It is enough to have the ‘money-ballers’ in a spin. Those calculating data scientists would have you believe that the most influential footballers are 27-year-olds, who run at least 12 kilometres every game.
But as the arrival of Thiago Silva at Chelsea goes to show, there is still a place for a ‘Golden Oldie’, even in the ultra-fast pace of the Premier League.
Since his free transfer, he is using that wealth of experience, combined with strength and power, to slowly but surely exert a positive influence over Chelsea’s uncertain back line.
Thiago Silva is using all his experience to help Chelsea defend with more confidence
Central defender Silva has amassed seven league titles in France and another one in Italy
The Brazilian is not the first old head to use skill and guile to outwit younger competition in the Premier League and bring the most out of those around him.
But he is one of a select group to have made a move at 35 and to still have made an impact. In fact, once a player is 32 years or older, it is increasingly difficult for him to find a club and make a telling contribution.
These ‘Golden Oldies’ are rare beasts and here, Sportsmail, pays tribute to 10 of the best. This is our list of the most influential Golden Oldies of the Premier League era.
10 Best ‘Golden Oldies’ of the Premier League
Born: March 10, 1981
Anzhi to Chelsea August 29, 2013
Samuel Eto’o was 32 when he arrived at Chelsea, but Jose Mourinho suggested he was 35
Regarded as one of the greatest strikers of all time, Cameroonian forward Samuel Eto’o is a fully paid up member of the Premier League’s Golden Oldies club.
Eto’o arrived at Chelsea aged 32, from Anzhi Makhachkala on a free transfer as the Russian club’s billionaire owner, Suleyman Kerimov, sought to scale back his eye-watering wage bill following a failed attempt to buy his way to football’s top table.
The forward’s pedigree was impeccable, scoring 130 goals in 199 appearances for Barcelona and 53 in 102 for Inter Milan. Jose Mourinho brought him to London to join forces with Fernando Torres and Demba Ba, but was disappointed with the initial results. Mourinho was caught on tape appraising his assets and having given unfavourable reviews of the latter two, he turned his attention to Eto’o.
Eto’o found his scoring touch at Stamford Bridge scoring 12 goals in 35 appearances
‘I have Eto’o, but he is 32 years old, maybe 35, I don’t know,’ said the manager. Eto’o made a point of scoring in his next Premier League start against Spurs and marked the moment by limping towards the corner flag gripping his back in celebration.
Despite his manager’s unflattering remarks Eto’o made 35 appearances, returning a respectable 12 goals with Chelsea finishing third in the Premier League and bowing out of the Champions League in the semi-finals following defeat by Atletico Madrid. He joined Everton the following season.
Born: August 18, 1980
Inter Milan to Leicester, August 28, 2014
Esteban Cambiasso was a surprise move to Leicester City but he helped keep them up
Esteban Cambiasso’s one-year cameo in the Premier League was not attended by medals or trophies, but his contribution and influence left an indelible mark on the club he joined.
The technical and tactical Argentinian graced the English top tier in 2014, aged 34, and nudged the Foxes towards a great escape from relegation. It was an achievement that laid the foundations for Leicester’s wonderful, incredible and successful assault on the Premier League title the following year.
Cambiasso’s CV was impressive before he pitched up in the East Midlands, featuring River Plate, Real Madrid and Inter Milan, who did not offer him a new contract after 10 seasons, 451 appearances and 51 goals at the San Siro.
Newly promoted, Leicester, was not an obvious choice for an ‘Oldie’, since he was essentially signing up for a whole heap of hard work. The club was anchored to the bottom of the Premier League table from November to April, but Cambiasso and co engineered a run of seven wins from their last nine and survived. Cambiasso made 33 appearances, 31 in the league and scored five goals.
Cambiasso’s technique and stamina helped engineer a strong finish to Leicester’s season
Born: June 20, 1978
New York City FC to Manchester City, August 3, 2014
For more than a decade, it was impossible to imagine Frank Lampard as anything other than a Chelsea player. And the box-to-box midfielder will always be remembered arriving late into the penalty area to finish with unerring efficiency, in a Chelsea shirt.
After the Blues included Lampard in a list of players to be released by the club in summer 2014, he signed – or at least appeared to sign – for New York City in July.
Frank Lampard spent a season at Manchester City, joining the club when he was aged 35
The deal was announced with great fanfare in New York, only for it to later emerge that Lampard would join Manchester City on loan until the start of the Major League Soccer season, and then that his loan would be extended to the end of the Premier League season.
Happily, Lampard’s quality, even at 35, continued to shine and during his one season at the City of Manchester Stadium, he scored eight goals, including six in the Premier League, in 40 appearances under Manuel Pellegrini.
Appropriately, Lampard’s first goal for City was a late equaliser against Chelsea, but the Londoners ultimately won the title that season, beating the Manchester club into second place.
Born: July 9, 1964
Juventus to Chelsea, July 1, 1996
Italian Gianluca Vialli brought continental glamour to the early days of the Premier League
Strictly speaking, Gianluca Vialli does not qualify for this hall of fame. The urbane Italian was still eight days short of his 32nd birthday when he left Juventus, where he had scored 53 times in 145 appearances, and signed for Chelsea in 1996.
However, given the irresistible love story that was Vialli’s relationship with Chelsea, spanning four years, and the fact he was well over 32 when the action began, he’s crept in. Vialli brought a touch of glamour to the early days of the Premier League and was one of a trio of Italy internationals who joined Chelsea that season as player-manager Ruud Gullit sought to rebuild a threadbare squad with chairman Ken Bates’ money.
The others were Gianfranco Zola and Roberto Di Matteo. Vialli was a versatile striker with a keen eye for goal and fired 40 goals in 88 appearances for Chelsea over three seasons, helping the Blues to lift the FA Cup. His appearances were limited in the first 18 months of his Chelsea career because of a feud with the manager.
After Gullit’s dismissal in early 1998, Vialli was a surprising appointment as player-manager and he led his side to victory in the League Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup, becoming the youngest head coach to ever win a UEFA competition at that time.
Vialli found his game time was limited after he fell out with Chelsea manager Ruud Gullit
Edwin van der Sar
Born: October 29, 1970
Fulham to Manchester United, July 1, 2005
Dutchman Edwin van der Sar was not old for a goalkeeper when he made the switch from Fulham to Manchester United aged 34, in 2005.
However, few could have predicted he would remain at the top of his game at Old Trafford for a further six seasons, making 266 appearances, keeping a staggering 139 clean sheets and not conceding in over half of his matches.
Manchester United showed interest in signing the legendary keeper in 1999, when he left Ajax, but the call came too late, since he was already at the airport in Turin, having just agreed to sign for Juventus.
Goalkeeper Edwin van der Saar joined Manchester United aged 34 and stayed for six seasons
After four years with Fulham the call came again, this time in the form of a voicemail from Alex Ferguson. He rang back and the rest is history.
He is one of the few footballers to have won the UEFA Champions League with two different teams – Ajax in 1995 and Manchester United in 2008.
He has won 26 major trophies, including four Premier League titles with United. Last month, van der Saar told the club’s website: ‘As a team, we had the strength, the will, the power, the ambition of the club and it was easy to play with whoever was in front of me.’
Born October 3, 1981
Paris Saint-Germain to Manchester United, July 1, 2016
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is undoubtedly the ‘King of the Oldies’. He would surely captain the veteran’s XI, if they were ever to take to the field as a collective.
The Swede not only shows his experience in his play and management of the circus that surrounds elite football, he shouts it from the roof tops. In 2016, aged 34, Ibrahimovic played his last game for Paris Saint-Germain, and afterwards he declared that he arrived as ‘a king’ and departed as ‘a legend’.
The legend moved on to the Field of Dreams, to bolster a young Manchester United side and inspire the emerging talents of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford.
Undisputed ‘King of the Oldies’ Zlatan Ibrahimovic made a huge impact at Manchester United
Ibrahimovic helped the Reds to the EFL Cup (pictured) and also won the Europa League
United’s Twitter account announced his arrival with appropriate understatement: ‘Are you ready? It’s #ZlatanTime…’ And the best thing is, he lived up to the hype, well, in his first season, anyway.
Ibrahimovic, an irrepressible goal-scorer at Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan, as well as PSG, banged in 28 goals in 46 appearances in 2016-17, helping the Reds win the EFL Cup and Europa League.
Towards the end of the season he suffered a serious injury, which limited his appearances the following term, playing just seven times and scoring one goal before his contract was terminated by mutual consent. But he is back in the goals, now aged 39, scoring six times in Serie A this season for AC Milan.
Born: March 11, 1978
Galatasaray to Chelsea, July 24, 2014
Chelsea’s Didier Drogba made a brave return to Stamford Bridge aged 34 after huge success
Didier Drogba joined the venerable association of the Premier League’s Golden Oldies when he made his second coming at Chelsea in 2014, aged 34.
The powerful, Ivorian striker had an extraordinary impact in his first spell making 341 appearances and scoring 157 goals. He fired the Blues to unprecedented success in the 2000s, which included three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups and wrote his name into club folklore by netting the decisive penalty in the 2012 Champions League final triumph against Bayern Munich.
The target man, who was also known for his speed and agility, left Stamford Bridge when his contract expired at the end of the 2012 season. He made a round trip back to west London taking in Chinese Super League side, Shanghai Shenhua, and Turkish Super Lig’s Galatasaray.
It was a brave move for the man once voted Chelsea’s greatest-ever player, to come back. Initially, he took the number 15 shirt, pushing aside the existing incumbent, Mohamed Salah, (whatever happened to him?).
But Drogba did not disappoint and he kept the fairy-tale going with seven goals in 40 appearances, helping Chelsea to another Premier League title and the League Cup. In his final game against Sunderland, Drogba started as captain, was injured after 30 minutes and was carried off by his team mates in a 3-1 win. A fitting finale.
Born: December 25, 1964
Coventry City to Liverpool, July 1, 2000
Gary McAllister was the original Premier League ‘Golden Oldie’, joining Liverpool in 2000
One of the Premier League’s original Golden Oldies, Gary McAllister, made the switch from Coventry to Liverpool in a Bosman transfer aged 35 in 2000, after success at Leicester, Leeds and Coventry.
He spent only two seasons on Merseyside, but he played a major role in bringing a feelgood factor back to Anfield, helping to secure the League Cup, UEFA Cup and FA Cup in his first season. Manager Gerard Houllier described the Scot as an ‘inspiration’, who’s industrious approach and cultured passing came to define a successful season.
Reds’ fans still remember ‘Gary Mac’s baldy head and sweet right foot’ fondly. Not just for the silverware, but because he scored a 44-yard free-kick against Everton in stoppage time at Goodison Park to secure a 2-2 draw.
His second season was less fruitful, mostly spent on the bench. However, his contribution was beautifully acknowledged by The Kop, which paid humorous tribute to the man, who arrived on a free transfer, by singing, ‘what a waste of money’, as his time at Liverpool came to an end and he returned to Coventry.
Born: February 23, 1981
Manchester City to Everton, July 8, 2014
‘Mr Dependable’ Gareth Barry joined Everton in 2013 aged 32 and retired when he was 39
‘Mr Dependable’ Gareth Barry does not bring the sparkle of a Gullit, Eto’o, or even a Cambiasso to our list of Golden Oldies.
However, the stalwart midfielder just has to be included in any list of Premier League longevity, having amassed a record 653 appearances at Aston Villa, Manchester City, Everton and West Bromwich Albion.
When Barry moved from Manchester City to Everton in September 2013, he was already 32, and he made the move permanent a year later. He was typically reliable in an Everton shirt making 155 appearances across five seasons and winning the club’s Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year awards in 2016.
Barry made 155 appearances for the Toffees out of his Premier League total of 653
Born: September 1, 1962
Sampdoria to Chelsea, July 1, 1995
Chelsea stunned the football world when they signed Ballon d’Or winner Ruud Gullit
When manager Glenn Hoddle brought former Ballon d’Or winner and Dutch master Ruud Gullit to Chelsea in1995, it stunned the football world. As the club’s website has noted since, ‘never had a player of such world renown arrived at Stamford Bridge’.
Gullit, who had clocked up eight years in Serie A with AC Milan and Sampdoria, could have had his pick of European sides at the age of 32.
The Italian league, after all, was the place to be and the tough, strong, skilful midfielder had scored 83 times in 236 appearances, claiming three league titles and two European Cups in the process.
Gullit described his time at Chelsea as the best of his playing career saying it was ‘paradise’
Gullit was in the vanguard of overseas talent, which included Dennis Bergkamp, David Ginola, Juninho, who wanted to prove themselves in the hurly-burly of English football. Gullit did not choose Chelsea, he chose Hoddle, who sold him a dream of progress from mediocre mid-table to the top of the English game.
Gullit’s impact in his first season, when he began as sweeper before moving into midfield, was huge, scoring six times in 40 appearances. His influence waned on the pitch in the next two seasons after becoming player-manager when Hoddle took the England job, although he secured the FA Cup in 1997 as the boss.
Gullit has often recalled how his time at Chelsea was the best of his playing career. ‘It was paradise for me,’ he told the BBC on the 25th anniversary of his signing.