While the Bundesliga is renowned for producing some of the world’s most exciting young talent, this goes hand in hand with a select group of experienced players who defy the numbers to deliver stage-stopping performances week in, week out. Their influence on the Bundesliga’s rising stars is crucial to their development and therefore considered an important component of the Bundesliga’s success story.
Claudio Pizarro recently etched his name in Bundesliga history books by becoming the oldest player ever to score in Germany’s top flight. At the age of 40 years, four months and 13 days, he struck in Werder Bremen’s 1-1 draw with Hertha Berlin, 7,097 days after opening his account for Die Grün-Weißen in a 5-0 win over Kaiserslautern in the last millennium.
The Peru legend has scored at least one goal in 21 consecutive calendar years, and his 195 strikes mean he is still the most prolific foreign goalscorer of all time, even if he expects comparative spring chicken 30-year-old Robert Lewandowski to challenge him for that title.
What Pizarro’s achievement shows is that age is not a barrier in the Bundesliga – at either end of the spectrum, and his influence on youngsters at the club, in particular USA’s Josh Sargent, is considered invaluable.
The Peruvian forward spent much of his career at FC Bayern München, where he had the honour of playing alongside two other players who continue – despite their advancing years – to set the Bundesliga alight. We are, of course, talking about the famed Robbery: Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben.
When Ribery joined Bayern back in 2007, the iPhone was just being launched and the only thing smart about phones was their ability to connect people – by voice or text – without cable. An unknown Venus Williams was winning Wimbledon as one of the lowest seeds ever to do so, and the first A380 Airbus – the world’s largest passenger airliner – was taking to the skies.
A lot has changed in over a decade since the Frenchman first graced our screens, but there is very little to suggest he has aged – other than the 12 times his birthday has been celebrated. Indeed, Twitter and Facebook have come a long way since 2007, when Instagram had not even been launched. There has been plenty of technical, if not technological, developments in Ribery’s career, which can be compared to that of a wine becoming vintage.
As his 36th birthday fast approaches, Le Roi of Bavaria continues to be one of the trickiest wingers to handle, both in the Bundesliga and in the UEFA Champions League. Even if he wins a record-breaking ninth Bundesliga title in May, it may not prove to be his last either. Having proven he can still make a difference, his influence is bound to help rising stars such as Alphonso Davies from Canada and Korean Woo-yeong Jeong, become the next talent to be nurtured and fed into the professional game by the Frenchman, who made a considerable contribution to David Alaba’s rise.
The other half of Robbery has already confirmed this is his final season at München, and while it is one which is proving emblematic of his time in Germany – with fastidious injuries keeping him off the field for far too long – when he is on the pitch, nobody – and we mean nobody – can cope with his trademark technique. “Well, if you do it at the right time it still surprises them!” he recently told The Daily Mail. “Timing is the key. Always. My wife sometimes tells me that I can be very proud of that, because people say it like it’s your own move: running inside and scoring a goal.”
Nine years separated Makoto Hasebe’s first title in German football – a Bundesliga crown with Wolfsburg in 2009 – and his second in the DFB Cup last season, and the 2018 AFC Asian International Player of the Year is another Bundesliga star making a mockery of the term veteran. Hasebe is without doubt an inspiration to fellow countrymen including Yuya Osako and Genki Haraguchi playing elsewhere in the league. Long in the tooth, reinvention has been the key to the Japanese player’s prolonged presence in German football. Formerly a defensive midfielder, Hasebe has switched to the centre of the defence and fortified the Eagles’ rearguard, making it one of the meanest domestically and in the Europa League. Another trophy in the form of the latter could be heading to his cabinet before he does hang up his boots, with Frankfurt going strong in Europe this season.
Meanwhile, Borussia Dortmund full-back Lukasz Piszczek may be 33, but he continues to rank as one of the fastest players in the division, with former team-mate and speed demon Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang regularly given a run for his money, and opponents still given the run-around to this day. He also made his Bundesliga debut in 2007 – with Hertha Berlin – and carries the clobber of over 300 appearances in the German top flight, with many more likely still to come as he shows no signs of slowing down.
They say that once you’ve learned to ride a bike, you never forget how it is done and the same clearly applies to knowing where the goal is. Evergreen Pizarro is not the only example of a forward whose eye for the back of the net is still sharp. Salomon Kalou, 33, is approaching 100 caps for the Ivory Coast, and you certainly don’t get those for free. Although he is primarily playing in a wider role these days, the 2012 UEFA Champions League winner for Chelsea has supplied a further three Bundesliga goals this season – having broken into double figures in two of the past three campaigns.
He, together with the likes of Fortuna Düsseldorf’s Oliver Fink and 39-year-old Jaroslav Drobny – who recently made his first Bundesliga appearance in over two years – furthers the argument that age in the Bundesliga, whether young or old, is no more than a number.