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Blog - ESPN FC United

Team of the Weekend, Dec. 20-21

Premier League
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Top Tenner: Veteran players

We've taken a look at player-managers, World Cup villians and goal celebrations. This time around a Top Tenner of players who got the most out of their playing careers.

10.) Gordon Strachan Back before footballers actually took care of themselves and such outlandish concepts as 'eating healthy food' and 'not having a skinful the day before a game' had not yet been introduced, Gordon Strachan was something of a curiosity. People marvelled as the teetotal Strachan discussed his diet of porridge, bananas and seaweed, it apparently not occurring to most that this was a more suitable pre-match preparation than steak and chips and a pint of something earthy. Of course it worked, as Strachan captained Leeds to the 1992 league title at age 35, and carried on playing until he was 40. Still, he didn't attribute his longevity simply to good food. “The secret of keeping playing for a long time is playing with good players,” he said in 2012. “There have been examples of people playing on -- real top, top players -- who have gone to a lower level and found it really hard, and then calling it a day. The secret is to have good players around you, you still have to love the game and you have to look after yourself.”

9.) John Burridge People say they are 'addicted' to football, but here's a man who seemingly actually was. John Burridge, the loveable eccentric who used to do somersaults on the pitch and once perched himself atop the crossbar, didn't know anything but football. So when he couldn't play anymore, he didn't see a reason to go on. “I love football,” he told the Daily Mail a couple of years ago. “I've got no interest in golf or horses, no other interests. My life was football, training for football. All my life was built around football. When it ends, nothing. What else is there to live for -- seriously?" Burridge remains the oldest player to appear in the Premier League, appearing for Manchester City at 43 in 1995, but that was just one of the 30 clubs he appeared for in a career that began with Workington in 1969, and ended with Blyth Spartans in 1997.

- Top Tenner: Bloopers and blunders - Transfer Talk: Schwarzer's shinpads older than Courtois - Top Tenner: Player managers

8.) Peter Shilton England fans of a certain disposition are still annoyed at Peter Shilton. Well, perhaps not necessarily at Shilton, but at Bobby Robson's insistence on picking the rather clearly 'vintage' keeper in the 1990 World Cup, his somewhat limited range of movement proving costly during the semi-final against West Germany.

Still, Shilton had been a fine servant to his country, the third-place playoff being his 125th and final in an England shirt, and he would go on for another few years as he chased the landmark of 1,000 Football League games. He finally achieved this in 1996 aged 47, while playing for Leyton Orient, a club he had joined from West Ham in exchange for the positively spry Les Sealey, 39. Shilton played five more games to bring his total to 1,005, then ended a 31-year career in which he had won most titles the English game has to offer.

7.) Rivaldo What inspires a man to go on playing football well past the age that most expect them to retire? A love of the game? Not knowing how to do anything else? Financial necessity? Rivaldo finally retired in March, a few weeks before his 42nd birthday, after a glorious 23-year career that saw him win titles in five different countries, the Champions League and of course the World Cup with Brazil. After the glory days with Barcelona and to an extent with AC Milan, Rivaldo seemingly embarked on a wandering phase, travelling all over the globe and playing for whomever would have him. Post-Milan, he played for Cruzeiro back home, Olympiacos and AEK Athens in Greece, Bunyodkor in Uzbekistan, then back to Brazil where he represented Sao Paulo, then to Angola to play for Kabuscorp, before it was home again to make a few appearances for Sao Caetano and Mogi Mirim. The latter he was already president of, and made one appearance with his son, Rivaldinho, before finally calling it quits.

6.) Romario Much like his compatriot Rivaldo, Romario would also spend the latter days of his career bouncing around from club to club, although his motivation seems relatively clear. The Brazilian's obsession with goals, and specifically reaching the magical target of 1,000, would come to define him as he turned out for Flumminense, Al-Sadd, Vasco de Gama, Miami FC, Adelaide United, Vasco again (his fourth spell at the club) and finally America-RJ for whom he played one game, while manager, as his father had always wanted him to play for the club. Romario was 43 in that final game, and claimed to have racked up some 1,003 goals during his career, although he did count goals in friendlies, training, his back yard, in games down the park, Subbuteo and Pro-Evolution Soccer among that total. Possibly.

5.) Kazuyoshi Miura After scoring a goal for Yokohama FC last year, Japanese forward Kazuyoshi Miura said a remarkable thing. “I received a nice pass," he told AFP. "The rest was the same as Neymar. I have watched his games many times and my left-footed shot was just like his." That a player should observe one of the most high-profile footballers in the world and copy him isn't particularly exceptional, but it perhaps is for Miura, who was 46 at the time and had played in Brazil, Italy and Japan for some 28 years. That he still thinks there are things to learn (from a man young enough to be his son) perhaps speaks to why he has continued to play for so long, scoring a few more than 200 goals in nearly 700 appearances over his career. He's still going strong too, aged 47, for Yokohama in the J-League, having recently signed a contract until the end of the season.

4.) Ryan Giggs While he is now a manager and seemingly the great hope of many slightly overly-emotional Manchester United fans, Ryan Giggs is still going strong as a player a bit, a few months after turning 40. Those who witnessed this skinny, quick winger break into the United team in 1991 would surely not have expected him to last this long. Because skinny, quick wingers shouldn't last long because of the reliance on pace and propensity to pick up injuries. His reinvention as a wily central midfielder has certainly helped keep him around, as well as simply staying healthy and, of course, yoga. “I’ve never been guided by the age, just by how I felt -- If I am contributing, if I am still getting picked, if I am still enjoying it,” said Giggs earlier this season. “Just because I’ve turned 40 doesn’t mean that’s it. If I felt like that then I might as well just pack it in now, but I still feel good and I’m still enjoying it.”

3.) Javier Zanetti For Manchester United fans born in and after the 1980s, Sir Alex Ferguson was all they knew before this season. The football world must be a strange and confusing place without him. For the rest of us, the constant has been Javier Zanetti, who made his debut for Inter in 1995 and who announced his retirement this week. There aren't many footballers who inspire universal affection, but surely Zanetti is the closest we have to that, and the game without him just doesn't seem right, but after over 600 games and a big stack of medals, El Tractor is finally bowing out aged 40, a glorious career of ploughing up and down that right flank without a hair out of place, brought to an end. Zanetti's longevity can of course be put down to a fanatical work ethic (he went for a run on his wedding day, efficiently utilising the time between the ceremony and the reception), but former Inter owner Massimo Moratti offered another explanation last year. “I've found out that he comes from planet Krypton,” he said. It would be easy to believe him.

2.) Paolo Maldini On the other side of Milan, a hero who it seemed did not age a day from his debut in 1985 to his retirement 24 years later. And just like Zanetti, Paolo Maldini was loved not just because he was a phenomenal player, but because he was humble, one of the good guys. Upon receiving World Soccer magazine's inaugural World Players of the Year award in 1994, Maldini said: "It's a great honour for me to know that so many people consider me so highly. It's a particular matter of pride because defenders generally receive so much less attention from fans and the media than goalscorers. We are more in the engine room rather than taking the glory.” And then, he turned to Franco Baresi, another man to distinguish Milan for many years. “In my opinion he has received far too little recognition for his influence within the club and within Italian and international football. He is the man of few words but 'talks' instead through his deeds out on the pitch. He really deserves to receive the sort of award I have received from World Soccer.” Maldini retired aged 40 in 2009, but his lineage remains –- his sons Daniel and Christian are both in the Milan academy, and the former looks pretty handy.

1.) Stanley Matthews Who else could possibly be at number one? In 1947, it looked like the 32-year-old Matthews was beginning to wind down, leaving his home town club of Stoke for Blackpool, where he was asked by manager Joe Smith: “Do you think you can make it for another couple of years?" 18 years and over 400 appearances later, Matthews eventually did hang up his boots, but even then, at 50 and with a 33-year professional career behind him, Matthews feared he had quit too early, and still had some time left in his legs. Matthews is –- and will almost certainly remain –- the oldest player to ever appear in the English top flight, the oldest player to represent England, his final cap coming aged 42, and won the Ballon d'Or aged 41. “Even if I need a walking frame to help me, I’ll keep on playing football,” he once said, and was true to his word, playing his final 'competitive' match in an England Veterans game against Brazil in 1985, aged 70. He injured his knee that day, about which he reflected: “It was a promising career cut tragically short.”