In football, it’s typical for a player to go through different stages of his or her career. Emerging as a talented youngster who spends the first few years learning the ropes before peaking and gradually declining most soccer players follow this unwritten timetable. However, they are few who buck this trend. Players who prove that no one should ever be dismissed just because they didn’t meet your expected milestones.
Today we highlight 5 exceptional late bloomers who not only aged like fine but have shown like a million stars in what should have been the twilight of their careers.
1. Antonio Di Natale
If ever there was a walking example of why it’s never too late to hit the heights in your career it would be Di Natale. Never the most flamboyant of players the forward’s 5-foot 7 inches frame wouldn’t exactly have made him stand out in a crowd. However, persistence and determination helped the Naples native achieve a lot in his career. Antonio’s initial run in the Serie A was with modest side Empoli FC.
After their relegation, he joined another Serie A team Udinese Calcio and it was there that his career really took off. In 385 league appearances for Le Zebrette, Di Natale scored an incredible 191 goals. This led to him finishing top scorer in the Italian top flight for two consecutive seasons 2009-2010, 2010-2011 an impressive feat considering the level of attacking talent in the league at the time. Di Natale wasn’t however as prolific in the Italian national team but was part of the Azurri squad that finished second at the 2012 Euros.
2. Jamie Vardy
The 33-year-old former England international has continued to grow stronger as his career has progressed. Despite starting out in the lower leagues in his early twenties the Leicester City striker has rapidly worked his way up the English football league hierarchy.
He eventually made it to the English Premier League in the 2014/2015 season scoring a paltry 5 goals. It was the next season, however, that the then 28-year-old would explode scoring 24 league goals to help the Foxes clinch a historical first Premier league title. Jamie has continued to be consistent posting double figures every season since then. He currently one of the best super subs in football.
3. Didier Drogba
The former Ivorian legend and multiple award-winning African Footballer of the Year didn’t start out as imposing as he was throughout his career. He started out playing for French Ligue 2 outfit Le Mans but it was his move to Ligue 1 side Guingamp and Olympique Marseille in his mid-twenties that totally transformed Drogba into a beast of a striker. His later celebrated transfer to English club Chelsea FC would later cement his legacy winning multiple league and cup titles as well as the coveted UEFA Champions League title. Internationally Didier would end his career as the Ivory Coast’s highest ever goal scorer with 65 goals in 105 appearances.
5. Brad Friedel
The former American international goalkeeper had to bid his time before becoming undisputed number 1 for club and country. Brad played for various clubs like Galatasaray and Liverpool FC however it was when he joined Blackburn Rovers FC at the age of 29 that his career really took off. Friedel featured over 290 times for Rovers as he established himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League. He would also go on to keep for Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur for the rest of his EPL career. Friedel would also go on to earn 82 caps for the United States national team.
6. Danny Blind
The Ajax Amsterdam legend took a while to get going. The Dutch defender arguably enjoyed the best years of his career during his early to mid-thirties. Blind enjoyed great success with the Dutch giants whom he joined when he was 25 winning numerous league titles and cups. Danny Blind would also later win the UEFA Champions League at the age of 34, marshaling and leading an impressive defense. Blind would also go on to play for The Netherlands 42 times. Danny Blind is the father to former Manchester United defender, Daley Blind.