Has the “useful life” of footballers been lengthened?: the testimonial case of Pellerano, champion at 41, and the dream of seeing Messi in another World Cup

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In the early hours of Wednesday 1 March the Argentine Christian Pellerano, 41, toasted in the legendary Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro. his team, Independent from the Valley of Ecuador sample of South American Cup Winners’ Cup after beating Flamengo on penalties. A few hours later, in the morning in Argentina, in the afternoon in Brighton in England, Alexis MacAllisterworld champion in Qatar, he said of Lionel Messi: “I have no doubts that at 40 or 45 he will be the best in the world. First of all he is very professional, he is in perfect condition to continue playing”.

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Even if there are still players who decide before the age of 35 “hang up the shoes”, there are even more who extend their professional activity to almost 40 years and overcome that barrier. And of course, the phenomenon is not only Argentinian, but also worldwide.

It’s worth reviewing who have been the best players in the World Cup since FIFA started awarding the award, in Spain 82. That year it was won by Italy’s Paolo Rossi, who I was 25 years old. they were the same age Diego Maradona in Mexico 86 and Salvatore Toto Schillaci in Italy 90. Subsequently, Romario won it at 28 in US 94 and Ronaldo, in France 98, became the youngest in history, at 22.

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But this century, since Korea/Japan 2002, the best were over 30, with the exception of Lionel Messi, who was 27 in Brazil 2014. Germany’s Oliver Khan, in 2002, was 33; the French Zinedine Zidane, in Germany 2006, 34; the Uruguayan Diego Forlán, in South Africa 2010, 33; the Croatian Luka Modric, in Russia 2018, 33. In Qatar 2022, the Argentine captain became the oldest player to win the best player in the world award. In addition, he recently received the FIFA The Best award. And Modric appeared in the ideal eleven, at 37 years old.

Lionel Messi, the best.  (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

Lionel Messi, the best. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

In Argentine football the statistics strongly show the trend. Clarin had already revealed this in a study carried out in 2018. In the Apertura 1998 only 9.36% of players were over 30 (53 out of 566 players), at the start of the Apertura 2008 the figure had risen to 13.2% (82 out of 617). At the start of the 2018/19 Super League, 25% of players were over 30 (179 of 715). Five years later, and prior to the late 2021 retirement of nearly 30 ‘veterans’, in the current 2023 Professional League Tournament, 20% of players are over 30 (190 out of 916).

Of those over 40, two are goalkeepers, one is a defender and the other an attacker. Of the 4, only one played the five matches of the tournament: Jorge Carranza (41), goalkeeper of the Instituto. Sarmiento’s Luis Garnier (40) was always on the bench and Banfield’s Enrique Bologna (41) only occupied a substitute spot twice. Jose Pepe Sand (42)who is also the current top scorer and has signed a contract until the end of the year with Lanús, hasn’t even gone to the bank yet but has already recovered physically and his return against River is likely in the sixth round.

Pepe Sand continues to shout goals.  (AFP)

Pepe Sand continues to shout goals. (AFP)

It’s true that most come with a few “aches and pains” and they are no longer what they were. But old is the wind and it still blows. Carranza featured in the last game against Instituto, Pepe Sand scored a goal in the last game of 2022 and was the tournament’s top scorer in 2016 at 35, then surpassed by Lisandro López, who in 2018 was 36. Licha, at 39, continues to bring his experience to Sarmiento de Junín.

Argentine football also has foreign veterans. Racing strengthened with the Peruvian Paul Guerrerowho turned 39 on the first day of this year. While in Vélez, the Uruguayans are the oldest: Leonardo Burian is 39 and Diego Godín is 37.

In world football there are many examples of good veterans in competitive leagues. Of the archers, two are in the lead: Gianluigi Buffón, 45, is still with Parma, although he is now in Serie B. And Jesús Corona, 42, in the Cruz Azul goal. He is the captain of the team like Pellerano, and like Joaquín, the Betis striker who is 41 years old.

Buffón, valid at 45 in Serie B in Italy.  REUTERS/Alberto Lingria

Buffón, valid at 45 in Serie B in Italy. REUTERS/Alberto Lingria

Not forgetting Swedish Zlatan Ibrahimovicunderwent surgery on the anterior cruciate ligament of his left knee last year and has just returned to play in Serie A for Milan at his 41 years old. Or from Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo (37) who despite going to a minor league, continues to score goals, his specialty. He is the only footballer in history to have surpassed the barrier of 800 goals (he has 827). Messi is two goals away from reaching the 800 mark.

There are no mysteries. Many professionals have paid close attention, beyond the many or few wounds, and remain stainless. An important aspect is the nutrition. Jonny Northeast, director of the movement science department of Swansea, an English Premier League club, explained to the BBC that “nutritional balance is important for a footballer to be lean and athletic, capable of withstanding the power and dynamism of a match” .

Furthermore, physical preparation is far superior to other times and the values ​​- speed, reaction, strength, power – are higher every year. Edward exposes, PhD in Physical Culture in Cuba and former physical trainer of Boca, the Mexican Under-20 team and Atlético de Rafaela, among others, and who until February of this year directed a sports project in El Salvador, explains from science . “There are two ages, the biological and the chronological. Obviously there is a group of individuals whose chronological age does not normally coincide with their biological age.. This means that a child may mature earlier and, in turn, an adult may very slowly decline in functional capacity. That it can be sustained in high performance for much longer coincides with an excellent training job”.

Lionel Messi will continue to play for the national team. He will meet, now as world champion, with the people on March 23 in River and on March 28 in Santiago del Estero. He said this was his last World Cup. But who knows? He will be 39 in 2026. One less than Mac Allister predicted, who has no doubts that he will continue to be the best. Nobody has them anymore.

Source: Clarin

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