Age is just a number: Calcio’s 12 greatest veteran goalscorers

On February 2, 2019, Fabio Quagliarella was on the brink of writing history. He had scored in 11 consecutive games for Sampdoria and needed just one more goal to break the record set by Gabriel Batistuta back in 1994/95.

Fittingly, the veteran’s chance came away from home against his hometown club Napoli just a few days after celebrating his 36th birthday. It seemed written in the stars – yet there was to be no fairy tale as La Samp were soundly beaten 3-0.

Nevertheless, what the 36-year-old achieved – and continues to achieve – is remarkable. They say scoring goals is football’s hardest skill, yet Quagliarella’s exploits remind us that veteran goal-scorers are part of Italian football’s fabric.

As such, it seems fitting to honour those forwards who have continued to flourish into the twilight years of their calcio careers.

Fabio Quagliarella

When it comes to jaw-dropping goals, Quagliarella has a back catalogue full of them: Long-range screamers, bicycle kicks, back heel volleys – if you watch his compilations on YouTube, the Naples-born striker stands toe-to-toe with likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

His career has traversed the length and breadth of the peninsula, playing for eight different teams and transcending fierce rivalries. His honours include a Serie B title with Torino and three consecutive Serie A titles with Juventus, but there is no doubting his greatest personal success came after joining Sampdoria in 2016, aged 33.

Known for his flashes of brilliance and as a scorer of great goals, Quagliarella finally established himself as a consistent marksman, firing 19 goals in the 2017/18 campaign – a personal best tally only topped by three other players in the Capocannoniere race.

He looks set to surpass that in 2018/19 campaign and currently sits just two goals short of Cristiano Ronaldo in the scoring charts. More significantly, Quagliarella only needs to find the net three more times to reach the 20-goal mark in a season for the first time in his career. Not bad for a 36-year-old.

Edin Dzeko

After spells in his home country and Czech Republic, Edin Dzeko stepped into the breach at VfL Wolfsburg, netting 26 goals in his second season, and winning the Bundesliga title and Golden Boot in his third.

The Bosnian’s form earned him moved to Manchester City where he won two Premier League titles, reaching double digits in three of his five campaigns. Yet he warmed the bench for most of his final season in Manchester, precipitating a move to Roma.

His first season in Serie A was a total disappointment, yielding a paltry eight goals as the player struggled to adapt to life in Italy. Despite this, Roma retained their faith in the Bosnian making his loan deal permanent.

The big man remained modest and dedicated, and soon justified the Giallorossi’s trust by developing a brilliant understanding with Mohamed Salah. Both players reaped the rewards, finishing the season as Roma’s highest scoring duo in over 80 years.

At the age of 31, Dzeko ended the 2016/17 season with a tally of 39 goals in all competitions, including a chart-topping 29 in Serie A. In 2017/18, he guided the Giallorossi to the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League for the first time in the club’s history and continues to act as the focal point of Roma’s front line. And when one accounts for the achievements of other veterans on this list, the soon-to-be 33-year-old still has comparative youth on his side.

Marco Di Vaio

In his formative years in Serie A, the Rome-born striker bagged a handful of trophies including a Coppa Italia with Parma and a Scudetto with Juventus, before touring through La Liga and Ligue 1 with Valencia and Monaco respectively.

In the final chapters of his career, Di Vaio chose Bologna as his last Italian stop. There, his work-rate and clinical finishing enamoured him to Rossoblu fans from the outset. In the 2008/09 season, his first with the club, he netted a personal best 24 goals at the ripe old age of 32. Di Vaio continued his virtuoso displays throughout his time at the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara, reaching double digits in all four campaigns before moving to MLS in 2012.

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Massimo Maccarone

He may not be the most glamorous name on this list, but Massimo Maccarone is one of the most iconic players in Empoli’s history.

Big Mac’s cult status at the Tuscan club was secured back in the 2001-02 season when he and Antonio Di Natale helped fire them back into Serie A. In 2012, after an eventful career in in the Premier League and elsewhere in Serie A, Maccarone returned to Empoli, aged 32.

The Azzurri were back in Serie B and Maccarone once again spearheaded their return to Serie A – a feat which took three years to achieve. The Prima Punta spent three more years with Empoli in Serie A where his ruthless quality in front of goal bagged a personal top-flight best tally of 13 goals in the 2015/16 campaign at the age of 36.

Fabrizio Miccoli

A larger than life personality, a low centre of gravity and an incredible sleight of foot, Fabrizio Miccoli had both the character and the ability to score goals wherever he played. Indeed, the diminutive forward played for some of Europe’s finest clubs.

His golden years in Italy came during his time with Palermo where his ferocious right foot performed wonders for the Aquile. At 31-years-old, his 19-goal haul in the 2009/10 Serie A season was crucial to the club’s fifth place finish, just two points short of a Champions League qualification place.

The Italian continued to dazzle the calcio world and two years later reached double digits both in goals and assists, marking another unforgettable season in the pink.

Diego Milito

By the time he had reached 30 years of age, Diego Milito was celebrating reaching 24 Serie A goals with Genoa and getting ready to move to Internazionale where he would replace one of the best strikers ever to grace a football pitch, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Milito hit the ground running at the Giuseppe Meazza, scoring an eye-catching 30 goals in all competitions during Inter’s historic treble winning season.

But he didn’t stop there – the 33-year-old matched his season’s best tally in Serie A two years later with another 24 goals, writing his name in the history books as one of the finest Argentinians to wear the blue and black strips.

Antonio Di Natale

Empoli’s relegation in 2003–04 proved to be a blessing in disguise for Antonio Di Natale as it marked the start of his journey with his new club in Udine.

Toto went on to become the top scorer in Udinese’s history with a total of 191 goals, all scored in Serie A. Incredibly, 163 of those goals were netted after he turned 30, strengthening Di Natale’s case to be ranked the greatest over-30s goal scorer in Serie A history.

With his intelligent movement, accurate finishing and unabashed hunger for goals, the Italian reached his peak between 2009 and 2011 when, aged 32-34, he topped the Serie A scoring charts for two consecutive seasons with 29 and 28 goals respectively.

Di Natale continued his masterclass in finishing for another five seasons, notching 20+ goals (in all competitions) in three of them and leading Udinese to the Champions League qualifiers twice.

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Alessandro Del Piero

We can count ourselves lucky we lived through an era in which Alessandro Del Piero wore the black and white strips of Juventus. And an argument can easily be made that Juve’s golden boy peaked long before his 30s.

In his 20s, Alex won every domestic and continental title going with the Bianconeri. However, the Calciopoli scandal marked a new personal beginning for the Juventus captain.

After winning the World Cup, Del Piero found himself playing in Serie B and instead of burying his head in the sand, he bagged 20 goals to become the top scorer in the league as the Old Lady secured her return to the top flight.

He returned to Serie A at the age of 33 and took it by the storm, registering 21 goals to become Capocannoniere for the first time in his career. It was a remarkable comeback by the man they call ‘Pinturicchio

Francesco Totti

There may never be another Serie A footballer with the technique, poise and spirit of Francesco Totti, and Roma are unlikely to ever have a son as beloved and successful as the man who represented them for 25 years.

The Gladiator celebrated his 30th birthday at the start of the 2006/07 season, right after he provided six assists to guide his country to their last World Cup victory.

That season, he became the league’s top scorer with 26 goals, but it was only the beginning of his finest years as the No.10 went on to score 125 goals for La Magica in his 30s.

Dario Hubner

He made a nuisance of himself in the box, exploited space, invited defenders to assume nothing and stabbed the ball into the net with precision. And in 12 seasons in Serie A and Serie B, Dario Hubner only failed to reach double digits once, during his final campaign.

Despite his records, Hubner never represented a top club in Italy and didn’t make his Serie A debut until he was 30-years-old. In his debut top-flight campaign in 1997/98, he netted 16 times for Brescia where he remained for three more years despite suffering relegation.

At the age of 35, he joined Piacenza and became the oldest Capocannoniere in Serie A history (a record later beaten by another man on this list, Luca Toni), equalling the 24-goal haul of Juventus’ Davide Trezeguet. In essence, the man they nicknamed ‘The Bison’ was the ultimate veteran provincial striker.

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Oliver Bierhoff

Oliver Bierhoff dominated calcio in every aspect, bagging more than 100 goals in his 11 years in Italy.

After a vital season with Salzburg in Austria scoring 23 goals, Bierhoff moved to Ascoli where he spent four seasons. His performances earned him a place at Udinese where he turned from great goal scorer to legend.

In his final season at the Friuli stadium, Bierhoff celebrated his 30th birthday with a 27-goal tally, leading Udinese to a third-place finish in Serie A. More impressively, the German bomber was the league’s top scorer ahead of Ronaldo, Gabriel Batistua and Roberto Baggio.

That was enough to earn a move to Milan where his 19 goals he played a crucial role in securing the 1998/99 Scudetto.

Luca Toni

After enjoying huge success at Bayern Munich followed by less successful spells at Roma, Juventus and Genoa – and a bizarre sojourn in the Middle East – many felt Toni should retire. However, he made his way to Hellas Verona for the most Indian of summers.

Aged 36, Toni joined the Gialloblu for the 2013/14 season and hit 20 league goals – his best haul since 2009 – as Verona celebrated their return to the top flight (after an 11-year absence) with a tenth-place finish.

But Toni was just getting warmed up. His second season began slowly: just five goals scored before the winter break, but then the striker seemed to reverse time and it felt like 2006 all over again. Netting no fewer than six braces as the season marched towards its conclusion, Toni discriminated against no one, striking against Juventus, Milan, Napoli and Inter.

He finished the season with 22 goals, topping the charts alongside Inter’s Mauro Icardi, a player sixteen years his junior. In the process, Toni usurped Hubner’s 13-year reign as the oldest Capocannoniere in history, a record that looks set to stand for many years to come.

Words by Ramez Nathan: @RamezYNathan

Image credit (header): Fabio Quagliarella