This past weekend saw the conclusion of the regular season and with it settled the unanswered questions regarding promotion, relegation and European places. For a select few however it was a bitter-sweet end as they bow out of football and enter retirement. With much of the media buzz surrounding David Beckham and Sir Alex Ferguson, you could be forgiven for forgetting about the likes of Michael Owen, Jamie Carragher and Paul Scholes.
The England trio have decided that it’s time to close off this chapter of their lives and move on to pastures new. Scholes has already tasted retirement briefly after quitting at the end of last season, only for Sir Alex to persuade him to come back in what turned out to be a title-winning move. Scholes return helped to add creativity and steel to the United midfield that was suffering from the loss of the injured Darren Fletcher and an inconsistent Michael Carrick. Without Scholes, it’s questionable whether Sir Alex could have bowed out of football himself with the clubs 20th league title. The future for Scholes is uncertain but with David Moyes arriving at Old Trafford in the summer and his need to immediately connect with the club and its fans, there may be a job for Scholes on his coaching staff.
Former united player Michael Owen announced his intention to retire a few weeks ago shortly after ex England and Liverpool teammate Carragher had done the same. Owens career has seen him play for five different clubs (Liverpool, Real Madrid, Newcastle, United and Stoke) whilst Carragher has only played for one – Liverpool. Both players exit after distinguished careers, having lifted a variety of honours including the Champions League trophy. Carragher has been Mr. consistent for Liverpool and the rock at the back for the club whilst Owens goals for club and country seen him exit as a goal scoring recorded breaker.
Another player bowing out but not necessarily retiring is Newcastle’s Steve Harper. The ever faithful goalkeeper played his final game yesterday for the black and whites and was visibly moved by the minute applause by the Newcastle fans on the 37th minute. Supported as always by his wife and kids, wearing the number 37 shirt and the captain’s armband, Harper rolled back the years with some great saves against an aggressive Arsenal side that needed the three points to secure champions league football next year. Harper will decide in the summer about his next move, whether that is to extend his career at another club or bow out now to focus on other pursuits.
Like Harper, Javier Zanetti had been a one club man for some time now and in doing so has become an Inter Milan legend. At 39 years old, the ultra-fit Argentine looked to follow Paolo Maldini by playing in Serie A into his forties. However after rupturing his left Achilles tendon, Zanetti may have to call time on his career now rather than in a few years. It will be devastating news to the player and the club whose heart beat as one. If Zanetti is forced to retire, his next job is likely to still be at Inter with the club set to offer him a coaching role or like Beckham, an ambassador role in football. But Zanetti has not given up hope of playing again and spoke publicly after doctors confirmed the seriousness of his injury:
“My career does not finish here. After travelling so many kilometres, I just needed to change my tyres. I want to come back even stronger than before. My only sadness is not being able to help my team-mates qualify for the Europa League, but I have faith that they can do it.”
If Zanetti is unable to bounce back, he will join a host of other players across Europe who are retiring this summer. Tough tackling Italian midfielder Rino Gattuso is hanging up his boots so that he can focus on becoming a coach. The former AC Milan and Rangers star was until recently acting manager at troubled Swiss side Sion before he was sacked last week. Bulgarian captain Stiliyan Petrov has decided to leave the game as well so that he can focus on his recovery after battling acute leukaemia. And Schalke defender Christoph Metzelder, who represented Germany 47 times during his career, has also decided to retire at the end of this season after a serious of injuries blighted his latter years.
For all the players above, their footballing careers may be drawing to a close but a new chapter is about to begin. Most of them will remaining in the game in some capacity whether it be in coaching, as an ambassador or as a TV pundit whilst the rest will bid farewell and step away all together. Either way their contribution to the beautiful game will not be forgotten, at least not by the fans.