The focus of transfer policy these days is almost unreservedly on investment in youth and looking to the future. Paul Lambert at Aston Villa, for example, has bought his players young and on countless occasions this season fielded a starting eleven with an average age of just 23, but the failings of the team have done much to highlight the value to experience.
Of course with experience comes age, and with greater years comes challenges with maintaining the physical condition needed to play at the highest level. Some players, though, have shown little sign of struggling due to their advancing years, and have impressive WhoScored ratings to prove it. Here, we take a look at the 10 players that are at least 35 years of age and have an average rating of over 7.00 across at least 5 appearances in Europe's top 5 leagues this season.
10. Sylvain Distin - 7.01
Despite turning 35 at the start of December, Distin has been a key part of the Everton backline this season, starting 17 of their 23 Premier League games and coming off the bench in 3 more. He has always been a physically dominant defender, but while he will have lost some of his pace he has not surrendered any of his strength. Of Premier League centre-backs this season, only Michael Williamson (117) and Gareth McAuley (84) have won more aerial duels than Distin (81), while the Frenchman has made a more-than-decent 24 tackles, only committing 8 fouls in doing so. Earlier this month Distin signed a year extension to his contract and will continue with the Toffees further into his 30s.
9. Juanfran - 7.02
36-year-old left-back Juanfran has been near ever-present for Levante this season as they have maintained their fairly lofty position in La Liga, only two points off the Champions League spots at present. His 3.3 interceptions per game ranks him behind only Geromel of Mallorca (4.0 per game) of Primera players with at least 10 appearances this term, whilst he has also impressed in other areas, making 2.5 tackles per game and 3.8 clearances to boot.
8. Javier Zanetti - 7.04
Inter's evergreen club hero Javier Zanetti has been at the club an incredible 17 and a half years and shows no sign of giving up, or fading in terms of the quality he provides either. Although he hasn't yet extended his contract beyond this summer, he is widely expected to and justifiably so. He turns 40 in August and yet pace and acceleration remain at the forefront of his game. He has completed an unbelievable 37 successful dribbles this season; a tally which only 14 players in Serie A can top, with the vast majority of those playing in much more attack-minded roles. His 91.1% pass success rate epitomises his experience and ranks him 6th in the league.
7. Antonio Di Natale - 7.14
Antonio Di Natale's continued pedigree at the highest level cannot be doubted, and if anything goes to prove it, it is his 14 goals in 19 Serie A appearances this season. He ranks behind only Cavani (18) & El Shaarawy (15) in these charts, but both have had more shots as well and therefore more chances to score then the Udinese striker. Despite his advancing years, he persists in playing on the shoulder of the last defender and as a result is regularly caught offside; 39 times in fact, the most of all Serie A players this season.
6. Ryan Nelsen - 7.21
QPR are going to have to deal with the departure of Ryan Nelsen to MLS, and it will be some loss to the Premier League's bottom club. When he was signed on a free transfer in the summer, few would have expected the 35 year-old Kiwi to start 20 of their first 23 matches and become a key part of their defence. Only 3 players in the Premier League have made more clearances this season than Nelsen (219), whilst his experience shows in his reading of the game. He has made the 7th most interceptions in the English top flight this term with 56 (2nd most of centre-backs), of which 8 have been particularly crucial ones, coming in the penalty area.
5. Nicola Legrottaglie - 7.29
Formerly of Juventus and Milan, Nicola Legrottaglie has talent in abundance and that has been enough for him to prolong his career into the latter stages of his thirties. Now at Catania, he has been central to their performances in what has been a successful season so far, with the club 7th in the table. Only 2 players have made more clearances than the former Italy international (171), whilst he has also contributed going forwards, with 2 goals, both of which were headers from set-pieces. He has shown some ill-discipline in his play though, picking up 8 yellow cards already this term.
4. Mario Yepes - 7.35
Across his 10 appearances in Serie A this season, 37-year-old Yepes has been a reliable choice at the back for Milan. He has maintained possession well, completing 91.8% of his passes, whilst he has won an average of 4.1 aerial duels per game, the 4th best of all players in the Italian top flight, though all those above him have played fewer games. His ability in the air has contributed significantly towards his 9.9 clearances per game, which is only bettered by one Serie A player.
3. Hilton - 7.38
Brazilian veteran Hilton has been a constant fixture in the Montpellier lineup this season and his presence could be even more important with Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa making a move to Newcastle this month. His 48 interceptions in Ligue 1 games this season is the most in the Montpellier squad, while his 183 clearances is the 2nd most in the whole division behind only Yoann Poulard of Ajaccio. Much of the reigning French champions' football is played long, and Hilton is responsible for a fair chunk of that, with his 121 accurate long balls ranking him in the top 10, at an above average success rate of 68.8%
2. Giuseppe Biava - 7.42
Lazio's 35-year-old centre-back shows no signs of letting age get the better of him, having failed to start only 1 of his side's 22 Serie A games this season, and he has been integral to the Biancocelesti's fantastic form. They find themselves third in the table and potential candidates for the title come may if they can keep the run going. Biava has been key to breaking up opposition attacks, with the 2nd most interceptions (73) and the 7th most clearances (161) in the league, also making a heft 61 tackles, which is much more than any other Lazio player, so it is clear to see why he has such a good WhoScored rating.
1. Francesco Totti - 7.71
Most of the players in this list have been from Serie A, so it is fitting that top of the list is one of the all-time legends of the league, Francesco Totti. The 36-year-old Italian has completed a magnificent 33 accurate through balls this season - a full 14 more than any other player in Europe's top 5 leagues. He leads the rankings in Serie A in terms of clear-cut chances created for teammates this season, with 14, leaving him only behind Real Madrid's Mesut Ozil (16) and Marseille's Mathieu Valbuena (15) in all 5 of the top European leagues. The fact that he has played the most inaccurate passes in Serie A this season (283) is merely a sign of the ambition of his play and the fact that he aims to play difficult passes when perhaps it is not the best idea. But it's Francesco Totti, isn't it, so we should leave him to it.