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Top Footballers Who Retired Too Early

Tue 24 May 2022 | 13:30

We always love to see our favorite footballers play to the last drop of their energy, and of course, remain there on the pitch as long as possible, but that’s not always the case. There have been top footballers who retired too early, and in this post we are going to talk about them.

We have on our list some top retired soccer players and also some other who, although may not be considered as top, they were at least talented and promising during their play times. All, however, share “retiring early” with some of them having retired at 32 or 31, and some other, as you might not believe, as arly as 20.

Apart from the top retired soccer players we are going to talk about in this post, you might also like to know about

football players retiring in 2022

. That’s indeed a different area we are not going to focus on in this post, however, just for your information, some of the football players retiring in 2022 - of course, that’s a prediction and not certain - might be Pepe (38 years old), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (39 years old), and the top Italian goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon (44 years old).

A List of Soccer Players Who Retired Early

As mentioned above, on our list of top footballers who retired too early, there are footballers who might not be considered as top but still above-average and near-top whose very early retirement brought them on this list.

Eric Contona

One of the top former French footballers deservedly being on our list of

top footballers who retired too early

, Eric Contona retired in 1997 at the early age of 30 with Manchester United being the last club he served. He actually announced his retirement in advance before the end of 1996-97 season. That was actually a personal decision; no injury or other incident was involved. One month before Contona’s retirement went public, he had informed the then Man Utd manager, Alex Ferguson, of his decision. “When you quit football it is not easy, your life becomes difficult. I should know because sometimes I feel I quit too young. I loved the game but I no longer had the passion to go to bed early, not to go out with my friends, not to drink, and not to do a lot of other things, the things I like in life,” said Contona once about his early retirement.

Just Fontaine

Fontaine’s career lasted only for 12 years between 1950 and 1962. He’s currently 88 years old but at the time of his retirement in 1962, he was only 29 years old. He’s one of the most prolific scorers in the history of football with 258 goals in 284 club appearances and 30 goals in 21 international appearances. He also holds the record for most goals scored in a single edition of World Cup: 13 goals in 6 matches in 1958 World Cup. Fontaine didn’t want to actually retire that early, but a recurring injury made him. At the time of retirement he was exactly 28 years and 11 months old.

Marco Van Basten

They call him a legend, but if not, he’s for sure one of the best footballers Netherlands has ever produced. He’s on the list of top footballers who retired too early because he actually retired at the early age of 31. His career lasted only for 14 years between 1981 and 1995 during which he served the top European clubs, Ajax and AC Milan. The main reason behind Van Basten’s early retirement was actually several ankle injuries that he received while with Milan. The last of these injuries was in a game against

Ancona

in 1992-93 season which forced the Dutch forward off the field for six months and had him undergo several surgeries from which he never fully recovered having to say goodbye to the world of football at the age of 31, as mentioned above.

Hidetoshi Nakata

The only Asian footballer on the list of top footballers who retired too early, Hidetoshi Nakata - currently 45 - retired at the early age of 29 and just after a 11-year career which lasted from 1995 to 2006. He’s among Asian footballers who have played in European leagues - he played for A.S. Roma and Fiorentina during his career - and is considered as one of the greatest Asian footballers of all time. He announced his retirement from both club and international football in July 2006 saying: “I will never again stand on the pitch as a professional player. But I will never give up football,” however, in an interview with TMW Magazine later in 2014, Nakata stated that he had retired from professional football because he had no longer enjoyed it and wanted to see “what was going on in the world.”

Michel Platini

One of the only two footballers on our list of soccer players who retired early to have won three Ballon d’Or trophies during his career - the other is Marco Van Basten, though Platini is the only one on the list with three consecutive Ballon d’Or trophies, Michel Platini is a French legend whose career only lasted for 15 years between 1972 and 1987 during which he served only three clubs, Nancy, Saint-Etienne, and Juventus. Platini’s retirement came on in 1987 at the age of 32 both at club and international level as a result of what seemed like a personal decision. We mean no injury or other incident was involved in that. It might be interesting for you to know that at the time of his retirement in 1987, Platini was France’s top scorer of all time with 41 goals in 72 international appearances; what he remained actually for 20 years up until 2007 that his record was broken by Thierry Henry as he scored his 42nd international goal in a Euro 2008 qualification match against

Lithuania

.

Brian Laudrup

Although Laudrup’s career lasted for only 14 years - between 1986 and 2000, he managed to serve 9 clubs during this time. He retired at the age of 31 with Ajax being the last club he served and the cause of his early retirement was actually the injuries he had endured during his career. In fact, he was forced to retirement but after what was a successful career for him in which he played for the two top European clubs, Bayern Munich and Chelsea.

Didier Deschamps

The first footballer on the list of top footballers who retired too early with a defensive role - he was a defensive midfielder during his career, Didier Deschamps retired at the age of 32 both from club and international level after a 16-year career which lasted from 1985 to 2001. He captained the French national team both in 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 in both of which his team won the competition. And it was after these two tournaments, actually in the middle of 2001, that Deschamps officially announced his retirement. He was France’s most capped footballer at the time of his retirement with 103 caps, though that record was later surpassed by his fellowmen, Marcel Desailly, 

Zinedine Zidane

 and Lilian Thuram.

Patrick Kluivert

Considered as one of the best Dutch forwards of all time, Patrick Kluivert served the top La Liga club, Barcelona, for a major part of his 14 year-career which lasted from 1994 to 2008; actually for six years between 1998 and 2004 which comprises almost half of his career. Kluivert retired in 2008 at the age of 32 with Lillie being the last club he served. It seems that the injuries he received after 2005 on were the main cause of his early retirement - he only made 13 appearances averagely in each three final seasons of his career. He was not also called up to the Dutch national team for the qualifying round of 2006 World Cup probably due to the same injuries. It should also be mentioned here that at the time of his international retirement in 2004, Kluivert was Netherland’s top scorer of all time with 40 goals. He remained so up until 2013 that his record was broken by Robin van Persie. He’s currently Netherland’s third top scorer of all time with that number of international goals.

Jurgen Klinsmann

Some believe Klinsmann is a legend, but if not, he’s at least one of the greatest footballers Germany has ever produced. Klinsmann retired at the age of 32 but there is no account of an injury or something alike being the cause of his early retirement. He’s just a big name in World Cup history. He’s actually the first footballer to have scored at least three goals in three consecutive editions of World Cup, namely the 1990, 1994, and 1998 editions of the competition. Klinsmann is also the sixth highest World cup overall scorer with 11 goals and the third highest World Cup overall German scorer just behind his fellowmen,

Miroslav Klose

and Gerd Muller who scored 16 and 14 goals, respectively, in the World Cup editions they took part in. Klinsmann’s career lasted for 17 years between 1981 and 1998 during which he served some top clubs like Bayern Munich and Tottenham Hotspur. Among the top footballers already mentioned in this post, he had a longer club career, though he retired almost around the same time as them.

Frank Rijkaard

Served almost only Ajax and AC Milan during his 15-year career which lasted from 1980 to 1995, Frank Rijkaard retired at the age of 32 with Ajax with being the last club he served. He’s actually the second footballer on the list of top footballers who retired too early with a defensive role throughout his career. He played both as a center back and defensive midfielder and was known not only as one of the best midfielders of his own generation but also in football history. Rijkaard was not an injury-prone player during his career, so, his early retirement was not because of injuries but most probably it was a personal decision.

Fabrice Muamba

It might be interesting for you to know that Fabrice Muamba’s career is the shortest among the footballers already mentioned in this post: Only 7 years from 2005 to 2012. The man himself retired at the age of 24 which is also the youngest among the footballers we have already mentioned in this post. And the cause of his retirement is also worth mentioning: It was no direct injury but a cardiac arrest in an FA Cup match between Tottenham Hotspur and Muamba’s side

Bolton Wanderers

that prevented him from continuing his professional career. Fortunately, he could recover from his medical condition, though his heart had stopped beating for 78 minutes, but chose to take the medical advice not to continue his professional career.

Andre Schurrle

Schurrle was born in November 1990, and is by now 31 years old, so, the expectation is that he’s still not retired, but he is. That actually happened not long from now in July 2020 when Schurrle terminated his contract with Borussia Dortmund which was of course a mutual agreement between them. He later said in an interview with the German magazine, Der Spiegel, that the reason behind his early retirement had been that he hadn’t wanted to stay in the endless competition which is a nature of professional football. It should be mentioned here that before his retirement, Schurrle played in almost 300 matches in top-tier leagues of Germany, England, and Russia.

Sebastian Deisler

This man’s career was also very short: Only 9 years between 1998 and 2007 during which he managed to serve three German clubs including Bayern Munich. Born in 1980, at the time of retirement, Sebastian Deisler was only 27 years old. He had actually a bright future ahead of him and could turn into one of those top German footballers, however, several injuries that he endured during his short career including cruciate ligament ruptures plus depression - or maybe too many injuries caused that depression - prevented Deisler from continuing his professional career and lose the chance to realize his full potential.

Adrian Doherty

The first passed footballer on the list of top footballers who retired too early, Adrian Doherty was a Dutch footballer whose career lasted, as you might not believe, only for 4 years between 1990 and 1994 before he turned 22. During this short time, he was with two clubs: Manchester United and the Irish club, Derry City. You might get surprised if you know that during his 4-season career, Doherty made only 3 appearances and scored one goal only for

Derry City

. With Manchester United he signed a professional 3-year contract at the age of 16 and by doing so he became the second footballer after Duncan Ferguson to sign a professional contract with the English club at such an early age, however, he never made an appearance for them. Even when he was going to be given the chance to make his debut with Man Utd, a cruciate ligament injury he had suffered before in a reserve game prevented him from doing so. It seems that It was actually the same injury that ended his career since he played not more than a season after that before he retired. Doherty died six years after his retirement in 2000 as his body was found unconscious in a canal in the Hague.

Andreas Laudrup

One of those early

retired soccer players

who had to quit his professional career at an early age of 24, Andreas Laudrup is a 31-year-old Spain-born Danish footballer who served only 4 clubs during his short-lasted career of 7 years: Lyngby BK,

FC Nordsjælland

, AS Saint-Étienne, and AGF. You might think the `cause of Laudrup’s early retirement was kind of an injury or so, but no, he was forced to retire due to what we haven’t mentioned yet as an early retirement cause: Arthritis. It should be mentioned here that Andreas Laudrup is the younger son of the former celebrated Danish footballer, Michael Laudrup.

 

Ruben De La Red

Also retired at an early age of 25, Ruben De La Red is a 36-year-old Spanish footballer and a product of Real Madrid who played only for two clubs during his career: Real Madrid, as you might have guessed, and Getafe. This service, indeed, didn’t go beyond 6 years as De La Red encountered a heart problem in 2008 just 4 years after the start of his career: He fainted during a Spanish Cup match against

Real Union

in October 2008 due to which he was hospitalized and later announced unable to play the rest of the season. It went so as De La Red had to undergo further evaluations every two months due to his heart problem; the same problem that finally imposed an early retirement on him in late 2010, however, that was not the end of De La Red’s presence in the world of football as he continued as a Real Madrid youth coach just two years later in 2012 and remained at the same position up until 2015. In 2015, he took on the management of Getafe who were competing in the third tier of Spanish league, however, that didn’t last more than a season as the team was relegated again to one tier lower.

Rory Allen

25 years old at the time of his retirement, Rory Allen is a 44-year-old retired English forward whose career lasted only for 7 years between 1995 and 2002 during which he served only three clubs: Tottenham Hotspur,

Luton Town

, and Portsmouth. Allen injured his ankle in September 1999 just 24 minutes to the end of a match against Ipswich town which actually kept him out up until March 2000. Later, he also suffered knee problems due to which he had to stay out for whole 2000-01 and 2001-02 seasons. Unfortunately, his struggles to regain full fitness came in vain pushing him toward the decision that he should retire early as it really happened: He handed his resignation 8 months before the end of his contract in November 2002 and said goodbye to the world of football for what it seemed as ever as he never worked later as a manager or even football pundit either.

Chris Naumoff

The only Australian footballer on the list of

soccer players who retired early

, Chris Naumoff is a 26-year-old retired Australian winger who actually retired at the age of 21 after a 4-year career which spanned from 2012 to 2016. During this time, he served two Australian clubs:

Sutherland Sharks

and Sydney FC, but at the end of 2015-16 season the latter did not offer a new contract to him. Naumoff accepted a three-year contract with the second-tier Spanish club, Numancia, but the contract was later cancelled due to the fact that the Australian footballer was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition in which heart becomes thickened with no obvious reason. That actually marked the end of Naumoff’s footballing career as a player and at the age of 21, however, he continued later as a coach as he was appointed the youth coach of the Australian club, Rockdale City Suns, in 2016. He later launched his own sports academy, too, and is currently the coach of Sydney Grammar School team.

Gueida Fofana

Compared to the Arsenal legend, Patrick Vieira, in playstyle, Gueida Fofana never had the chance to realize his full potential, unfortunately, as he was forced to retire at an early age of 25 due to persistent ankle problems he had picked up from injuries. His career lasted only for 7 years between 2009 and 2016 during which he served the two French clubs, Le Havre and Lyon, as a defensive midfielder and defender before he went through his early retirement, however, that early retirement of his didn’t mean he was completely out of football world as he was appointed Lyon B assistant manager in 2018-19 season which was followed by his becoming the manager of the team in 2019-20 season.

Jimmy Jambo

His real name is Zhaimu Jambo, but he’s more known as Jimmy Jambo in the football world. He’s actually a 34-year-old retired Zimbabwean footballer who played as a defender during his career and for the Zimbabwean club, Gunners FC, and the South African club,

Kaizer Chiefs

. Compared to the previous footballers to him on our list of early-retired footballers, Jambo had a longer career which actually lasted for 9 years between 2005 and 2014; he also retired a little bit later than them at the age of 27, however, that is still early for a footballer to retire at that age which in case of Jambo was because of a knee injury. Anyway, again just like the previous footballers to him on the list, Jambo is also not completely out of football world since it’s been some time that he’s been appointed Kaizer Chiefs U15 team coach.

Julian Nagelsmann

The only footballer on the list of

top footballers who retired too early

who never played as a senior player due to his injuries! Nagelsmann only played for the under-aged teams of 1860 Munich and FC Augsburg. He was part of the above-mentioned clubs’ senior teams between 2006 and 2008 but could never play for them due to the injuries, specifically knee injuries, that he had picked up. Finally he was forced to a very early retirement at the age of 20, however, he didn’t quit football for ever as he has continued as a manager since 2016 and is currently Bayern Munich’s manager having already won two club trophies, namely a Bundesliga title and a DFL Super Cup in 2021-22 season, with them.

Alvaro Dominguez

Retired at the early age of 27, Alvaro Dominguez is a retired Spanish defender who played only for two clubs during his 9-year career which lasted from 2007 to 2016: Atletico Madrid and Borussia Monchengladbach. It was actually his time in Germany which brought his early retirement. He retired, as mentioned above, at the age of 27, due to the injuries he picked up while with Borussia Monchengladbach. After his retirement, Dominguez didn’t continue in the world of football, however, later in 2018, he collaborated in the publication of a manual for footballers which helped them better manage their finances.

Owen Hargreaves

A Canadian footballer with a Welsh mother and an English father who could represent Canada, England, and Wales during his international career, though he only represented England and Wales, Owen Hargreaves retired at not a very early but an early age of 31 after a 13-year career which spanned from 1999 to 2012. Hargreaves picked up injuries in 2006 and 2007 more than any other time during his career. He actually broke his leg and when he recovered from it he felt that his leg was weaker than before. He hadn’t really recovered from the injury and there was some kind of problem with his patella tendon.

After undergoing several operations on his knee, finally in September 2010, his surgeon, Richard Steadman, announced that everything was ok with Hargreaves’ knee, but that actually wasn’t the case as the Canadian footballer, who returned to pitch for Man Utd after 777 days out, failed just six minutes after the start of his first game after recovery and had to be sidelined again. Although Hargreaves was in high spirits afterwards, sent videos on Youtube on his fitness, and even managed to sign a contract with Manchester City, he couldn’t really make it and was forced to retire in 2012.

Ryan Mason

Retired at the early age of 27 after a 10-year career which spanned from 2008 to 2018, Ryan Mason was actually forced to end his career due to a fractured-skull injury. That actually happened in 2017, in a Premier League match against Chelsea where Mason picked up the injury after a clash of heads with the opposition defender, Gary Cahill. The operation on his head was successful leaving him, of course, with 14 metal plates in his head and 45 staples across his head. No doubt that a footballer with such a condition can never continue playing football professionally as was the case with Ryan Mason who had to announce his retirement in 2018.

Dean Ashton

He’s actually the only footballer on the list of early retired soccer players who picked up his career-ending injury in a training session. It was just a day before a friendly against Greece that Dean Ashton, who was included on England’s team for the friendly, was harshly tackled by his teammate, Shaun Wright-Phillips, during a training session breaking his ankle as a result and not being able to take part in the match the day after. The same injury kept him out for a season and when he was called up to the English national team for a second time to play against

Estonia

, he was again ruled out due to a sprained medial collateral ligament problem. Finally, he had to retire in 2009 at the age of 26 because of the same injury.

Pierluigi Casiraghi

The only Italian footballer on the list of

top footballers who retired too early

, Pierluigi Casiraghi is a 53-year-old retired Italian footballer who was forced to retire early at the age of 31 due to a cruciate ligament injury he could not recover from. He actually picked up the injury in a game against West Ham United in 1998 where his collision with the West Ham goalkeeper, Shaka Hislop, resulted in the above-mentioned injury and despite the fact that he underwent ten operations, he could never fully recover and was forced to terminate his contract with his then team, Chelsea, in July 2000 retiring after a 15-year career which spanned from 1985 to 2000.

Seth Johnson

Retired in 2007 at the age of 28 after an 11-year career which spanned from 1996 to 2007, Seth Johnson is a 43-year-old former English midfielder who served the English club, Derby County, more than any other club during his career. He was actually part of the

Derby County

team who won the Championship play-off final and got promoted to Premier League in 2007, however, he picked up an injury - actually a knee injury - three minutes to the end of the same final that actually forced him to retire early at the age of 28.

Stuart Holden

The only American footballer on the list of top footballers who retired too early, Stuart Holden was actually born in Scotland but immigrated to US with his parents just before the age of 10. Holden’s career lasted only for 9 years between 2005 and 2014 during which he served four clubs including the English club, Bolton Wanderers. He suffered several injuries to his knee during his career, but if those injuries were the cause of his early retirement is in doubt. Holden didn’t play after 2014, but announced his retirement in 2016. At the time of retirement he was 29. It seems he was partly fit after all those injuries but wasn’t offered any contract from football clubs. Even the last club he served, namely Bolton Wanderers, signed a new contract with him only as a reserve.

Jack Collison

He also suffered several injuries to his knee during his short-lasted career which spanned 9 years from 2007 to 2016. It was actually the same injuries that finally imposed an early retirement on Collision in 2016 at the age of 28. The truth is he picked up injuries at the end of his service to West Ham United and was loaned to lower-tier clubs like

Wigan Athletic

and Ipswich Town so that he could recover under less pressure from his plays, however, that never happened as his knee injuries recurred and proved to be quite persistent forcing him to retire in 2016 at the age of 28. He made a total of 147 club appearances during his career in which he scored 14 goals.

Uli Hoeness

Retired in 1979 at an early age of 27, Uli Hoeness is a 70-year-old former German forward who served almost only the top Bundesliga club, Bayern Munich, during his short-lasted career which spanned from 1970 to 1979. He was actually loaned to FC Nurnberg for the 1978-79 season to help him recover from a devastating tackle he had already picked up in the 1974-75 edition of European Cup against Leeds United. The culprit was Leeds United’s then defender, Frank Gray, who actually put up an assault against Hoeness leaving him with a serious knee injury from which he never fully recovered having to quit his professional career as a player in 1979 at the age of 27, however, the German forward didn’t quit football altogether as he was appointed Bayern Munich’s general manager in the same year that he retired (1979) and was promoted to the German club’s presidency almost 30 years later in November 2009 after a successful campaign during which the Bavarians won 15 Bundesliga titles and 10 DFB Pokal trophies.

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