Andy Dawson: Eight football legends who quit at the top

On the back of Zinedine Zidane decision to leave Real Madrid today, The Profanity Swan looks at players who got out when the going was good…


29 months, one La Liga title, three Champions League titles and a place near the top of the Real Madrid legends list secured forever – not a bad bit of work by Zinedine Zidane.

His resignation from the hotseat of the Spanish giants is an exceptionally tidy piece of timing and personal brand management, given that he was rumoured to be facing the sack a few months ago when Real’s league form was decidedly wobbly.

It’s maintained his position on the list of players and managers who have walked away at their peak before it all started to go a bit mouldy for them. Here’s some more…

(SPOILER: Arsene Wenger does not feature on this list)

Score your football odds at


Oh hello again Zizou, nice to see you here. The great man has got previous when it comes to going out on a high – he announced his retirement as a player in 2006, ahead of the World Cup, his contract at Real Madrid having elapsed. The man doesn’t do things by halves either, and his very last bit of business as a player will be remembered forever – THAT headbutt on Marco Materazzi in the final in Johannesburg. It was our JFK.


Another Frenchman who decided that enough was enough when there was still more than plenty left in his tank. It was testament to Cantona’s mercurial spirit that none of us were truly stunned when he called time on his stint at Manchester United and on his playing career itself. Sadly, his artistic ventures since have been a bit hit and miss – maybe he should have checked into a monastery for a few decades of contemplation, or retreated to the life of a cave-dwelling hermit and concentrated solely on his beard.


One of the greatest players of all time and arguably the greatest never to have starred in the World Cup, Bestie jacked it in at the ridiculously young age of just 27, walking away from Old Trafford as the team slid into decline, choosing to devote himself to less fitness-orientated leisure pursuits instead. It wasn’t the very end though, and he ‘enjoyed’ a series of high-profile, low-return encore for sides as diverse as Fulham, Hibs, San Jose Earthquakes and Nuneaton Borough.


While not many people know that he was still registered as a Liverpool player until 1990 when he had just turned 39, Dalglish had been player-manager for five years, and in fact only made three league appearances in those final three seasons. But it was his first spell as Liverpool boss which came to an abrupt end in February 1991 when he resigned three days after a 4-4 draw with Everton, and with Liverpool three points clear at the top of the league and still in the FA Cup. Pressure had built up following the Hillsborough disaster and Dalglish felt unable to continue in the job. History repeated itself in some ways a few years down the line – Dalglish returned to management and led Blackburn Rovers out of the Championship and all the way to the Premier League summit, only for him to stand down weeks after the trophy was lifted.


The man who Dalglish replaced at Liverpool always knew how to do things in style. After leaving top flight Southampton, he dropped down a division and moved to Newcastle, where he single-handedly kick-started a footballing revolution on Tyneside. In his two seasons there, Keegan scored 48 times in 78 appearances and helped them win promotion to the First Division. Having announced his intention to retire before the end of the promotion-winning season, Keegan signalled his farewell in typically-flamboyant style by departing from the St. James’ centre circle in a helicopter.


The French midfield maestro was in his pomp in the mid-1980s, winning the European Championships with France in 1984 – with World Cup semi-final appearances either side of that triumph. He bowed out at the top, ending his career at Juventus aged only 31, aware that time was beginning to catch up with him and his body.


Credited with being the player who took Japanese football to a new level, Nakata left his homeland for a career in Serie A, playing for Perugia, Parma, Roma and Fiorentina. But he walked away from the game aged only 29, following a loan spell at Bolton Wanderers in 2006. Sam Allardyce can have that kind of effect on people…


The ginger schemer retired twice as a Manchester United player, the first one not really taking, with him returning for a second spell 18 months later. Maybe he was influenced by Sir Alex Ferguson, who announced retirement plans in 2001 only to change his mind as the end date dawned, sticking around for another decade instead.

Net football betting on

What do you think?