Blog > Basics

What Age Do Soccer Players Usually Retire? (And 5 Reasons Why)

What Age Do Soccer Players Usually Retire? (And 5 Reasons Why)

Eventually, all soccer players must come to the end of their playing careers. Some pros will reach this moment with regret and sadness, worried about how they will replace this defining feature of their lives, which for former Academy prospects will have shaped everything they do since they were a young child.

On the other hand, some players may reach the end of their career feeling more than ready to take a step away from the beautiful game after years and years of constant training, fitness work and high-intensity professional play.

But what age do footballers usually retire? And what are the different factors that lead to top soccer stars deciding to call it quits and seek out a new post-playing path? In this article, these are the questions we'll be answering. We'll discuss the average retirement age for soccer players and the main factors that lead to a professional soccer player retiring. We'll also examine why a player might retire earlier than usual and later on, we'll answer a couple of questions regarding high-profile player retirements in some detail.

What Age Do Soccer Players Retire?

The age at which a professional footballer retires can vary immensely, for multiple reasons. Firstly, no two players' bodies are the same; different people are capable of handling different physical loads, and while some pros will go through their whole career without getting any major injuries, other more injury-prone players can sometimes end up spending a lot of time on the sidelines, whether that's for an ankle strain, a hamstring twinge, or something much more serious like an ACL injury (check out our article on the most common soccer injuries for more guidance on this subject). 

Both the physical and mental toll of repeatedly getting injured throughout your career can be tough, and this can cause some players to retire earlier than you might expect. On the other hand, if a pro effectively has a clean bill of health throughout their time at professional level, they may be more likely to keep going until they're older, maintaining the standards they've set for themselves.

Another thing to consider is the simple matter of minutes played. If a raw talent bursts onto the scene at the age of 16 or 17 and their instantly recognisable quality means they're regularly getting game time at the top level as a teenager, it's probably more likely that they will experience burnout and struggle to maintain the level of minutes they're getting throughout their career.

For example, after retiring from football, former English boy wonder Michael Owen admitted that his intense workload as a teenager shortened his career in the long term. "You can't force nature and nature has certainly forced me to rest far more than I would have liked in the second half of my career... It has to be the responsibility of the manager to rest young players," he wrote in his blog in 2012. The argument is that if minutes are managed more for younger players, they'll be able to keep going for a lot longer once they reach their thirties. Owen hung up his boots at the age of 33, having experienced most of his success as a much younger player. But is this the average age football players retire?

In the modern game, most male professional footballers will retire from the game between the ages of 34 and 36.

Meanwhile, female professional football players are more likely to retire between the ages of 32 and 34 (the differences are due to a variety of factors including more widespread funding and professionalism in the men's game and the lower level of sports science and medical treatment female players have access to).

Across the board, average retirement ages in soccer have increased in recent years as fitness and nutrition have improved and players have taken more and more care of their bodies throughout their careers. That being said, staying fit into your mid-late 30s can still be difficult...

5 Key Reasons Why Soccer Players Retire

While most soccer pros will retire by the time they are around 35 years old, Portugal's leading all-time goalscorer Cristiano Ronaldo is still banging in goals on a regular basis at the age of 39 (albeit for Al-Nassr in the Saudi Pro League, rather than at the very top of the global game). And he's not the only one — there are a variety of talented operators who have continued playing in professional leagues late into their 30s. Meanwhile, some players decide to take an early retirement around the age of 30, or even in their late 20s. Various factors can play into these decisions; here are five of the most important.

#1. Recurring Injuries

Many players work their way back to prime fitness after devastating injuries, but when the same injury keeps recurring over a prolonged period of time, it can become highly demoralising, and the medical advice may be to pack it in. For example, three-time Ballon d'Or-winning Netherlands striker Marco van Basten was forced to retire aged 30 after suffering from an ankle injury that got progressively worse over the years despite several surgeries and a two-year break from football. In the end, it was just too much.

#2. Career-ending injury

Sometimes, a player will suffer one devastating injury that it's impossible to come back from. Football is a contact sport and at times it can be dangerous; one key example of this came in 2000, when promising young Aston Villa forward Luc Nilis collided with Ipswich goalkeeper Richard Wright and suffered a horrific injury, shattering his right leg in two places. The damage was too much for him to ever play football professionally again.

#3. Age, pure and simple

It's unrealistic to expect anyone to be able to play forever. Even for the most dedicated pros, the people who look after their bodies exceptionally well and do everything they can to keep playing to a high standard, there comes a time when you simply can't compete like you used to be able to. It's extremely rare to see anyone play past the age of 40, and while there are high-profile anomalies such as Teddy Sheringham, Roger Milla and Pepe (who's still captaining Porto today at the age of 41), the cold, hard realities of time mean that everyone has to call it a day eventually.

#4. Loss of hunger for the game

Soccer players all have different perspectives on the game; while some will do everything they can to keep playing long into their 30s and even beyond, there are other players who simply fall out of love with playing as a pro. Players such as Gareth Bale, Andre Schurrle and David Bentley — who once recalled "in the end I just got tired of all the bull**** that goes with it" — have all retired at a relatively young age having simply lost their appetite, hunger, and love for the professional game.

#5. Mental and emotional demands

This follows on from the last point, but it's worth hammering home that the constant pressure, structural changes, physical exertion and high-stakes drama of professional soccer can have a serious mental and emotional toll on a player. While some people are able to handle these demands without it having an impact, some other players struggle, and those who do tend to retire earlier.

When Did Pele Retire From Soccer?

Professional football was in an extremely different place when Brazilian legend Pele was at the top of his game, winning a record three World Cups and banging in goals for Santos and then New York Cosmos. With sports science and medicine nowhere near as developed as it is today, staying fit and coming back from bad injuries was extremely difficult, and players would typically retire younger.

However, Pele was a special player. Despite this context he still enjoyed over two decades at the top of the game, playing in Brazil and the USA and registering a whopping 786 career goals for club and country before retiring from the game for good in 1977, aged 36. Even today, that's later  than many players retire. He had previously gone into semi-retirement after leaving Santos in 1974, before resurrecting his career in America and going on to notch dozens more goals before hanging up his boots.

When Will Cristiano Ronaldo Retire From Soccer?

After burning his bridges at Manchester United in 2022, Cristiano Ronaldo's options were limited; few European clubs were willing to pay his extravagant wages, so the huge wealth and global ambition of the Saudi Pro League became the most attractive offer. He joined Al-Nassr in January 2023 and at the time of writing is chasing down Al-Hilal for the league title having scored 48 goals in his first 54 appearances for the club. 

At the same time, Ronaldo has also garnered controversy during his time in Saudi Arabia, the latest public backlash coming after he appeared to make an obscene gesture to Al-Shabbab fans following a 3-2 win over the club. Moments like this don't seem to have impacted his performances on the pitch though, and the Portuguese international shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. He's just turned 39 and will be 41 by the time the next World Cup rolls around in North America in 2026. Will fans of the Al-Nassr striker be able to watch him in action at the tournament? Only time will tell.

If you're interested in finding more about how the careers of top professional soccer players are impacted by age, you're in the right place. Check out our article on age limits at World Cups for loads of information about the youngest ever players to take to the field at the prestigious international FIFA tournament.