Luka Modric recently turned 37, joining an exclusive group of four players to play for Real Madrid past the age of 36. The Croat is already the most capped 30+ outfielder to play for Real Madrid and should overtake Francisco Buyo for record outright this season.
To mark Modric’s continued defiance of biology, I thought it would be fun to make an all star team of Real Madrid oldsters and perhaps give the Real Madrid legends selectors some ideas. Before picking my team, I had to see who would qualify. Naturally, each player would have to have played for Real Madrid past the age of 30. I also put a 100 cap minimum to save time and limit the workload of going through every 30 year old to make an appearance for Real Madrid.
The final list finished at 42 players, the oldest being Ferenc Puskas at 39 with Míchel at the other end at 32. From that list, I took 35 players that I felt had a realistic chance of making the starting 11. Narrowing that 35 down to a lineup was painstaking and came down to personal preference in some positions.
Goalkeeper: Francisco Buyo
Real Madrid have a proud lineage of cantera goalkeepers so picking Buyo-signed from Sevilla-might come at a bit of a surprise. However, at a staggering 345 appearances in all competitions past the age of 30, it’s hard to ignore Buyo. In comparison to his nearest competitor (no prizes for who that is), Buyo aged much better. He won the Zamora at 33 and still holds the clean sheet record for a Real Madrid goalkeeper in a season with 16.
Casillas certainly makes a strong case with his 2011-12 showings, but his career at Real Madrid swan dive after winning the league in 2012 while Buyo’s continued to go from strength to strength until his final few years at the club. I feel sorry for Iker in this battle because he wasn’t all to blame for his decline, but that’s life as the old saying goes.
Right wing back: Chendo
Miguel Noguera played out his entire sporting career at Real Madrid. A product of the cantera and promoted to the first team from Castilla, he occupied the right back spot for 16 years, retiring at the ripe old age of 37.
It’s a monstrous legacy. One that Dani Carvajal has made a fair claim to superseding, though questions about whether he can match Chendo’s longevity remain pretty well founded. One way or another, some positions pick themselves in teams like this and Chendo was one of them. He was consistent right up to his retirement and his work ethic matches nicely with some of the other players I’ve gone for in the back five.
Centre-back: Sergio Ramos
The first of several familiar faces that shall appear in this team. One might say including Sergio Ramos and those he played with takes some of the spice out of selecting a team like this. I would agree, however, it was important for me to include players that were, at least, able to maintain some of the level that they set in their peak and continued to contribute to Real Madrid’s fortunes into their 30s. It’s also hard to ignore the fact that modern players face a much more challenging game physically and tactically than their yesteryear compatriots.
For me, Ramos was one of those players that actually got better as he got older. Obviously, his late goals during the 2016-17 season help made the European double that season possible and his consistency from the penalty spot catapulted Real Madrid to further trophies after Ronaldo left.
But Ramos wasn’t just goals, he was a world class defender with leadership skills that the club still haven’t been able to replace. Ramos’s coolness and technical quality covered up cracks in Real Madrid’s play under a press and the defensive mistakes that characterized his early career at the club had long disappeared in his 30s. His departure to PSG probably did huge favors for his legacy at Real Madrid given how he has struggled with injury since, but one way or another I don’t think I could name a Madrid backline without Ramos in the lineup.
This was a tight call between Hierro and Pepe. In terms of appearances and success with the club at a late stage in their career, there is plenty of overlap between the Portuguese defender and Real’s former captain.
In the end, recency bias won out for me. I know a lot about Hierro’s career and how difficult it was to replace him after he left, however, I’m a big admirer of Pepe and the player he became and continues to be at this stage of his career. He was a pretty vital piece in ending the long wait for a 10th Champions League title and managed to fend off a really promising player in Varane practically until he left in the summer of 2017.
One of my all time favorite legends, Pirri’s longevity is rooted in his versatility. He started life at the club as a forward in 1964 and slowly regressed deeper, finishing off his career as a center back. He was quite the defender as well. Pirri already possessed a combative streak in his play having won Real Madrid’s highest honor twice for playing through injury and sickness.
His technical quality and eye for goal has probably inspired the two generations of Real Madrid defenders that have done the same since he retired.
Left wing back: Roberto Carlos
I’m proud of my full back picks on this team. It brings me a nerdy satisfaction that I’m a little ashamed of.
I don’t really need to give an introduction to the Brazilian full back, his name speaks for itself. I suppose what surprises me about Roberto Carlos is how heavily the club relied on him into the final years of his career at the club. He never played less than 30 games a season for Real Madrid, a service record that led to him being the most capped foreigner in Real Madrid history (overtaken now by Karim Benzema).
Camacho was the only other competitor for Carlos’s spot here, but I think Roberto fits the profile of this team nicely so he gets the nod.
Defensive midfielder: Xabi Alonso
In my opinion, it’s overdue that Alonso was included in a greatest Real Madrid lineup. There was a time when no starting lineup was completed without him and, again, I’m not sure the position has ever been properly filled since he left. That would say more of Alonso’s quality rather than the failures of his successors.
Having joined Los Blancos at a later stage of his career, most of Alonso’s Madrid career was played in his 30s when he helped catapult the club to many notable successes. His semi-final performances against Bayern in 2014 are certainly standouts for me as well as the struggle we had replacing him the following year. I don’t need to recap too much given how recent his playing career here ended and I thought he would pair my offensive minded center backs quite nicely.
Central midfield: Luka Modric
Obviously Luka would be in this team! I don’t think world football has seen a modern outfielder perform so consistently across two decades like Modric has.
To show no signs of decline in spite of the obvious physical challenges Modric has faced in recent years is kinda mind blowing. A defining feature of the players I’ve included in this article so far is that they have all been missed since leaving, in spite of their seniority. Given Modric’s playing career shows no sign of stopping soon, it’s hard to imagine the impact of his eventual departure. However, given how much Real Madrid has relied on him recently, one can speculate that it will be a generational challenge to replace the Croat.
Winger: Cristiano Ronaldo
Ronaldo’s early 30s at Real Madrid saw him reinvent himself as a forward and help Real Madrid to one of the most successful periods in their history.
Slimming down to retain his pace, the Portuguese winger converted himself into a lethal striker while retaining most of the skillset that made him such a great player to watch. Three consecutive Champions League titles as well as another LaLiga title followed with Ronaldo’s instrumental contribution in those successes. He would be impossible to exclude from this lineup in spite of leaving at a relatively young age of 32 for Juventus.
Winger: Paco Gento
Of the 1950s generation, Gento really laid down the gauntlet for longevity. Ferenc Puskas played matches for Real Madrid at 39, however, this was largely in a bit part role. Gento, on the other hand, was still a competitive force in the starting lineup right up until his final season with the club.
It propelled the winger to over 600 career appearances and being the club’s most successful player for over half a century.
Striker: Karim Benzema
Choosing the forward position was one of the most difficult decisions I had to make for this team. Leaving out Puskas, a player’s whose entire career at Real Madrid was played past the age of 30 and his traditional peak, was hard to swallow. However, I don’t think there is any recency bias in saying that Benzema deserves this spot.
He has played in a more challenging era physically and tactically and is a much more complete forward than Puskas ever was while still providing the sort of output his Hungarian predecessor did. The number nine has really become his number for me and it’ll be hard to dislodge that connection in my mind for some time to come.
I imagine a lot of you disagree with me on these picks, please feel free to share your incorrect answers in the comments to be trashed by your peers. That’s how this works right?