When we went into the international break, an interesting statistic emerged. Of the four top scorers in the five best leagues in Europe, three are over 30 years old. If you expand it to the top ten by adding the five players who scored six goals, that adds two players. That means half of the top ten scorers in Europe are in their thirties.
Before we start raving about the old men, it’s worth noting that the exception to the top flight, unsurprisingly, is Erling Haaland, who already has an absurd seven out of five this season. He gets his contributions elsewhere.
But to the grandpas! The five players are Karim Benzema (nine of eight by the age of 33), Robert Lewandowski (seven of seven by the age of 33), Ciro Immobile (six of six by the age of 31), Edin Dzeko (six of seven by the age of 35 ) and Jamie Vardy (six of seven) 34 years old).
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Football, as a sport, can cause older players to fall by the wayside in terms of the attention paid to them. Unless you’re a silky playmaker or a crafty center-back. Occasionally there is a love affair between the general public and an older striker (I can think of Miroslav Klose and Luca Toni), but that’s not often the case.
Football loves the new and especially the new and young. The way young players are put on pedestals at such a tender age isn’t healthy, but that’s probably a conversation for another day. We tend to not appreciate what these people are doing.
Image credit: Imago
The most impressive thing about these five is that each of them has its own unique story.
Let’s start with Dzeko because his performance is remarkable in many ways. Last year he scored only seven league goals for Roma in 27 games (seven as a sub). There were a few injuries and he contracted Covid-19, but it was clear that his time in the capital was coming to an end, there were even concerns that he was done at the highest level. The truth turned out to be everything else.
At 35, Dzeko is the oldest player on this list and the only one of the five to switch teams in the off-season. In addition, after the departure of her manager and two of her best players, he joined a team in chaos. One of those players, Romelu Lukaku, was the player he was supposed to replace directly. In addition, the players had to deal with the emotions that came with what happened to Christian Eriksen over the summer and the ownership of the club is extremely uncertain.
FC Internazionale’s Edin Dzeko watches the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Shakhtar Donetsk and Inter at Metalist Stadium on September 28, 2021
Photo credit: Getty Images
Even so, Dzeko got in and looked like the player he was at Manchester City from the start. He skillfully plays off the talented (and often smaller) attackers around him. His leadership and mentality have been vital to this Inter team and he’s one of the main reasons they’re still in the title fight after such a tumultuous summer.
Speaking of written off. Dzeko shares the top spot in Italy’s scoring charts with Ciro Immobile, who is more at home in Lazio than most people in their own homes. If he can keep up this pace, he seems like a good bet to score another 20 goals, five times in six seasons with Lazio. The chaotic time of his life, which began with his commitment to Borussia Dortmund, is finally over, this is Immobile, not the guy from before.
More than any of these players, Immobile is a great example of how a player is more than the sum of its parts. He’s not the biggest, strongest, fastest or deadliest in front of the goal. But he’s doing everything at a level high enough to make him one of the best strikers in Europe. He’s so good at so many things and that, combined with his incredible pace of work, makes him unique.
Ciro Immobil, 2021
Photo credit: Getty Images
And when it comes to uniqueness, there aren’t many stories more unique than Jamie Vardy, all of whom you will know well enough. What sets Vardy apart is that it is supposed to be ready at this age. Vardy’s game as he rose through the ranks built on his breathtaking pace and rate of work. He should be a one-shot, but here he’s still one of England’s top scorers.
Like real estate, it just continues to score (even if not quite as high). His goal record in the league over the past seven seasons is as follows. 24, 13, 20, 18, 23 and 15. Not bad for a mayfly. Nobody gives Vardy enough credit for how smart he is. His movement is more elitist and his knowledge of how to attack defenders is among the best in the world. He really is a special striker.
Jamie Vardy, Leicester
Photo credit: Eurosport
It might seem strange to consider Robert Lewandowski when talking about underrated players who aren’t given enough credit, but it still feels like that, at least to this writer. I’ve already hit that drum but it feels like everyone is way too ready to move from Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo (more on that later) to Haaland and Kylian Mbappe.
That doesn’t do Lewandowski justice. This is a guy who not only has to go down as one of the best players of his generation, he should be considered one of the greatest strikers to have ever played in that position. Since his first season in top football in Poland in 2008-09, there has only been one season in which he has not scored double-digit league goals (his first in Dortmund). That means having played in leagues in which they play shortened seasons (30 games in Poland, 34 in Germany). Apart from this first season in Dortmund, he only failed to reach 20 league goals three times (his two seasons in the top division in Poland and his first year with Bayern).
It is very important to us not to take Messi and Ronaldo for granted. Why don’t we do that for Lewandowski too?
Robert Lewandowski – FC Bayern vs. Dynamo Kiev
Photo credit: Getty Images
So the last player on our list, currently the best goalscorer in Europe. Benzema’s career is one of the most interesting in the way he kept reinventing himself. When he was younger he was a legitimate player at Lyon. He was fast, strong, and brimming with technical prowess. Some of the goals he scored in France were just amazing, he was one of the original PlayStation players.
But he was signed by Real the same summer as Ronaldo, so he had to adjust. Gonzalo Higuain recently gave an interesting interview in which he shared his feelings after signing Benzema and Ronaldo. Some of his complaints are certainly fair, but he was wrong in his assessment that he was sold for not being able to play with Benzema. In fact, it was because Benzema could play with Ronaldo.
Benzema and Ronaldo probably only really got off to a good start as partners under Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane, but they have always played well together. Benzema, despite all that he berates as a selfish player, skillfully sacrificed some of the best years of his career for the good of the team and for the good of Ronaldo.
Real Madrid’s French striker Karim Benzema celebrates his goal during the UEFA Champions League Group D first round football match between Real Madrid and Sheriff Tiraspol at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on September 28, 2021. (Photo by JAVIER
Photo credit: Getty Images
But now, now he can show what he is really capable of. In each of the last three seasons since Ronaldo left, he has scored 20 league goals (21, 21 and 23). This is made even more impressive by the fact that he effectively had to take on two different roles. Firstly, he had to take on practically all of the offensive responsibility as Ronaldo was gone and both Gareth Bale and new signing Eden Hazard were constantly injured. Second, he had to help a new generation of Real Madrid attackers like Vinicius Jr. and Rodrygo Goes adapt and develop at a club like Madrid. Did he complain or grumble? Not even. Well maybe once. But other than that, he has been an exemplary leader and it is utterly remarkable that he has shown how good he is when it should run out of his prime.
Football fans love to talk about how incredible it is that Messi and Ronaldo dominate well into their 30s and they’re not wrong, it’s amazing. But that often means we don’t value the other players doing the same. Let’s give the old guard some love, don’t wait until they’re gone.
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