Football is a sport of intense highs and lows. Most never manage to achieve success at the very top of the game, and even fewer have the chance to go out in such fashion.
But every so often a legend has the opportunity to retire at the top of the mountain.
Here’s a look at nine legendary footballers who ended their career on a high…
In the final six months of his 21-year career, David Beckham won the 2012 MLS Cup with LA Galaxy to further cement his legacy in North America after a truly seismic impact, as well as the 2012/13 Ligue 1 title with Paris Saint-Germain, the nouveau riche club’s first in 19 years.
The former England captain, who was donating his entre PSG salary to a local children’s charity, started the final game of the Ligue 1 season. He assisted a goal in the 3-1 win and was later substituted to a rapturous ovation as he broke down in tears.
Two-time Champions League winner Xabi Alonso announced his 2017 retirement en-route to winning the 17th trophy of his illustrious club and international career.
The Spanish midfielder, who had helped Real Madrid to the elusive Decima in 2014, won a third straight Bundesliga tile with Bayern Munich in his final season as a professional.
A Liverpool cult hero, Dirk Kuyt enjoyed a perfect end to his career when he rejoined former club Feyenoord in 2015 and steered the club to a first KNVB Cup in eight years and later a first Eredivisie title in 18 years, the latter in his final season as a professional.
Incredibly, it was Kuyt’s hat-trick on the last day of the season in a 3-1 win over Heracles Almelo that sealed the triumph ahead of Ajax. It was the Dutch forward’s very last act as a footballer, with the announcement of his retirement coming just three days later.
The last ever game Patrick Vieira played in as a professional footballer was the 2011 FA Cup final in which Manchester City won a first major trophy in 35 years and kickstarted an era that has since seen the club capture four Premier League titles and five more domestic cups.
A veteran Vieira was not a regular in the Premier League that season, but did play in every round of the FA Cup, starting six of City’s eight games. He was only a late substitute in the FA Cup final, but it was his fourth triumph in the competition and 19th career trophy.
Legendary USWNT striker Abby Wambach ended her club career in 2014 with the sole focus of playing in and winning the 2015 Women’s World Cup. It was the only major honour that eluded her after winning two Olympic gold medals and setting a world record for international goals.
Wambach played at least some part of all seven games the United States played en-route to glory, including three starts earlier in the competition. After the 5-2 annihilation of Japan in the final, she jointly lifted the World Cup trophy with Christie Rampone, who was also retiring.
Bayern Munich and Germany legend Philipp Lahm ended his career on his terms at the age of just 33, confirming his intended retirement during the 2016/17 season and just three days after his milestone 500th appearances for Bayern.
Lahm finished as champion as Bayern secured a fifth consecutive Bundesliga title by an enormous winning margin of 25 points. Three years earlier Lahm had already retired from international football on the ultimate high, doing so just five days after lifting the World Cup.
Manchester United legend Paul Scholes actually retired twice and both times on a huge high.
Having emerged as one of ‘Fergie’s Fledglings’ in the mid-1990s, Scholes’ first decided to hang up his boots in the summer of 2011 after United had captured a record breaking 19th English league title, overtaking fierce rivals Liverpool as the country’s most successful club.
A shock return followed six months later, with Scholes later going on to help United to a landmark 20th title in the 2012/13 season, the 11th Premier League triumph of his career.
Eric Cantona is adored at Manchester United to this day and is credited as the catalyst that made the club’s success in the 1990s and beyond possible, both for the talismanic match winning quality he brought and the crucial mentoring role he also performed.
The Frenchman’s sudden retirement in 1997 came as a huge shock. He was just 30 years of age and had been instrumental as United had secured a fourth Premier League title in five seasons only a few days earlier. But Cantona chose to go out at the top.
Johan Cruyff’s final season as a player was the ultimate in obstinance, having chosen to join Feyenoord from great rivals Ajax in 1983 after his boyhood club, who had just been crowned champions for a fourth time in five seasons, didn’t offer the 36-year-old a new contract.
The Dutch master proved he still had it, playing more games in a single league season than he’d managed since 1969/70, scoring 11 times, and steering Feyenoord to the 1983/84 Eredivisie title. It was the club’s only league title of the decade and the 10th of Cruyff’s career overall.
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