Thursday 11 February 2016, 08:33

The thirtysomething strikers

When a forward hits their 30s, some might say they are past their peak. With less pace, energy and agility compared to earlier in their career, an ageing forward is often overlooked in favour of a younger, faster rival, with the ethos that their best playing days are behind them.

This is not always the case, however, with a number of maturing frontmen enjoying a resurgence – whether it’s topping scoring charts or winning international call-ups – when many had thought their purple patches had ended. takes a look at a few veterans who are thriving well into their 30s, supporting the view that age is just a number.

Third time lucky **Aritz Aduriz** may have just turned 35, but the Spanish frontman’s keen eye for goal is showing no signs of letting up. The Athletic Bilbao star, renowned for his strength and aerial ability, holds an accolade of scoring more professional goals after his 30th birthday than in all the seasons before.

Aduriz returned to the Basque club for his third and finest period in 2012. Having failed to make an impression as a youngster, the San Sebastian native had a second coming at the San Mames in 2005, a stint that was largely overshadowed by the presence of Fernando Llorente.

But since arriving for his third spell, Aduriz has proved a nuisance for defenders in La Liga. After managing a career-best haul of 26 goals last season, he has currently bagged more than Neymar and Lionel Messi in all competitions this campaign, scoring four against Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup.

"We’re very fortunate to have him in the team. For every year that passes, he gets better and better,” said Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde of Aduriz. “He has great belief in his ability, provides a fantastic outlet and is a treasure for us."

Aduriz’s impressive campaign has lead to questions about whether he should feature for the Spanish national side. The striker has only ever appeared once for La Roja, coming on as a late substitute against Lithuania in 2010, and Spain head coach Vincente Del Bosque has remained coy about whether a call-up is in store for 2016.

"When there is a new call-up, Aduriz will either come in or not. In the meantime everything is speculation," said Del Bosque. “In March there’ll be a new squad, so I'll have to wait."

National service at 35 While hopes of a dream international return have yet to materialise for Aduriz at 35, Ricardo Oliveira has shown that it can be achieved.

When the Brazilian was playing in the United Arab Emirates, thoughts of international football with the Seleção were non-existent. But since returning to Brazil with Santos in January 2015, he has taken the league by storm, topping the 2015 season’s scoring chart with 20 goals – six more than Vagner Love in second.

Oliveira’s glowing club form led to his first international call-up in eight years at the age of 35. “I stopped thinking about the Seleção when I moved to the Middle East,” revealed Oliveira. “After eight years, the feeling is still the same. It's very emotional, it never changes.

“It's a pleasure to serve your country. I’m in the best moment of my career if you take into account my experience and the level of my football. I am coming back, hoping to help the Seleção with my experience and talent."

The former AC Milan striker went on to earn three caps in 2015, and bagged his first international goal since February 2005, coming in a FIFA World Cup™ qualifier against Venezuela.

“It’s important that experienced players can help in timely moments of the game and adjust the tempo,” Oliveira said. “I'm elated to be wearing the shirt and representing my nation again. To come back to the Seleção with a goal is very important.”

Golden boots Oliveira was not the only frontman over 30 to top their domestic scoring chart last season; Luca Toni and Alexander Meier did the same in Italy and Germany respectively.

After leaving Bayern Munich in 2010, Toni had spells at Genoa, Juventus, Al Nasr and Fiorentina, failing to reach double goalscoring figures. Just as it looked like his career was languishing, however, the 6ft 4 striker joined Hellas Verona in 2013, experiencing a love affair with the city synonymous with Romeo and Juliet and a dramatic goalscoring resurgence.

The 38-year-old finished the 2014/15 Serie A season as joint-top scorer – nine years after recording the same feat at Fiorentina – and shared the Capocannoniere with Inter’s Mauro Icardi, a forward 16 years his junior.

Toni said he will wait until the end of the current campaign, when he will have turned 39, to decide whether he will call time on his career. He said: “Sooner or later I’ll have to stop. We’ll see how I am in June, physically and mentally. Meanwhile, I’m just thinking about playing.”

This renaissance of ageing strikers has also reached Germany, with Alexander Meier proof positive. The Eintracht Frankfurt captain, now 33, netted 19 goals in the Bundesliga last season, pipping Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski and Arjen Robben in the top-scorer race.

One reason why age has allowed Meier to improve his goalscoring prowess is continued practice over time. "I have been practising since I was a child," said Meier. "It's all about perfecting the simple things. Federer's forehand practices continue now, even though it's perfect."

At a time when youth is fashionable, Aduriz, Oliveira, Toni and Meier are just a few examples that show there really is life after 30.