It is a commonly held belief that footballers tend to reach their peak in their late 20s. While there does seem to be plenty of truth in this, a 30th birthday is far from a career death sentence. Top flight football leagues from across the globe are full of players in their 30s and many prove to be extremely valuable assets. With advances in sports science, nutrition, recovery and injury treatment, as well as greater professionalism, many players are enjoying longer careers than ever.
That said, the fast pace and physical nature of the Premier League makes it particularly unforgiving for any player that experience a decline in their physical attributes. Even players that were among the best of their generation regularly end up shipped off to other leagues long before their 35th birthday. At the start of the 2021/22 Premier League season, only 12 (1.7%) registered squad members were aged 36 or above. Of this tiny figure, only three of them played outfield.
Given how rare it is to see players of older than 35, and especially approaching 40-years-old, in the Premier League, their longevity is something worth celebrating. In this article we will take a look at the oldest names from years gone by as well as the most senior representatives among still-active players.
Oldest Current Players
We will start with the oldest players still plying their trade in the top flight of English football (correct as of the 2021/22 season). The focus will be on those that are still active in the full sense of the word, but there will be a mention of those that are eligible to play but are never, or only very rarely, called upon.
Fernandinho – 36 years old
Although not as flashy as some of his teammates, the Brazilian born Fernandinho has been a key part of Manchester City’s success in recent years. Between the 2013/14 and 2019/20 campaigns, the defensive midfielder featured in at least 29 league matches per season, with City lifting the title on three occasions, as well as landing numerous domestic cups as well. After this point he began to step back from regular duties, instead used as a bit-part player but one that has a major dressing room influence. Rodri is now the first-choice defensive midfielder but the brilliant Brazilian, capped 53 times by his nation, has still featured in around a quarter of City’s PL minutes this term to date.
Lukasz Fabianksi – 36 years old
|West Ham United||2018||Present|
When West Ham signed Alphonse Areola on loan from PSG in 2021, there was some speculation that he was brought in to take the number one spot from Lukasz Fabianksi. Manager David Moyes retained faith in the aging Fabianski though and the decision did not backfire with the Polish keeper proving he is very much still Premier League standard. How much longer he can keep playing at such a high-level remains to be seen but it would not be a surprised to see him add to his 300+ Premier League caps for another year or two.
Cristiano Ronaldo – 36 years old
The fact that Cristiano Ronaldo is still banging in goals at his age is not a matter of good fortune. Whilst he has undoubtedly been blessed by nature, Portugal’s all-time leading goalscorer is famous for treating his body like a temple. This means an excellent diet, plenty of rest (including five naps a day) and regular conditioning on top of club training. In addition he has reportedly been teetotal since at least 2005. The dedication to his craft has seen him barely decline since reaching the typical peak age. Even as a 35-year-old in Serie A, CR7 still managed to notch 36 goals in 44 appearances. Some question his ability to do the hard yards in the Premier League and there is no doubt his all-round impact on games has declined but he remains a top player.
Thiago Silva – 37 years old
Much is made about how Ronaldo takes care of himself but the professionalism of Thiago Silva often goes under the radar. Although the Brazilian cannot play every match for the Blues due to his age and Thomas Tuchel’s fondness of rotating, he never looks remotely out of place whenever called upon. In fact, he often seems to bring a real element of calm and leadership, helping to improve the players around him. His performances have impressed so much that Silva penned a one-year extension in January 2022 and this will keep him at Stamford Bridge after his 38th birthday. A real Rolls Royce, Silva may read the game superbly but even physically he still has enough to mix it with the best forwards in the Premier League.
Ben Foster – 38 years old
|West Bromwich Albion||2012||2018|
Ben Foster is perhaps better known these days as ‘The Cycling GK’. His YouTube channel, which was created in 2020, has already amassed over a million subscribers. Some of his most popular videos contain in-goal footage of him playing in competitive league games. Although the Championship allowed this, the Premier League were not so willing to let someone borrow match footage. This is a real shame because Foster has featured more than initially expected during Watford’s Premier League return. It was thought that Daniel Bachmann would be the number one choice but there has been little to choose between them.
Willy Caballero – 40 years old
There are plenty of impressive oldies on our list but we do have a very clear winner in Willy Caballero. The only active player to break the 40-year mark, he has been named in a Premier League squad every season since moving to Man City in 2014. From here, the Argentine moved to Chelsea and then in 2021, he made the switch even further south to Southampton. Although he has never been a first-choice keeper during his time in England, thanks to injuries and suspensions suffered by teammates, he has featured at least once in every league campaign.
The Pure Standbys
Lee Grant (39) is yet to play a match since moving from Stoke City to Manchester United in 2018. Acting as fourth, or even fifth choice goalkeeper, he is very fortunate to even make the bench. Across his first three full seasons at Old Trafford, he was at best only an unused sub, managing this on 18 occasions in the Premier League out of a possible 114. Next up on the emergency backup list is Andy Lonergan (38) who made it club number 16 when moving to Everton in 2021. Although he has not played a match in over two years, he did claim a Champions League medal with Liverpool during his small stint there in 2020. We suspect he may struggle to match this on the Blue half of Merseyside.
Next up is Michael McGovern (37) who did play a not-insignificant part in Norwich’s return to the top flight during their Championship winning 2020/21 season. The Northern Irish shot-stopper featured in 10 league games as they made easy work of the English second tier. Following the Canaries’ promotion though, McGovern has been third choice and is yet to get any time on the pitch. Our final mention goes to Eldin Jakupovic, 37 at the time of writing and perhaps best known for his spell at Hull City. The Bosnian-born man signed for Leicester in 2017 but hasn’t starred in a league game since an enthralling 5-4 defeat to Tottenham in 2018.
Oldest Former Players
It is now time to move onto players who kept on going and going before their eventual retirement. It seems quite likely that the top names on this list will never be beaten given how the Premier League has become even more demanding in more recent years. Today it is almost unthinkable that you could have a 43-year-old goalkeeper in action or a striker who had already celebrated his 41st birthday.
Ryan Giggs – 40 years 5 months, 7 days
The only one-club man on this list of retirees and just one of two names that played outfield. Ryan Giggs spent more than two decades bombing up and down the left wing for Manchester United, often playing more centrally in the latter stages of his career. With the exception of the first and last seasons he was active, the Welshman played in at least 22 league games a season despite suffering with a recurring hamstring problem aged 27. What perhaps helped him going for so long was the fact he retired from international duty aged 33, having skipped nine years of friendlies along the way. In addition he was a huge advocate of yoga and credits the discipline with helping him stay injury free and possibly even giving him the energy for certain extra-curricular activities involving his brother’s wife.
Edwin Van Der Sar – 40 years, 6 months, 23 days
When Man Utd acquired a 35-year-old Edwin Van Der Sar, it was largely seen as being a short-term stop gap for their goalkeeping issues. Prior to this their number once choice had been Roy Carroll, perhaps best known for throwing a Pedro Mendes shot into his own goal, only for the officials to miss it. Van Der Sar ended up sticking around for six full seasons, managing a highly impressive clean sheet rate of 48%. He bowed out in quite memorable circumstances with United rounding off a title-winning season with an unexpectedly thrilling 4-2 win over Blackpool.
Teddy Sheringham – 40 years, 8 months, 28 days
|West Ham United||2004||2007|
Former England striker Sheringham is not only the oldest player to score in the Premier League but also the oldest outfield player ever to feature in the competition. Sheringham’s final season came in 2006-07 when playing for West Ham. Having helped guide the Hammers to promotion, Sheringham was rewarded with 26 Premier League appearances the next season and then 17 after that. There were only two goals recorded during the final attempt with his last ever strike coming on Boxing Day during a 2-1 defeat to Portsmouth. This was not the end for the London born striker though as before retiring he dropped down a division, signing for Colchester United, when he registered four goals in 20 matches. Sheringham was always known for being a cerebral striker who was successful despite a lack of pace and this certainly helped him keep on playing after many of his contemporaries could no longer cut it.
Jens Lehmann – 41 years, 5 months
The often erratic yet often brilliant Lehmann was a major part of the Arsenal invincible squad of 2003/04, playing every match of their unbeaten campaign. He stuck around in London for another four years before moving back to his country of birth, Germany, and it was here where he announced his retirement. Little did he know at the time though that there would be one final hurrah waiting in store. With Arsenal facing a massive injury crisis, Lehmann stepped out of retirement to help out. He was then called into action, on just one occasion as Manuel Almunia picked up an injury in the warm-up against Blackpool. Despite showing some signs of rust, Arsenal ran out fairly comfortable 3-1 winners on the day.
Incidentally, Gary Taylor-Fletcher was the man who grabbed the goal for Blackpool that day, the very same man that was responsible for the last goal Van Der Sar ever conceded. Perhaps he should pick on someone his own age rather than condemning oldies to retirement!
Kevin Poole – 41 years, 5 months, 11 days
Retiring from professional football aged 41 is a feat most players can only dream about. For so many, their bodies have let them down or they simply lack the passion to play at a lower level. The same cannot be said for Kevin Poole who carried on going and going and going some more. Although his last Premier League appearance came for Bolton aged 41, after this he spent a year at Derby in the Championship, featuring six times. He then moved to Conference National outfit Burton Albion, playing 123 times and was even rewarded with a Player of the Season award on one occasion.
Neville Southall – 41 years, 5 months, 25 days
Neville Southall was, and still very much is, a well-loved figure at Goodison Park. The Welsh shot-stopper featured 578 times for the Toffees and is widely considered to be the greatest keeper the club has ever had. For a period in the mid 1980s many considered him the best goalkeeper in the world and as well as his brilliance at his peak, he also enjoyed impressive longevity. It is not on Merseyside that the Welshman made his final appearance aged 41 however. This instead came during a short-lived role as a player/coach at Bradford City. It was the most unexpected sight to see a way past his best Southall in the Premier League again given that prior to this he had been playing in the fourth and fifth tiers with Doncaster Rovers and Torquay. He did not embarrass himself on his return though with Bradford only losing 2-1 to second place Leeds.
Mark Schwarzer – 42 years, 5 months, 8 days
With 514 Premier League appearances to his name, no player from outside Britain has featured in the competition more than Mark Schwarzer. Well regarded by Middlesbrough and Fulham fans thanks to successful spells there, the affable Aussie also got a small amount of Premier League action at both Chelsea and Leicester where he was deployed as a back-up option. Despite not featuring the year the Foxes inexplicably won the league title, he did feature the season prior during their great relegation escape. Schwarzer himself was not involved in the run that saw the Midlands club claim 22 points from the last possible 27 but he did watch it all from the bench.
Brad Friedel – 42 years, 5 months, 23 days
When a 40-year-old Friedel was picked up on a free-transfer in the summer of 2011, he was expected to provide back up for the two main keepers, Heurelho Gomes and Carlo Cudicini. Despite his age, he managed to win favour over both of those players, with boss Harry Redknapp playing him in every single league match that season. He started off as the number one choice the following year too but was eventually dislodged by new signing Hugo Lloris. Friedel was on emergency duties only by this point but one emergency did eventually arise in November 2013 following a Lloris injury. It was not Friedel who made the headline this game though, but rather his opposite number Tim Krul who made a sensational 14 saves during a game that still makes Tottenham fans shudder.
Steve Ogrizovic – 42 years, 7 months, 24 days
You might need to be an older football fan to recognise the name of this Coventry legend. As well having a brief stint in cricket, playing four games for Shropshire, Ogrizovic played 507 times for Coventry, scoring one goal in the process. During his final season, he had handed over the number one duties to Magnus Hedman but was given a start for the final home of the campaign. It was a day to savour for the 42-year-old as a buoyant crowd saw the Sky Blues knock four past a nearly-relegated Sheffield Wednesday.
Alec Chamberlain – 42 years, 10 months, 23 days
Chamberlain can consider himself very fortunate that he gets a place on our list as to say he was actually active at 42 years is a real stretch. After Watford earned promotion the season earlier, Chamberlain was firmly the third-choice option behind Ben Foster and Richard Lee. He had not played in the Premier League since being 35-years-old but manager Aidy Boothroyd brought him on for the final minute of the final game of the season. With Watford already relegated it was a meaningless match but not on a personal note, as it gave Chamberlain the chance to say goodbye to the fans after an 11-year stay.
John Burridge – 43 years, 5 months, 11 days
|Queen of the South||1996||1996|
|Queens Park Rangers||1980||1982|
The oldest player ever to feature in the Premier League actually began his career in the 1960s. The goalie, born way back in 1951, was something of a journeyman to say the least and was on the books for 29 clubs at a senior level during a career that spanned nearly three decades. As he got older, Burridge acted as a kind of substitute teacher of the footballing world. He would often be brought in to act as short-term cover for any clubs dealing with injury problems. Often, his services were never needed but they were at Man City when aged 43. With two keepers already out, Burridge was promoted to the bench and was forced to come on when Tony Coton was injured mid-match. As the only fit keeper, ‘Budgie’ then made a further three appearances for the Citizens.