Let’s take a look at some of the greats. Peter Schmeichel was still playing just shy of his 40th birthday while the legendary Soviet-Russian keeper’ Lev Yashin also called it quits as he approached his fourth decade. Lest we forget the great Dino Zoff, a man who led Enzo Bearzot’s Italy to World Cup glory in Spain in 1982, and his age? You guessed it, 40, an achievement that makes him the oldest player in history to win football’s biggest prize.
Today, with a wealth of expertise at a clubs disposal, from nutritionists to physiologists, players are playing for longer and it’s not just the goalkeepers. Inter legend Javier Zanetti and Manchester United’s Ryan Giggs both played at the highest level into their 40’s. Indeed, the age of 40 appears to be the magic number, the number in which even the fittest of footballers call it a day. That is until you take a trip to the Veneto region of Italy and the medieval town of Cittadella, where goalkeeper Andrea Pierobon is still plying his trade in Serie B at the age of 45.
Pierobon’s dream was realised as an 18-year-old rookie keeper’ when he signed for his hometown club Cittadella back in 1987. However after making just ten appearances in three seasons, Pierobon left Citta and joined Italian minnows Giorgione, a club located in Castelfranco Veneto. Despite the fact Giorgione had just been relegated from Serie C2 (Italy’s lowest tier of professional football), Pierobon knew the importance of playing first team football and at Giorgione he cemented his place as number one, making 100 appearances over a three year spell.
Pierobon’s career has largely been spent in the lower leagues of Italian football and he has never made an appearance in Italy’s top flight. During the next four seasons he struggled to settle, playing for four different clubs and mustering the odd appearance here and there. In the summer of 1997, the then 28-year-old was restless and, eager for a new challenge; he earned a move to Serie B outfit S.P.A.L. It turned out to be a match made in heaven. Pierobon would spend eight roller-coaster years with the Emilia Romagna outfit in which he experienced both relegations and promotions. In total he made 250 appearances for the club earning him hero status.
Pierobon was 36 when his eight year spell with S.P.A.L came to an end one would have forgiven him for thinking about winding down or even hanging up his gloves altogether. The same gloves he once admitted to talking to before games and even sleeping with the night before; “One thing I do before almost every game I play is to sleep with my gloves on the table beside me.”Goalkeepers can be eccentric characters.But even at the age of 36 Pierobon still felt he had plenty to offer and in true Italian style, a romantic story lay just around the corner.
The Italian veteran returned to where it all began after Cittadella came calling once again, offering him the chance to make an emotional return home. Again, at 36 you’d think his best days were behind him. Perhaps he’d be at Cittadella for a couple of years warming the bench, or making the odd cup appearance before calling it a day. Not so and to this day Pierobon continues to compete for the number one jersey at Citta althoughnot the evergreen goalkeeper regularly finds himself second pick to Alex Valentini, a goalkeeper nearly 20-years his junior.
At the ripe old age of 45, Pierobon is known to his team mates as ‘Nonno’ (Grandfather), some of whom weren’t even born when he made his debut back in 1987. With more than 600 professional appearances over a 27 year playing period, Pierobon has the honour of being Italy’s oldest footballer. It was an accolade he earned last May after surpassing ex-Lazio stopper Marco Ballotta, who hung up his gloves at the age of 44.
Incredibly, Pierobon still shows no signs of relenting. Who knows how long‘Nonno’ will go on playing for, or how many more night’s he’ll spend with his beloved gloves by his side. One thing is for sure, when he does retire, his record will take some beating. But you never know; there may be a young man out there ready to follow in his special footsteps, albeit he may not be as crazy as Andrea Pierobon.
By Giovanni Dougall