When Do Soccer Players Retire?

Soccer at the highest level is one of the most physically demanding sports in the world. Not only are players generally playing one or two matches a week, but it is 90 minutes of constant movement and sometimes very physical play. Players must be in outstanding physical condition, and the body still might break down at times. All this leads to father time catching up to players at some point. 

When do soccer players retire? The average age of retirement for soccer players is around 35 years old. Now that modern medicine has improved, players are pushing 40 years of age and older in certain scenarios. A lot of it comes down to skill, as well as willingness to move to a different club to continue a playing career.

Why Do Soccer Players End Up Retiring?

Soccer players retire for a variety of reasons. In some cases, it can seem completely out of the blue. Others make the mistake of holding on for a little too long. Whatever the case may be, the most common reasons are detailed below. With just about every case, retirement can relate to one of these three reasons.

Skill

The majority of soccer players retire from the sport simply because their skill level is no longer good enough. Maybe they have lost a step speed-wise, or they suffered one too many injuries that prevents them from playing a physical style.

It is frustrating for any athlete to admit that they have reached a point in their life where they can no longer compete. Even all-time great soccer players have a hard time coming to grips that their skill level eventually deteriorates. Some players will try to get ahead of these years by retiring early, while others hold on for a little too long and show just how vulnerable they can be by only being a role player.

Sometimes players hold onto their playing career by moving to a league that is not as prominent. For example, many star players like David Beckham, Kaka, Wayne Rooney, and others have moved to Major League Soccer after starring in Europe for so many years.

At this point, Major League Soccer is not nearly as competitive from top to bottom, so they can still play and contribute at a high level while growing their brand in the United States. Players are still getting paid good money to do this, and these opportunities benefit teams as well with ticket sales, attention, etc.

Loss of Passion & Complacency

The best soccer players in the world earn extremely good money. A standup player who has spent multiple years in a top league has tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of dollars in the bank. At some point, a fair amount of players start losing their drive and become complacent in the game of soccer.

They have all the money they could ask for, they might have a few nagging injuries, and they are dominating like they used to. Instead of putting in more work, retirement seems enticing enough.

Players rarely admit they have actually lost that drive, but it is certainly apparent when looking through the game’s history. Perhaps there are other contributing factors, but it can happen quickly in such a competitive environment.

This connects in some ways to the reason above. If a person’s skill level drops just a little bit, the passion might not be there to make the necessary changes to be better. Making a move to a brand new team is not for everyone, especially if a player spends years and years on the same club.

Injuries

The demands of soccer can be grueling for a player’s body. Running around game after game can break the body down, and that is not even taking a look at any physical play as well.

A player does not have to go through a debilitating injury to eventually retire. Sometimes, injuries start to pile up, and a player feels like there is no choice other than to throw the towel and move on.

Players are taking more action in improving your body and hoping for the best. The top teams spend millions of dollars protecting their players, and many also have their trainers and medical staff they rely on when not in season. Soccer injury prevention takes place 12 months out of the year, which is only a recent development. It seems inevitable that this will extend the careers of some players.

As examples, it looks like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are showing little to no signs of slowing down at this point in their career. Both have been near the top of the game for a decade now. Players in the past have not played at this high of a level for this long.

Is this a sign of things to come for all future soccer stars? It is unclear if they are the exception to the rule or the new norm. If players can extend their peak, most of the greats will do whatever they can to ensure that happens.

What Position Is Easiest To Play At An Old Age?

If the goal is to play at an advanced age, the best position is goalkeeper. These players are not running up and down the field the entire game, and they only have to exert energy in certain spurts. While a player still needs to be very athletic, reading the game and anticipating plays matters quite a bit as well.

The best goalkeepers can routinely play into their late 30s or even past the age of 40 if they want. There is always a demand for a goalkeeper who has plenty of experience, as they can be the leader on the field when forming a strong defense.

There is a reason why many top clubs and international teams will rely on an older goalkeeper over a young hotshot player. Goalkeepers make the highlights with outstanding defensive plays, but steadiness often makes the biggest difference.

Will The Average Age of Retirement Change In The Near Future?

All signs seem to indicate that soccer players will be able to extend their playing careers to some extent soon. While playing for the top teams is competitive as ever, players are putting in the work necessary to stay in top physical shape at all times. There will still be freak accidents that occur, but some players will extend their prime a decent amount.

As long as club teams are thriving around the world, opportunities for players to continue playing at a decently high level will exist. It might seem unlikely that there will be a lot of players 40 years or older in the Premier League, but that does not mean that there are no other opportunities elsewhere.

Holding onto the end of a soccer career is not for everyone, but some players truly love the game and want to play as long as possible. With modern medicine and the money to take care of the body in every way possible, the average age across all leagues should gradually go up in the next decade or two.

Connor Smith

I'm Connor, the guy behind SoccerPrime. I'm a former NCAA Div 1 college player that retired at the age of 21 due to injuries - which led me into a new career as a soccer coach.

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