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Ageing Footballers: Brazil veteran Willian set to extend Fulham stay

Brazil international Willian is expected to sign a contract extension with Fulham after a successful 2022/23 Premier League campaign with the west London club. 

The winger, who will turn 35 on 9th August, arrived in Europe way back in 2007 when he signed for Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine and we take a look at some of the other veterans who are still going strong in the continent's top leagues.

Willian poised for another campaign with the Cottagers

Willian played an important role for Fulham last season as they finished 10th in the Premier League and the Cottagers are 10/3 to finish in the top half again in 2023/24.

Their experienced Brazilian is expected to sign a new one-year contract with the club, having attracted attention from top-flight rivals Nottingham Forest, as he continues his love affair with the Premier League.

Willian, capped 70 times at international level, spent seven successful years at Chelsea after arriving at Stamford Bridge in 2013, winning two league titles, the FA Cup, the EFL Cup and the Europa League in 2018/19.

He moved to Arsenal at the start of 2020/21, claiming three assists on his Gunners debut against Fulham, and returned to his boyhood club Corinthians at the end of that season.

However, Fulham lured Willian back to English football after winning promotion back to the Premier League and his season highlights for the Cottagers included the opening goal in January's 2-1 win over his former club Chelsea.   

Chelsea defender Silva is a golden oldie

Willian is still a spring chicken compared with another of the Premier League's golden oldies, his fellow Brazil international Thiago Silva.

At the age of 38, the Chelsea centre-back was the oldest player to appear in the 2022/23 English top flight and West Ham goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski, nearly eight months his junior, was the only other 38-year-old to feature last term.

Despite a huge overhaul of the Blues' squad, Silva looks set to play an important role under new manager Mauricio Pochettino and he will celebrate his 39th birthday on 22nd September.

The defender forged a reputation in Europe at AC Milan before moving to Paris Saint-Germain in 2012. Silva is closing in on 100 league appearances for Chelsea after signing for the Blues in 2020 and he captained Brazil at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. 

English veterans eager to impress at new clubs

Two English Premier League veterans are looking forward to fresh challenges this season as Ashley Young, who turned 38 earlier this month, has signed for Everton and 37-year-old James Milner joined Brighton after eight years at Liverpool.

Young's remarkable longevity is illustrated by the fact that, as a youngster at Watford, he played alongside Sean Dyche, his new manager at Everton.

He starts the new season on 422 Premier League appearances while Milner, who made his top-flight debut as a 16-year-old for Leeds in 2002, is third on the list with 619 appearances, behind only Ryan Giggs (632) and Gareth Barry (652).

The former Newcastle, Aston Villa and Manchester City midfielder brings a wealth of experience to a talented young Brighton side who finished sixth last season and are 11/2 to break into the top four in 2023/24.

Modric magic shows no sign of waning in Madrid

Real Betis winger Joaquin announced his retirement at the end of last season at the age of 41, having equalled goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta's record of 622 appearances in La Liga.

However, the Spanish top flight still boasts some top-class veterans including Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric, who is preparing for his 12th season in La Liga after arriving from Tottenham in 2012.

Modric will turn 38 in September but shows no sign of slowing down, appearing in 33 of Real's 38 league fixtures last season before helping Croatia reach the Nations League final in June.

The 2018 World Cup Golden Ball winner plays at Real alongside another vastly experienced campaigner in Toni Kroos. 

The German is a relative youngster at the age of 33. However, he has been playing top-level football since he was 17, first with Bayern Munich before moving to Real in 2014, and he won 106 international caps for Die Mannschaft before announcing his retirement in 2021. 

Goalkeepers tend to have longer careers than outfield players but, even so, no list of veteran footballers is complete without a mention of goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

The 45-year-old made his debut for Parma in 1995 and rejoined the club in 2021, starting 18 times in Serie B last season.

In between his two spells with Parma, Buffon made more than 500 Serie A appearances for Juventus and won 176 caps for Italy.   

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