On the 6 March 2011, Ryan Giggs became Manchester United’s most capped player ever, surpassing club legend Bobby Charlton’s record of 607 appearances. In May of the same year, Liverpool Centre-back Jamie Carragher made his 666th appearance in a Liverpool shirt, putting him second in line for the most number of first team appearances for the Merseyside Club, only behind Ian Callaghan, who played a staggering 857 times for the Reds.
On October 2, Frank Lampard’s hat trick at the Reebok Stadium against Bolton Wanderers meant he had marked his 350th appearance for Chelsea with more than a flourish. And while Lampard was cracking open the champagne on reaching this milestone, Alessandro Nesta, on his 568th competitive appearance, was marshalling AC Milan’s defence in a crunch match at the Juventus Arena against a team which boasted of veterans Alessandro Del Piero, Luca Toni, Gianluigi Buffon and Nesta’s former Milanese colleague Andrea Pirlo.
And on the 16th of this month, Francesco Totti, who has been capped 617 times for AS Roma and is currently the highest active goalscorer in Serie A, will pit his wits against his German counterpart in Miroslav Klose, who has featured more than 400 times for various clubs throughout his career, when Lazio meet Roma in what promises to be a thrilling game.
While these numbers sound impressive, there are several reasons as to why these footballers have been able to amass a whopping number of caps. Read on, and you will know why:
1) They get the job done
Time and time again, these footballers are called upon when their teams are in need of a breakthrough which their colleagues are unable to find. They know how to create that special pass, spot a run with their eagle-eyed vision, and turn a game on its head with one moment of magic. Remember Henrik Larsson who put Barcelona level and then played a hand in creating Juliano Belletti’s goal in the 2006 Champions League Final against Arsenal? How many times have Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Thierry Henry bailed Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal out of sticky situations?
The perfect example to illustrate this would be when Manchester United took on Portuguese side SL Benfica at the Estadio da Luz – by no means an easy place to get a result – in a Champions League game on the 14th of September, and were trailing 1-0 to Oscar Cardozo’s first-half strike. United were struggling to get past the hosts who were defending staunchly, until the ball was played into the path of Ryan Giggs.
The Welsh wizard cut inside from the right and fired a 20-yard piledriver into the Benfica net in the 42nd minute to put United on terms and come away with a share of the spoils. In doing so, Giggs broke his own record as the oldest goalscorer in the Champions League, and it also meant he’d scored in sixteen consecutive seasons of the Champions League, moving one ahead of fellow veteran Raul.
Time and time again we’ve seen the likes of Jamie Carragher, John Terry, Alessandro Nesta, Paolo Maldini and Carles Puyol weather wave after wave of attack. Scoring a goal from twenty yards out brings with it a thrill like no other, but these defensive stalwarts always see their team through when it comes to the business end of the game. A title winning team is always built on a solid defence, and veterans like these are what tip the scales in their team’s favour.
2) They’ve been there, and they’ve done that
Old Warhorses such as Carragher, Totti and Co. have been playing top flight footballs for decades, and have amassed huge amounts of experience which has enhanced their ability to read the game. Players of the ilk of Lampard, Gerrard and Klose have the can do in seconds what others would be able to do in minutes, while playmakers such as Xavi Hernandez and the recently retired Paul Scholes can do in inches what less experienced players would do in yards. The vast experience these veterans have gained over the years means their game is of the highest standards and has been refined time and time again to make them the best at what they do.
The reason AC Milan were able to clinch the Scudetto last season was due to the presence of Alessandro Nesta at the heart of their defence. Nesta was an integral cog in a Rossoneri defence that conceded just 24 goals in 38 top flight games and formed what turned out to be the meanest defence in Italy. The ability of a defender to perceive weaknesses in an attacker’s style of play where none are overtly visible may be the difference between a title winning side and an also-ran that despite providing competition for much of the season lacks that cutting edge that only an experienced player can provide.
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