5 players who aged like a fine wine as Pepe, 39, captains Porto to unbeaten run

Pepe has been a pest to opposition attackers for years across world football, and there is no sign of the veteran defender slowing down.

The Real Madrid and Portugal legend continues to play a vital role for his current club Porto and has worn the armband for their ongoing, extraordinary unbeaten run. At 39 years old, it's a testament to Pepe's defensive awareness, physical prowess and ability to adapt his game.

While the centre-back may ultimately be remembered for some undesirable on-field antics, with Porto destined to add another top-fight title to their collection, he is writing more silver-laden chapters to his storied career.

Here are five other stars who enjoyed stellar success late in their respective careers, including two who remain operating at the highest level.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Given searing speed has never really been a crucial part of Ibrahimovic's skillset, in the latter years of his career he has been able to remain a major threat at the point of the attack.

In his thirties, the Swede preserved his poise, physicality and precision in front of goal, making him a serial winner in Italy, France and even for a brief spell at Manchester United, where he picked up two pieces of silverware in tandem with Jose Mourinho.

After a jaunt to Major League Soccer with Los Angeles Galaxy, the 40-year-old is back at AC Milan and has aided their Serie A title push with eight goals in the Italian top flight. If they were able to get over the line in the Scudetto scrap, it would be the 12th league title of the striker's remarkable career.

Luka Modric

After inspiring his club to Champions League glory in 2018 and his country to the World Cup final later the same year, there was a sense that Modric's career would begin to wind down.

But at 36, the Croatian remains a force of nature for Los Blancos and is still one of the standout midfielders in world football.

Modric's display in the Champions League quarter-final against Chelsea recently was mesmeric, proving he can still excel against the best sides on the continent. The playmaker is also still producing decisive moments of majesty on the ball, with his pass to Rodrygo in the win over the Blues one of the standout assists of the season.

He already has four European Cups to his name – it would be foolish to bet against him adding another to his already stellar resume.

Javier Zanetti

The versatile Zanetti spent a remarkable 19 years with Inter at the San Siro. He famously looked as fresh-faced on his first day with the Nerazzurri as he did on the day he hung up his boots.

Zanetti showcased remarkable consistency throughout his time in Italy, performing to an elite standard in a number of different positions across defence and midfield up until the age of 40.

He was also a prominent leader for Inter and in 2010 memorably hoisted three trophies above his head, as Mourinho's remarkable side won the Champions League, Serie A and Coppa Italia.

Zanetti's incredible 850-plus appearances for the Milan giants will surely never be broken and while he may not be remembered for flashy moments or incredible goals, his professionalism and football understanding made him an icon at Inter.

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Francesco Totti

While Zanetti was an understated legendary figure in Milan, further south in the capital Francesco Totti is anything but.

The forward is regarded as one of the greatest ever Italian players and is certainly the most legendary player to ever wear the Roma shirt, with his remarkable career at the Stadio Olimpico spanning a quarter of a century.

Although Totti may have won more silverware had he moved elsewhere – he was famously courted by Real Madrid – the bond he shares with the Eternal City is special. You suspect the one Serie A title he won with the Gialorossi would mean more than 10 prizes elsewhere.

He retired aged 40 and helped the team finish second in Serie A behind a dominant Juventus team.

Joaquin

Although Joaquin has never quite lived up to the devastating potential he showcased as a youngster for Real Betis, the manner in which he's evolved his game in recent years has been impressive.

Now 40 years old, the winger no longer possesses blistering speed. However, he's showcased an eye for a pass and dribbling skill in his thirties, making him a major asset for Betis in his second spell at the club.

This season, age does seem to have finally caught up to Joaquin, with the man himself confirming he plans to hang up his boots in May.

"The other day I played with players who were not even born when I made my debut for Betis," he said at the start of the 2021-22 season. "I'm already past my best used by date and this will be my last season."

He will retire with the record number of appearances for an outfield player in La Liga, having surpassed Raul's landmark in 2020.

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