So where do you go? What are your best options?
Here are the five best destinations on the map for almost deceased soccer players:
1. The United States of America
Fair or not, Major League Soccer has long had the tag of a “retirement league” – a sort of Ellis Island for aging superstars who’ve wanted to live in America and experience high fructose culture before dying. Bring your tired, wrinkled masses and checks will be cut! Come experience America alongside real, actual Americans who are struggling and only getting by because they can coach at soccer camps on the side. Home of the free and brave, indeed.
Talk about a sales pitch writing itself. But there’s more.
Let’s say you have a family and want to live in a neighborhood near reality TV stars past and present? Say, from time to time, you want to sit at a restaurant with your family without drunk randos running up on you and screaming, “STEVIE GEE, STEVIE GEE, STEVIE GEEEEEEEEEEEE!” while you’re having a pastry. You can do these things in America. You can also get real ketchup.
After years of working at the so-called top level, you deserve these things. The American dream is real and alive for old non-Americans who’ve excelled at soccer at some point in the last decade.
Top old person perk: Relative anonymity while surrounded by relative peace and quiet. Noise is a massive nuisance to aged ears. TURN DOWN THAT MUSIC, YOUNG WHIPPER-SNAPPER! STOP TYPING IN ALL CAPS BEFORE I TELL YER PAPPY! There’s not so much of that NOISE in America for elite, rapidly aging soccer players, certainly not in comparison to places where people say things like, “It’s called football.”
2. The People’s Republic of China
The Chinese Super League, of late, has been attracting some big names, names that would ordinarily fall into the “MLS rumor” cache. Didier Drogba did a stint in China, as did Nicholas Anelka, Alberto Gilardino, Frédéric Kanouté, Seydou Keita, and, obviously, the great Yakubu. But even as I type this, fancy people who’ve done big things are currently kicking balls around in China: Asamoah Gyan, Paulinho, Momo Sissoko, and Demba Ba are a few notables.
Yet Zac Lee Rigg tells me the level in the Chinese Super League is awful.
But even if that’s the case, it has to be improving, because Gyan is making $355,000 per week. (That’s how analysis works, right?) That’s right, Ghana captain Asamoah Gyan, who just signed for Shanghai SIPG, is currently on a higher pre-tax salary than Sergio Aguero, Neymar, and Luis Suarez.
If China can keep up this sort of nonsense, future Steven Gerrards will certainly be tempted to hit up the People’s Republic for a payday MLS can’t, and probably shouldn’t, touch.
Top old person perk: Remember. You are old. Look at how much Gyan is making again. Per. Week. If you have an agent, ask your agent to make a call. It can’t hurt. Best case scenario you’re on Gyan money in Shanghai in a few weeks. Worst case scenario is you’re still old, sitting where you’re sitting right now. There isn’t much to lose.
First things first: The Middle East is not a country. Great. Glad that’s out of the way.
If you’re actually good at soccer or have been good at soccer, and have no qualms cozying up to the Qatari establishment, becoming a spokesperson for the 2022 Qatar World Cup, and think you could do a decent job avoiding questions about human rights, do I have a destination for you.
Ex-Barcelona superhero Xavi Hernández is the latest prominent name to sign up to ride into the sunset in the Gulf. He will be playing for Al Sadd this upcoming season, in the Qatar Stars League. Of course, Xavi could have gone anywhere, but he went to Qatar, home of Barcelona sponsor Qatar Airways (wholly owned by the Qatari government). He’ll make a pretty penny, surely, while playing in Qatar, but he’ll also be able to get some coaching badges and learn more about Qatari soccer, which will prepare him to coach Qatar at the 2022 World Cup.
Xavi is a prize for Qatar. As one of the greatest players on possibly the greatest club team to have ever played (Barcelona), he’d be a prize for any country he chose to bless with his tiki-taka powers. That would be true for England, Germany, Italy, the U.S., or China. But he’s a massive get for Qatar, particularly as the Gulf nation seeks to shield itself from a global outcry over its fitness to host the World Cup.
In his role as a prized Qatari asset, Xavi will become chums with the real Qatari movers and shakers. Al Sadd, for instance, is run by Mohammed bin Hamad Al Thani, a member of the House of Thani. If that means nothing to you, all you need to really know is that he goes by “His Excellency,” is 27 years old, and runs a team that can afford Xavi.
That’s how Xavi will be rolling. Sure, you aren’t Xavi, but even if you can be rolling at 25% of Xavi’s rolling, that’s still a good spot for an old person.
But there’s also the UAE, if Qatar’s not your cup of tea. The UAE was home to Asamoah Gyan before his aforementioned move to Shanghai. From all accounts (Gyan’s Instagram), he was a beloved figure at Abu Dhabi-based Al Ain. He also made a crap ton of money. In 2012, people wondered why Gyan — then a 26-year-old World Cup veteran playing in the Premier League (albeit Sunderland, to be fair) — would make the move to Abu Dhabi.
Well, there are over nine million reasons why it was a wise decision. That’s in dollars.
Oh, and the president of Al Ain?
Name: Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Title: Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces
Living the yacht life isn’t out of the question when you have a friend with that kind of title. And old people, generally, like that yacht life.
Top old person perk: Befriending royalty. At some point, you must have thought, “I’d love to have a friend to whom I could say, ‘I’d love to have my own island,’ and they’d be like, ‘Word. Here’s an island.’” That’s a hell of a perk. Old people would kill for stability that comes with friends like these. This beats a healthy 401(K) every time.
Reporter: “Mr. Del Piero! Mr. Del Piero! Is it true that one of your final wishes was to experience life down under?”
Del Piero, probably: “Look, I’m not in Sydney because I’m now the highest-paid athlete in Australian soccer or rugby or Aussie Rules. I’m pushing 40 and I just want to experience the game. I love New Zealand and Hobbit movies. It’s great here.”
Here’s something no top professional never said in his prime: “I’d love to play in Australia.” Yet elderly players have been making the move from Europe to Australia for a while now. Del Piero captained Sydney FC. Robbie Fowler and Emile Heskey have made appearances. Damien Duff, too. David Villa, you may know him from his post-A League trip to New York City to play soccer in Derek Jeter’s old office. Yeah, he also did Australia.
Top old person perk: I don’t know, but old people seem to enjoy retiring to play soccer in Australia.
Home of Freddy Adu’s new team, the NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Top old person perk: There’s a soccer team here that apparently will let a veteran of 12 teams keep playing. So, old warrior, sitting on that couch, shirtless, drinking gravy out of a glass, there’s still hope for you.