Who’s better, the world’s best footballers over 30 vs under 30?

Who’s better, the world’s best footballers over 30 vs under 30?

What’s the average age of the world’s best footballers?

In the highest levels of competition in Europe’s top leagues, the majority of players on the pitch will be between the ages of 21-29. Once a player hits 30, unless they are a goalkeeper, their value will almost always drop off quite rapidly. It’s widely believed forward and attacking style players hit their peak performance in their mid 20’s. Central defenders need more experience and therefore hit their peak around the age of 27. Fullback is an easier position to play and young legs bring energy to that position which is why they peak a couple of years earlier. Whilst midfielders hit their peak also in their mid 20’s.

Exceptions for the greatest

There are exceptions to this, such as Christiano Ronaldo who’s been able to continue playing at the highest level well into his 30’s. Zlatan Ibrahimovic 39 is still one of the best goal scorers in the Italian Serie A playing for AC Milan. Despite these exceptions, there are big clubs that have a policy of not signing players over the age of 30 to multi-year contracts.

Who should be on these teams

We’ve had many lists compiled of the world’s best starting 11 players which comprise a wide range of ages. The three most prestigious of these lists are the FIFPro World 11, the UEFA team of the year, and the FIFA 21 team of the year. As it’s quite objective as to who the world’s best players are, I will use these lists to guide this process (as well as using my own judgement). So let’s break it down by position and see if we can determine if a team of football legends over age 30 can compete, and theoretically win a game against the world’s best players under 30.

World’s best goalkeepers

Topping most people’s list of the greatest goalkeepers in the world right now will be German international Manuel Neuer 34 of Bayern Munich. Pundits also consider Brazillian international and Liverpool superstar Allison Becker 28 to be the world’s best. Jan Oblak 28, a star for Atletico Madrid, could also be considered the best goalkeeper in the world. Any team with either of these 3 goalkeepers in a match would be in good hands.

World’s best keeper under age 30

Slovenian superstar Jan Oblak is who I would give the start to for the under 30 team. Allison did get the nod for keeper on the FIFPro world 11, however, Oblak seems to be in better form than Allison at the moment. Both players it could be argued, are the best goalkeeper in the world under age 30.

World’s best keeper over age 30

Manuel Neuer is typically seen as the best keeper in the world over the age of 30. Being named to both the UEFA and FIFA 21 teams of the year definitely backs that statement up. There are plenty of other great goalkeepers over age 30, like Keylor Navas of PSG, and Hugo Lloris in Tottenham, however, let’s give Neuer the start for the over 30 team.

Who has a better goalkeeper?

This is a toss-up as they are all very successful. However, if I had to choose I would go with Manuel Neuer, age 34. Neuer’s got the experience and has won the Champions League as well as the World Cup.

World’s best defenders

The FIFPro World 11 and the FIFA 21 team of the year had identical defensive lineups. Included were Liverpool stars Trent Alexander Arnold age 22 from England, and Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk 29. Spaniard and Real Madrid man Sergio Ramos age 34 joined Bayern Munich left-back Alphonso Davies age 20 from Canada on the team. The FIFPro World 11 included German international Joshua Kimmich age 25 on the team, however, they have him listed as a midfielder, whereas the UEFA team of the year has him as a RB.

World’s best defenders under age 30

Including Josh Kimmich at RB would make four defenders on the under 30 team. Virgil van Dijk and Alphonso Davies were included on all three of the team of the year lists I’ve mentioned, so I have to include them. Trent Alexander Arnold was included on the FIFPro and FIFA 21 teams of the year, so he should be included. That would make a solid four-man defensive lineup of the best players in the world under age 30.

World’s best defenders over age 30

Having Sergio Ramos at centre-back is a great start because he has won absolutely everything. I would then partner him with fellow Spaniard and Barcelona centre-back Gerrard Pique age 33. I believe these two would show greater strength at centre back than the under 30 team. As for the other defenders on the over 30 team, I would pick Bayern Munich man Jerome Boateng age 32, and Spanish and Barcelona defender Jordi Alba, age 31.

Who is better in defence?

Overall I can definitely see that the under 30 team is stronger on the outside with all that speed. They would be more comfortable with slotting their best fullbacks in as wingbacks because of their speed. They would also have the option of placing Kimmich as a holding midfielder. However, the strength and experience of the over 30 team would give them an advantage in the central defender role.

World’s greatest midfielders

Featuring on all three ‘team of the year’ lists is Belgium and Manchester City star midfielder Kevin De Bruyne 29. Spaniard Thiago Alcantara 29, who joined Liverpool from Bayern Munich last year was named to the FIFPro and UEFA teams of the year as a midfielder. Manchester United and Portugal Midfielder Bruno Fernandes 26, was named to the FIFA 21 team of the year. I’ve already included Josh Kimmich as a defender on the under 30 team but he could definitely feature in the midfield as well.

Best midfielders under age 30

All the players I mentioned above are still in their 20’s. Kevin De Bruyne and Bruno Fernandes are excellent attacking midfielders. Thiago Alcantara is an excellent defensive midfielder and would help to balance out the over 30 team.

Best midfielders over age 30

Barcelona’s all-time greatest, Lionel Messi 33 of Argentina is typically utilized as a forward. For this project, I’ve listed him as a central attacking midfielder, which isn’t far off from how he’s normally utilized. Real Madrid’s Luka Modric 35, the 2018 Ballon d’Or winner and World Cup finalist for Croatia is a well-rounded midfielder. And to ensure defensive responsibilities are taken care of on the over 30 team; let’s add German international and Real Madrid midfielder Tony Kroos 31.

Who is better in midfield?

As you can see, both of these squads would have excellent midfielders and it would be hard to give an edge to either of them. Although any squad with 2019 Ballon D’or winner Lionel Messi, I would believe has an advantage.

World’s greatest forwards

At age 36 Portuguese ageless wonder Christiano Ronaldo of Juventus still has enough talent to have been named to the UEFA team of the year, the FIFPro Men’s World 11 and the FIFA 21 team of the year. Also named to all three lists, and 2020 Ballon d’Or and Champions League winner with Bayern Munich, Robert Lewandowski age 32 of Poland. Neymar 29 of PSG from Brazil, was named to the UEFA team of the year. Joining his PSG teammate, French forward and World Cup winner Kylian Mbappe 22, who was named to the FIFA 21 team of the year.

Best forwards under age 30

Neymar of PSG is always comfortable playing on the left side of the field in an attacking role. Kylian Mbappe is a star in the central striker role and that’s how he should be utilized. As for the last forward on the team, I would slot Egyptian star Mohammad Salah 28, of Liverpool on the right side striker position.

Best forwards over age 30

Cristiano Ronaldo would feature on this team in the left side forward position. There’s no better place for Robert Lewandowski to play than in the central striking position. Luis Suarez 34 from Uruguay is leading the Spanish League in scoring for Atletico Madrid and would round out this attacking trio on the over 30 team. Normally utilized as a forward, I’ve already included Lionel Messi as a central attacking midfielder on the over 30 team.

Who’s forwards are better?

With the average age of forward players typically on the decline around age 25, it would seem logical that an under 30 squad would have a definite advantage. On the contrary, the squad with players over 30 have some of the greatest legends to have ever played the game. I would find it hard to bet against this trio of over 30-year-old players. I would give the over 30 team a slight edge in forward attacking players.

How would these teams line up?

Here’s how I would line up these two squads in formation for a match against each other. I’ve listed their age, club, nationality, and the position I believe they could best be utilized in on their team. I’ve also included their nationality, and the professional club they play for.

Over 30 team:


-German K Manuel Neuer 34, Bayern Munich


-Spanish CB Sergio Ramos 34, Real Madrid
-Spanish CB Gerard Pique 33, Barcelona
-German RB Jerome Boateng 32, Bayern Munich
-Spanish LB Jordi Alba 31, Barcelona


-Croatian DM Luka Modric 35, Real Madrid
-German DM Tony Kroos 31, Real Madrid
-Argentine AM Lionel Messi 33, Barcelona


-Portuguese LF Cristiano Ronaldo 36, Juventus
-Polish CS Robert Lewandowski 32, Bayern Munich,
-Uruguayan RF Luis Suarez 34, Atletico Madrid

Under 30 team:


-Slovenian Jan Oblak 28, Atletico Madrid


-English CB Trent Alexander Arnold 22, Liverpool
-Dutch CB Virgil van Dijk 29, Liverpool
-German RB Joshua Kimmich 25, Bayern Munich
-Canadian LB Alphonso Davies age 20, Bayern Munich


-Belgian M Kevin De Bruyn 29, Manchester City
-Portuguese M Bruno Fernandes 26, Manchester United
-Spanish DM Thiago Alcantara 29, Liverpool


-Brazilian LWF Neymar 29, Paris
-French CS Kylian Mbappe 22, Paris
-Egyptian RF Mohamed Salah 28, Liverpool

Who would win in a match like this?

Ultimately the fans would be the winner in a match of this high calibre. As I can only imagine the international hype that a match like this would generate. Despite turning 36, Ronaldo still leads the Italian Serie A in scoring. Stats like this prove Ronaldo will go down with Lionel Messi as the greatest two players of the modern era. There are just so many legendary players over the age of 30 that are still dominant. I couldn’t dare say they could be defeated by a more youthful squad. Therefore, in a head-to-head match of the greatest players in the world over the age of 30 against a team of the greatest under 30, I would have to choose the older more experienced squad at this point in time.

Future considerations

In the next couple of years, there will be younger players who will compete for the title of “best in the world’. Players such as Norway’s Erling Haaland age 20 of Dortmund should be one of them. In that time Messi and Ronaldo will inevitably see their impact on the game decline. But for now, they are still holding on to their status amongst the top of world football’s greatest players.

Nathan Holowaty

About the Author /

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Nathan Holowaty is a writer and blogger, with a passion for everything soccer-related. He is a lifelong soccer player and fan, helping to grow the sport in a positive manner. Nathan began working on Top World Football in early 2021.

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