They were once the brightest stars in world football, adored by many. Now, at the fag end of their glorious careers, these one-time superstars are spending their final professional days in obscurity. We track some of the world’s best-known names.
The “toothy” goal poacher always came alive at the biggest show on earth, the football World Cup. With 15 goals in four editions of the World Cup, Ronaldo is the most prolific goal getter. But constant weight and knee problems, particularly in the latter half of his career, didn’t allow him to finish as he would have liked to. After playing with some of the biggest European clubs—Dutch giant PSV Eindhoven (1994-96), Barcelona (1996-97), Inter Milan (1997-2002), Real Madrid (2002-07) and AC Milan (2007-08)—he is currently back home in Brazil with Corinthians and has announced that next year will be his last in club football—unless, of course, someone in the American league has other ideas.
When this delightful midfielder was at his peak, football observers used to say Real Madrid players only had to ensure the ball somehow reaches their talisman. The rest would be a done deal. His record shows they weren’t wrong. His 323 goals from 740 appearances for Madrid between 1994 and 2010 continue to be a record. González ended his “contract for life” with his beloved Madrid this season after new coach Jose Mourinho made clear his preference for younger players. However, the first few days at German club FC Schalke 04 have not been great; the club has lost five of its eight matches in the Bundesliga this season so far, putting it in the relegation zone. The future looks bleak and full of hard work for this one-time chief “Galactico”.
Life has come full circle for Ballack after he moved to German club Bayer Leverkusen—the club that made him a global star (1999-2002)—this year. However, injury problems could cut short the master midfielder’s career more quickly than expected. He has already missed this year’s World Cup in South Africa. Ballack moved quietly to Leverkusen after new Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelloti released him on a free transfer. Ballack was with Chelsea for four years (2006-10) and earlier with Bayern Munich (2002-06)—but another injury against Hannover 96 earlier this month has put him out of action for 2010. The German captaincy is all but gone and it remains to be seen whether the lure of playing for his native land can inspire this “Little Kaiser” to one last hurray at Euro 2012.
Henry’s rise as a striker and Arsenal’s purple patch coincided, not surprisingly. The French ace still holds the record for the highest number of goals for the London club between 2002 and 2006. Only Henry has scored more than 20 goals in the Premier League for four consecutive seasons. Now on the last leg, with American major league soccer side New York Bulls, the all-time highest goal scorer for France, with 51 goals, retired from national duty after a disappointing World Cup which France qualified for courtesy a “hand of Henry” goal against Ireland.
This bald quick mover from France made his name for the black and white stripes of Italian club Juventus, where he spent 10 out of 18 years in top-flight European football. His 39 goals in 71 appearances rank him at No. 3 in the all-time goal scorers’ list for the Les Bleus. Best remembered for his extra-time golden goal that won France the Euro 2000 title, Trezeguet’s international career came to a bitter end after a fallout with coach Raymond Domenech, which meant he lost his place for Euro 2008. He stayed with Juventus, though, winning two Serie A titles and also ensuring they re-entered the top league after being relegated (2006-07) because of a match-fixing scandal. With 168 goals, Trezeguet is the top non-Italian scorer for the “Old Lady of Turin”. In August, he joined Spanish club Hercules CF for two years and is playing what is possibly the last two seasons of top-flight football.