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Why some footballers blossom into their thirties and others don’t.

As Gareth Barry is about to surpass Ryan Giggs’ Premier League appearance record at the age of 36, former Liverpool star Jermaine Pennant, 34, is plying his trade on the bench at Billericay Town in the seventh tier of English football. While some players excel into their thirties others descend into relative obscurity. Sports Gazette’s Tomas Meehan decided to find out why.

The answer it seems would be relatively simple: by staying in impeccable shape. The process starts from a young age too – not just by getting to 29 and thinking you need to cut down on the booze. In an interview with BBC Sport, Barry said that he didn’t hear younger players speak so much about drinking and going out for a beer anymore, and going out a couple of nights a week is almost unheard of among footballers now compared with when Barry started his career in 1998.

Adapting to living a healthier lifestyle, in addition to following a more comprehensive warm up routine of exercise bikes, yoga and massages seem to have assisted Barry in his quest for vitality on the wrong side of thirty. Meanwhile, Jermaine Defoe believes that his revival and return to the England fold have been partly due to his emphasis on the recovery process having taken up cryotherapy, which works like taking a freezing cold ice bath.

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Staying hungry is also important as footballers get older. When players like Defoe still believe they have something to achieve then following the right protocols is effortless. Meanwhile Rooney, has retired from international duty and does not appear to have any immediate desire to return.

Now winding down at his boyhood club, Rooney will feel that there is nothing more to achieve as he approaches retirement. Despite being England’s all-time record goal scorer, many believe that Rooney has somewhat underachieved after showing enormous potential at the age of 16. Rooney has a relentless work ethic on the football field but he is not as determined as, say, Cristiano Ronaldo to maintain chiselled abs all year round. As Rooney sits in the dock for drink driving charges, Ronaldo continues to shine at Real Madrid and, incidentally, doesn’t drink at all.

Even Zlatan Ibrahimović, Rooney’s former Manchester United teammate, who finished up as United’s top goal scorer last season, said that he hasn’t been drunk many times in his life. Ibrahimovic is also four years older than Rooney.

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Another player who has struggled with drink is Jermaine Pennant. Pennant has had a series of drink driving problems which undoubtedly harmed his career as a footballer but he has had a troubled past, having lost his mother to cancer at 3-years-old and his father was often absent and later went to prison for drug dealing.

As Barry approaches this incredible milestone, it is important to applaud him for his incredible dedication to his craft – be that in the form of minimal alcohol consumption, extreme recovery techniques or his incredible work ethic. Football has changed since Barry started, and if players are sensible and take the necessary steps it is not unrealistic to imagine someone beating Barry’s eventual total in the near future too.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons. Gareth Barry in action for his first club Aston Villa.

Tomas Meehan
TWITTER / INSTAGRAM: @tomasdkmeehan Tomas recently graduated from Edinburgh University in Spanish and is now studying for a Master’s degree in Sports Journalism at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham. While at university, he joined Edinburgh’s “The Student” newspaper where he won the award for “Best Sports Article” for his interview with international Trinidadian athlete Che Richards. He has also contributed to track and field websites Trackalerts.com and runjumpthrow.com and is proud of the fact that he was the first person to interview World Athletics Championships medalist Dwayne Cowan who Tomas knew from Hercules Wimbledon athletics club. Realising he still had a lot to improve, he hopes that his interview with 100m & 200m junior sprinter, Romell Glave, will show his progression as a journalist. Aside from being an avid fan and competitor in track and field, Tomas takes an interest in football and boxing and is a keen cyclist as well as a backgammon enthusiast.
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