As we enter the international break an interesting statistic has emerged. Of the top four scorers across Europe’s top five leagues three are aged over 30. When you extend it to a top ten by adding the five players who have scored six goals you get two players to add. That means half of Europe’s top ten scorers are into their 30s.
Before we start waxing lyrical about the old men it’s worth stating that the exception to the top group is, unsurprisingly, Erling Haaland, who has a preposterous seven in five already this season. He'll get his dues elsewhere.
But onto the grandpas! The five players are Karim Benzema (nine in eight aged 33), Robert Lewandowski (seven in seven aged 33), Ciro Immobile (six in six aged 31), Edin Dzeko (six in seven aged 35) and Jamie Vardy (six in seven aged 34).
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As a sport football can tend to let older players fall by the wayside in terms of the attention they are given. That is unless you’re a silky playmaker or wily centre-back. Occasionally there will be a love affair between the general public and an older striker (Miroslav Klose and Luca Toni spring to mind) but it’s not often the case.
Football loves the new, and particularly the new and the young. The way young players are put on pedestals at such a tender age is not healthy, but that’s probably a conversation for another day. What it does tend to do is make us not appreciate what these guys are doing.

Luca Toni

Image credit: Imago

What is most impressive about these five is that each and every one of them has their own unique story.
Let’s start with Dzeko, as in many ways his performance is most remarkable. Last year across 27 games (seven as a sub) he scored just seven league goals for Roma. There were a few injuries and he contracted Covid-19 but it was clear his time in the capital was coming to an end, there were even concerns that he was finished at the top level. The truth has proven to be anything but.
At 35 Dzeko is the oldest player in this list and the only one of the five who changed teams in the off-season. Not only that, he joined a team in chaos after the departure of their manager and two of their best players. One of those players, Romelu Lukaku, was the player he was signed to directly replace. On top of that the players have had to cope with the emotions that come with what happened to Christian Eriksen over the summer plus the ownership of the club is extremely uncertain.

Edin Dzeko of FC Internazionale looks on during the UEFA Champions League group D match between Shakhtar Donetsk and Inter at Metalist Stadium on September 28, 2021

Image credit: Getty Images

Yet, Dzeko has come in and from the word go looked like the player he was at Manchester City. He is expertly playing off the talented (and often smaller) attackers around him. His leadership and mentality has been vital for this Inter team and he is one of the main reasons they are still in title contention after such a turbulent summer.
Speaking of written off. Sharing top spot in Italy’s scoring chart with Dzeko is Ciro Immobile, who looks more at home at Lazio than most people do in their own houses. If he keeps up this pace he seems a great bet to hit 20 goals once again, that would be five times in six seasons with Lazio. That chaotic period of his life that began with his signing at Borussia Dortmund is well and truly over, this is who Immobile is, not that guy from before.
More than any of these players Immobile is a great example of a player being greater than the sum of its parts. He’s not the biggest, strongest, quickest or most lethal in front of goal. But he does everything to a level high enough that elevates him to status as one of the best strikers in Europe. He is so good at so many things and that, combined with his incredible work-rate, is what makes him unique.

Ciro Immobile, 2021

Image credit: Getty Images

And when it comes to unique there aren’t many stories more unique than Jamie Vardy, which you will all know well enough by now. What sets Vardy apart is that he is supposed to be done at this age. Vardy’s game as he rose through the ranks was built on his stunning pace and work-rate. He was meant to be a flash in the pan, yet here he is, still one of the best goalscorers in England.
Like Immobile he just keeps scoring (if not at quite as high of a rate). His goal tally in the league over the last seven seasons is as follows. 24, 13, 20, 18, 23 and 15. Not bad for a flash in the pan. No-one gives Vardy enough credit for just how smart he is. His movement is elite and his knowledge of how to attack defenders is up there with the best in the world. He is truly a special striker.

Jamie Vardy, Leicester

Image credit: Eurosport

It might seem odd to consider Robert Lewandowski when one talks about underappreciated players who aren’t given enough credit but it still feels like it, to this writer at least. I have beaten this drum before but it feels like everyone is far too ready to move on from Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo (more on them later) to Haaland and Kylian Mbappe.
That doesn’t do enough justice to Lewandowski. This is a guy who not only needs to go down as one of the best players of his generation, he should be considered one of the greatest forwards to ever play the position. Since his first season of top-flight football in Poland back in 2008-09 there has been only one season where he failed to reach double digits in league goals (his first at Dortmund). That’s having played in leagues where they play shortened seasons (30 games in Poland, 34 in Germany). Aside from that first season in Dortmund just thrice has he failed to reach 20 league goals (his two top-flight seasons in Poland and his first year at Bayern).
We make such a big deal about not wanting to take Messi and Ronaldo for granted. Why don’t we do the same for Lewandowski?

Robert Lewandowski - FC Bayern vs. Dynamo Kiev

Image credit: Getty Images

So the last player on our list, the top scorer across all of Europe right now. Benzema’s career is one of the interesting in the way he has constantly reinvented himself. When he was younger he was a legitimately complete player at Lyon. He was quick, strong and simply overflowed with technical ability. Some of the goals he scored in France simply beggared belief, he was one of the original PlayStation players.
But he was signed by Real in the same summer as Ronaldo, so he had to adapt. Gonzalo Higuain recently gave an interesting interview where he spoke about his feelings once they had signed Benzema and Ronaldo. Some of his complaints are certainly fair but he was wrong in his assessment that the reason he was sold was because he couldn’t play with Benzema. It was, in fact, because Benzema could play with Ronaldo.
It probably wasn’t until under Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane that Benzema and Ronaldo really hit their stride as a partnership but they always played well together. Benzema, for all that he is lambasted as a selfish player, expertly sacrificed some of the best years of his career for the good of the team and the good of Ronaldo.

Real Madrid's French forward Karim Benzema celebrates his goal during the UEFA Champions League first round group D footbal match between Real Madrid and Sheriff Tiraspol at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, on September 28, 2021. (Photo by JAVIER

Image 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 hit 20 league goals (21, 21 and 23). This is made even more impressive by the fact that he has effectively had to perform two different roles. Firstly he has had to shoulder practically the entire offensive responsibility with Ronaldo gone and both Gareth Bale and new signing Eden Hazard constantly injured. Secondly he has had to help a new generation of Real attackers such as Vinicius Jr and Rodrygo Goes as they adjust and develop at a club like Madrid. Has he complained or grumbled? Not once. Well maybe once. But aside from that he’s been an exemplary leader and it’s extremely noteworthy that he has shown just how good a player he is when he should be leaving his prime.
Football fans love to talk about how incredible it is that Messi and Ronaldo continue to dominate well into their 30s, and they’re not wrong, it is astounding. But that often means we don’t appreciate the other players who are doing a similar thing. Let’s give some love to the old guard, don’t wait until they’re gone.
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