perform at the highest level despite his advancing age—but he's far from the only one to do so.

    Here are 20 top-class veteran players still making an impact on the game, all of whom are 35 years of age or older.

Didier Drogba, Galatasaray

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    As mentioned, Drogba is a regular for Galatasaray these days and has scored 10 goals in 23 league appearances this term.

    He's also scored twice in the Champions League, and Chelsea will be hoping he doesn't add to that at their expense on Tuesday.

    Drogba has just turned 36 yet still looks as though he could play on for a while yet.

Ryan Giggs, Manchester United

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    Ryan Giggs remains a part of the Manchester United first-team scene despite having turned 40.

    His participation in the coaching side of things naturally means that his long reign at the club as a player might finally be coming to an end, but he's still made almost 20 appearances this term.

    Giggs is United's record appearance holder and has won everything in the game at club level.

Andrea Pirlo, Juventus

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    A minor technicality to get out of the way—Pirlo is still 34 but will turn 35 before the end of the current season.

    The graceful Italian playmaker is still a vital part of both club and country sides, so don't expect him to be retiring any time soon.

    Juventus are on the verge of another Serie A title with Pirlo at their centre, while Italy will have hopes of winning the World Cup with him this summer, too.

Frank Lampard, Chelsea

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    At 35, Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard is another still regularly playing at both club and country level, though he might just be approaching the end of his time as a first choice for both.

    Still capable of scoring important goals and showing himself to be a leader on the pitch, Lampard has been a massive part of Chelsea's success over the past decade and could well end up with another title medal this season.

Helton, FC Porto

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    Our first of three goalkeepers on the list, FC Porto stalwart Helton has been at the club for close to a decade.

    The Brazilian is now aged 35 and continues to be the first-choice stopper, playing in the title-chasing side this season 23 times so far.

    He also won 10 caps with Brazil, with his last coming in 2007.

Daniel Van Buyten, Bayern Munich

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    Into Germany now and Bayern Munich defender Daniel van Buyten, who continues to play a squad role for the club even at 36.

    The Belgian international is also still a member of his national team's squad, and he will be hoping to travel to the World Cup after another successful campaign with Bayern.

    He has played nine times for them in the Bundesliga this term, as well as featuring twice in the Champions League.

Ricardo Carvalho, Monaco

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    Monaco's revamped squad features a lot of exciting, expensive young talent, but the presence of experienced central defender Ricardo Carvalho has been of immense importance, too.

    The Portuguese defender has featured in every Ligue 1 match except for one this season for his team, offering reliable protection of Monaco's goalmouth and enjoying a fine campaign in the main.

    At the age of 35, he is likely to continue into next season when Monaco should be in the Champions League.

Javier Zanetti, Inter Milan

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    No list of veterans would be complete without the formidable Javier Zanetti, who up until last season continued to be a force and a big part of the Inter Milan team at 40 years of age.

    Injury has cut short his campaign this time around, but he has still made plenty of appearances since recovering and has more to offer the side still looking in need of a revamp to compete at the top.

    Zanetti made 145 appearances for Argentina at international level.

Rio Ferdinand, Manchester United

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    Rio Ferdinand has been in and out of the Manchester United side this season because of injury but is still largely a first pick when available.

    He is now 35 years old and could be on the move this summer with his contract expiring but has not shown any inclination to leave the game entirely. He has featured five times in the Champions League this season—United will need all his experience if they are to overcome the two-goal deficit to Olympiacos this week in that competition.

Luca Toni, Hellas Verona

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    Luca Toni has enjoyed a successful campaign with Hellas Verona, despite his advancing years.

    The burly striker is now 36, yet as first choice for his side in attack has netted 13 goals in Serie A this term—only one Italian player has scored more than him.

    Toni looks as strong as he ever has and could certainly continue for another season or two yet.

Claudio Pizarro, Bayern Munich

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    Another striker now and back to Bayern Munich, with Claudio Pizarro.

    The Peruvian remains a squad player for the Bundesliga champions, featuring 10 times for them in the league this season and scoring three goals.

    At 35 years of age, his contract is up at the end of the season so this could be his last, but he's still making enough of a contribution to suggest he can play on elsewhere and be effective.

Francesco Totti, Roma

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    Francesco Totti is enjoying one of his best seasons in recent years, playing a big part for a successful AS Roma team in Serie A.

    The Italian has scored six times in 16 games, playing centrally in attack at 37 years of age. His team are second in the table and playing some good football, looking impressive for a Champions League place next season.

    Totti hasn't played in the Champions League since 2010-11 season and would no doubt relish the chance to play in that competition once more.

Carles Puyol, Barcelona

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    Barcelona defender Carles Puyol will leave the club this summer, having spent his entire career with the Catalan side.

    Injuries have restricted his involvement this season to just five league appearances and one in the Champions League, but he has been a big part of Barca's side all along up until this term.

    Aged 35, it might be that he thinks it's time to retire a one-club man rather than play out another season or two elsewhere, but for now he remains a loved figure at a club fighting for all the top honours.

Massimo Ambrosini, Fiorentina

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    Fiorentina have been impressing viewers in Serie A this season and still hold an outside chance of Champions League football, though a Europa League place is more likely.

    In the centre of the park, 36-year-old Massimo Ambrosini has been a regular performer for them, making 16 appearances around a spate of short-term injuries.

    The ball-winner continues to show his capabilities at the top level of the game in his home country.

Miroslav Klose, Lazio

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    At 35, striker Miroslav Klose continues to be a regular starter at club level, playing 21 times and scoring six goals for Lazio in Serie A this season.

    He's also still around Germany's national team squad—he played this month against Chile, his 131st appearance for his country.

    The goals might have dried up a little, but he's still very effective in leading the line and should certainly be around into next term.

Joan Capdevila, Espanyol

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    World Cup-winning left-back Joan Capdevila has seen his career go full circle, now back at his first senior club Espanyol.

    He's now 36 years of age and no longer a regular starter but usually a sub option for his club, though he has still made a few appearances in La Liga this term.

    Capdevila is another whose contract is due to expire this summer.

Brad Friedel, Tottenham Hotspur

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    At 42 years of age, Brad Friedel is the oldest player in the Premier League, though he's only played once this season.

    He has, however, had a handful of matches in the Europa League and domestic cups, with the American still a commanding and agile presence in the Tottenham Hostpur goalmouth.

    Whether he opts to play on elsewhere or stay at Spurs beyond this season, he's been one of the all-time best 'keepers in the English top flight.

Antonio Di Natale, Udinese

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    Back into Italy to finish up with more experienced campaigners now.

    First up is Udinese's main man Antonio Di Natale, the 36-year-old forward who has netted nine times this season in league play.

    Di Natale remains pivotal to his team's fortunes, and his contract extends for another three seasons beyond this one yet, highlighting his longevity.

Walter Samuel, Inter Milan

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    Walter Samuel spent part of this season out injured and found himself continually a substitute in others, but of late he managed to earn himself a place back in the Inter Milan line-up—until suspension inevitably ended that run.

    Still, he's played seven times in Serie A this season and continues to be an asset to the squad, though the strong Argentine is expected to leave this summer.

    He has spent most of his career in Italy and could certainly still contribute somewhere next term.

Gianluigi Buffon, Juventus

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    We finish up with perhaps the best player on the entire list, even at this stage in his career: Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

    The Juve and Italian national team captain is 36 years of age, yet still ranks as one of the top stoppers in world football and has shown better fitness capabilities this season than in many previous years.

    He has played 26 league games and six Champions League fixtures, is an integral part of Juve's soon-to-be title-winning side and comports himself with the professionalism and dignity of a born winner.

    Still an extraordinary player and still playing at the highest level.