Late bloomers: Five players that peaked later in their careers
Real Madrid, 11/4 with Coral to retain the Champions League trophy, recently saw their star man Cristiano Ronaldo celebrate his 30th birthday, but the Portugal great has showed no signs of a dip in form towards the later stages of his successful career.
Following the 2015 Ballon d’Or winner’s latest landmark, Coral football writers look at five players that peaked towards the end of their top-flight careers.
Terrific target man Toni was a well-travelled professional of Italy’s Serie B before singing for Palermo in 2003.
With 30 goals in his debut season, securing promotion to Serie A, and 21 strikes the following campaign, the Italian went from obscurity to being a clinical top-flight finisher within five years.
Toni netted 33 times for Fiorentina and an amazing 39 goals for Bayern Munich in his debut campaigns for the respective teams, while also securing a spot in his country’s World Cup squad for the 2006 World Cup triumph, where he netted twice.
While playing for Germany’s fifth-division side FC 08 Homburg during his teenage years, Poland-born Klose reportedly worked as a brick-layer and a builder. After an incredible burst in goalscoring form, the prolific poacher went on to dramatically grace the World Cup stage in 2002, claiming the Golden Boot.
However, later in his career, the clinical centre forward became the World Cup’s highest ever goalscorer, overtaking Brazil legend Ronaldo for the record with 16 strikes, and also netting double figures for Lazio in two consecutive recent seasons despite his age.
Antonio Di Natale
The veteran Serie A striker was impressive during his time at Empoli at a young age but, after a series of loan spells, an eventual switch to Udinese in 2004 seen Di Natale rocket to goalscoring stardom. The Naples-born hitman has hit double figures every season while at the Little Zebras, and has had his most rampant runs towards the end of his career in Udine.
After turning 32 years old, Serie A’s sublime striker became the division’s top scorer in 2010 and 2011, and was voted Italian footballer of the year in 2010. Di Natale is now 37 and still banging them in for fun.
Nerazzurri legend Zanetti spent 19 seasons at the San Siro, winning 16 major trophies during his top-flight career. The Inter icon performed amazingly towards the end of his time in Italy, lifting the Champions League during Jose Mourinho’s reign in 2010.
Zanetti, an attacking right back or holding midfielder, tasted a historic treble that year, adding Serie A and the Coppa Italia. He is also Argentina’s record appearance holder with 145 outings for his country, including one goal in eight World Cup showings.
Last, but certainly not least, PSG’s sensational Swedish striker shone during the early stages of his career at Dutch giants Ajax and then Juventus. However, it wasn’t until his later days at AC Milan, and now French Ligue 1 champions PSG that the magnificent marksman became a prolific force in European football.
After spells at Inter Milan and Catalan giants Barcelona, Ibrahimovic returned to the San Siro, where he followed up his debut season with 35 strikes during a marvellous 2011/12 campaign. Following a switch to the French capital, the Sweden international netted 35 times in 46 outings in his first term and 41 goals in 45 appearances the subsequent season, proving his unquestioned prowess in the later stage of his coveted career.