With elder statesmen Pepe, Cristiano Ronaldo, Manuel Neuer, and many more set to feature, records could tumble at Euro 2024. We take a look at why so many veterans will be in Germany.

When Germany face Scotland in the Euro 2024 curtain-raiser on 14 June, they will have a very experienced player in goal.

Manager Julian Nagelsmann – just 36 years of age himself – has already decided that Neuer will be his number one at the tournament, even though the Bayern Munich legend will be 38 years and 79 days old when the opening game rolls around.

There is a slim chance, though, that Neuer won’t even be the oldest player on the pitch.

Former Celtic and Sunderland keeper Craig Gordon forced his way into Steve Clarke’s Scotland squad and has recently stated his desire to break David Weir’s record for the oldest player to feature for the country. He will be 41 years and 166 days old for the Germany game, so in the unlikely event that he plays, not only will Gordon break Weir’s record, he’d become the oldest player ever to play at the European Championship.

That record is currently held by Gábor Király. The former Crystal Palace goalkeeper was 40 years and 86 days old when he played in Hungary’s Euro 2016 round-of-16 defeat to Belgium.

The truth, though, is that Gordon, who is now second choice at Hearts and whose last international cap came in 2022, will need a Scottish goalkeeping crisis to get on the pitch.

Even if we don’t see Király’s record broken in the opening game of this summer’s tournament, it is very likely to be smashed just a few days later.

When Portugal play Czech Republic in Leipzig on 18 June, Pepe will probably be lining up at centre-back for his 20th game at a European Championship – the second-most appearances by any individual player in Euros history (behind a teammate who we’ll come on to very shortly).

Still going strong for Porto, Pepe became the oldest outfielder ever to feature in the UEFA Champions League last October when he lined up against Royal Antwerp at 40 years and 241 days old. He then broke his own record five more times during the season and even became the competition’s oldest goalscorer when he found the net in the return game against the Belgian champions.

Pepe this season became the oldest player and oldest goalscorer in Champions League history

He only played in one of Portugal’s Euro 2024 qualifiers, but his form this season prompted manager Roberto Martínez to start the veteran in their two most recent friendlies. Fitness permitting, he has a decent chance of starting for Portugal at this summer’s Euros.

And if he makes an appearance at any point, he’ll become the oldest player ever to feature at the finals. Incredibly, by playing at Euro 2020 (played in 2021), he is already ninth in the list of the oldest players in the competition’s history, having faced Belgium at 38 years and 121 days old.

Even if neither Gordon nor Pepe play, Cristiano Ronaldo certainly will, and as soon as he gets on the pitch, he will become the oldest outfielder in the competition’s history. He will be 39 years and 135 days old for Portugal’s opening game, and will overtake the record currently held by Lothar Matthäus, who was 39 years and 91 days old when Germany faced Portugal in their final group-stage game at Euro 2000.

Old players showing up at a European Championship is nothing new. Dino Zoff and Peter Shilton played at Euro 1980 at the age of 38, and Morten Olsen played three times at Euro 1988 shortly before his 39th birthday. Jens Lehmann, Ricardo Carvalho, Gigi Buffon, Ivica Vastic, Pepe, Maarten Stekelenburg, and Chalkias Konstantinos have all played at the Euros this century after turning 38.

But Euro 2024 is different because of the volume of veterans that could be present. As well as Gordon, Neuer, Pepe and Ronaldo, two other players who will be over 38 at the tournament featured at least once in qualifying for teams who will be going to the finals – Luka Modric (Croatia) and Jesús Navas (Spain). There is a chance of at least six over-38s featuring at Euro 2024, and five of them are likely to play prominent roles. Only 12 have done so in all previous editions of the European Championship combined.

cristiano ronaldo goals saudi pro league 2023-24

There are also plenty of (slightly younger) big names in their late 30s who will be appearing at this summer’s competition, too. And these are players who could play significant roles for big nations. Olivier Giroud (37), Kasper Schmeichel (37), Jan Vertonghen (37), Rui Patrício (36), Robert Lewandowski (35), Kamil Grosicki (35), Dusan Tadic (35), Yann Sommer (35), Ivan Perisic (35), Domagoj Vida (35) and Simon Kjær (35) will all be there, while Marko Arnautovic (35) and Francesco Acerbi (36) are less sure of their places but did make their respective provisional squads.

Many of the less-fancied nations will have veterans in their squads, too. Slovakia could have three over-35 players in their ranks, Romania could have two, and Georgia, Turkey, Slovenia, Albania and Scotland could all have one.

In qualifying for the tournament, the teams who made it to Euro 2024 used 31 different players who will have turned 35 by the time it begins. Those players made a total of 159 appearances.

That isn’t to say that 31 players will play at the finals this year, where the stakes are much higher than in qualifying, and managers cannot afford to experiment. But even so, more than 20 over-35 players featuring seems extremely likely, and more than 25 is also perfectly possible. No other Euros has ever seen more than 18 over-35s feature, and most have seen far fewer than 10.

Only 14 over-35 players made an appearance at Euro 2020, a tournament that Ronaldo, Pepe, Modric, Neuer and Vertonghen might reasonably have assumed would be their last.

But more players are extending their careers later into their 30s and even into their 40s these days, largely thanks to improvements in sports science and nutrition. Many are continuing right at the top of the game, too. Players are simply in better shape and it’s no coincidence that we are going to see more old players at this summer’s Euros than ever before.

Many of the names we’ve seen are genuine legends in their countries, and may have been allowed to extend their international careers in part thanks to their reputation and status. Their managers may value their experience in the squad, for example, and some coaches may not want to be the one to bring these national heroes’ careers to an end.

There is also the fact that this tournament comes after a shorter break since the last one, as Euro 2020 was played in 2021 due to Covid, and just 18 months on from the Qatar World Cup, which was played in winter. So, when the last Euros was coming into sight, older players only had to look three years down the line to take in three major international tournaments, when normally they’d be spread out over four years. That made playing in all of them much more achievable and many of them may well have set this competition as a target to play in back in 2021.

This summer marks the end of an era for many European nations. It will be hard for Croatia to finally say goodbye to Modric, Germany will surely struggle to find another Neuer, and Portugal will never produce another player like Ronaldo. Even Pepe has proved so hard to replace that he’s made it back into the squad at 41.

So, will Euro 2024 prove a one-off in terms of quite how many older players feature? Or will this be the start of a trend of international stars playing later and later into their careers?

Maybe some of Europe’s elder statesmen at this tournament will already have an eye on Euro 2028.

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