Lionel Messi, Jimmy Anderson and Tom Brady have all beaten Father Time and gotten BETTER with age

The 2022 World Cup marked the end of an era. And not because Lionel Messi has finally filled the one gap in his otherwise stellar resume, but because football’s pivotal rivalry of the past two decades effectively ended on the grandest stage of them all.

While Messi followed in Diego Maradona’s footsteps and inspired Argentina to their World Cup decades, Portugal thrived not because of Cristiano Ronaldo, but without him.

While the Argentinean was crowned arguably the greatest footballer in history in Qatar, the Portuguese was dropped by the national team.

It was the latest milestone in Ronaldo’s sudden and stunning downfall, which saw him benched by Erik ten Hag at Manchester United before leaving the club in acrimonious circumstances in November.

The 37-year-old, who is notoriously fastidious about his diet and strict fitness regime, makes his fall from grace even more remarkable as he appears to remain in peak physical condition.

“I take great care of my body and my mind,” he told ESPN in January.

Cristiano Ronaldo (pictured) is in the midst of a seemingly irreversible decline this season

Cristiano Ronaldo (pictured) is in the midst of a seemingly irreversible decline this season

“What I’ve learned recently is that I believe that after 33 years, the body can deliver when you need it, but the real fight is mental.”

That battle seems unwinnable for Ronaldo, the latest in a list of sports greats to come to terms with his own sporting mortality.

From Jimmy Anderson to Tom Brady – and actually Ronaldo himself until last season – a select few have managed to not only stop their respective aging curves, but almost reverse them.

Here, sports mail takes a look at the athletes who defeated Father Time.

Jimmy Anderson

Anderson heralded his arrival on the Test cricket scene in May 2003 when he scored a five in Lord’s debut against Zimbabwe four months before Ronaldo arrived in English football as a substitute against Bolton.

His first international wicket came in December 2002 during an ODI against Australia at the MCG.

Or, to put it another way, it was almost 12 months before Love Actually was released and more than four years before the smoking ban in pubs across the UK came into force.

In his first decade as a Test cricketer, Anderson played 81 matches and took 305 wickets with an average of 30.1 and a price of 3.08 runs per over.

England seam bowler Jimmy Anderson continues to defy father time and only gets better with age

England seam bowler Jimmy Anderson continues to defy father time and only gets better with age

In his second decade in an England Test shirt, he has played 106 games and won 407 wickets at 23.33 and a save rate of 2.54.

To put the numbers in context, Anderson has taken more test wickets since the age of 30 than any other Australian bowler – apart from Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Nathan Lyon – in history.

If the first decade of his career were wiped out, Anderson would still be second in England’s all-time list of wicket-takers behind his criminal accomplice Stuart Broad.

And like he said sports mail Earlier this month, the Lancastrian has no plans to quit any time soon.

Tom Brady

When he briefly retired in February, Brady was the oldest player in the NFL at four years old and the oldest person to ever be a starting quarterback.

Although he turned 45 in August, he has already hinted that he could extend his career to a 24th season. To put his longevity into context, the average NFL career lasts just over three years, according to the NFL Players’ Association.

And why not? After all, last season Brady set a career-high 5,316 in passing yards and threw 43 touchdown passes — the second most in his career — at age 44, and led the NFL in both statistical categories.

An ironclad guarantee of induction into the NFL Hall of Fame once he eventually retires, Brady’s career could be divided into three parts, with one in three earning their place in the Canton, Ohio Hall of Fame.

Tom Brady won his seventh Super Bowl in his first season with Tampa Bay

Tom Brady won his seventh Super Bowl in his first season with Tampa Bay

He won three Super Bowls in his 20s while throwing for 21,564 yards with an average of 224.6 yards per game and 147 touchdowns in 96 games. In his 30s, he rushed for 40,018 yards averaging 283.8 yards per game and 309 touchdowns in 141 games, and picked up three other Lombardi trophies.

Since turning 40, he has rushed for 22,938 yards averaging 283.2 yards per game and 168 touchdowns in 81 games.

He also won his seventh Super Bowl, which is more than any other franchise — not player, franchise — in NFL history.

Brady’s first 14 years in the league were marked by his rivalry with Peyton Manning, but he’s won more Super Bowls since the age of 40 than his tall man has in his entire career.

Lionel Messi

At 35, the Argentinian maestro may look relatively fresh compared to other athletes on this list, but scratching him off this list is nearly impossible.

Messi has just led Argentina to their first World Cup in 36 years and forever silenced the critics who claimed he could not emulate Diego Maradona and succeed with the Albiceleste.

Messi didn’t just win the World Cup through a cameo, he led Argentina from the front and scored in every single game.

As for scoring chances, the exceptional numbers that became the norm with Barcelona may be a thing of the past in Paris, but he has already scored more goals in 19 games this season than in 34 games last season.

Putting Messi’s prodigious talent into numbers is a no-brainer, but the fact that he’s averaging 35 goals a season in five full seasons since the age of 30 is hard to believe.

Lionel Messi (pictured) led Argentina to their first World Cup in 36 years in December

Lionel Messi (pictured) led Argentina to their first World Cup in 36 years in December

Aaron Rodgers

At age 39, the Green Bay Packers gunslinger continues to work in a position where split seconds can make the difference between success and failure.

Rodgers just ousted Brady to win his fourth MVP crown last season, becoming one of only five players to win the prestigious honor in consecutive years.

Statistically, Rodgers enjoyed his best season in the NFL at the advanced age of 37, when he set career bests in touchdown passes and completion percentage while his quarterback rating was the second-highest of his career.

At 39, Aaron Rodgers remains one of the NFL's best quarterbacks

At 39, Aaron Rodgers remains one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks

What made his brilliance in both seasons even more remarkable was that they came after four years of a seemingly irreversible decline in which Rodgers threw for fewer yards and touchdowns and with less efficiency than in his prime.

In February, it’s been 11 years since Rodgers was only Super Bowl ring, and with a better supporting cast in Green Bay, he could have added at least one other Lombardi trophy to his collection in the past decade.

However, Rodgers has already hinted that he may be reluctant to follow Brady’s path and play well into his forties.

Kareem Abdul Jabbar

At 4.5 to 6.5 years, the NBA has the longest average career length of any major sport.

Even allowing for that, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar redefined the concept of longevity, considering Richard Nixon was in the White House when he won his first NBA title in 1971 and six months after George HW Bush was inaugurated went into retirement.

Abdul-Jabbar was 40 when the Lakers won the 1987 NBA title and helped them successfully retain the title the following season, earning the sixth ring of his career in the process.

He wasn’t limited to the sporadic cameo, either, putting up 19.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in 31 minutes on the court during the 1987 playoffs and 14.1 points and 5.5 rebounds in 29.9 minutes in the following postseason.

A man who redefined basketball on and off the court, the former Bucks and Lakers grandmaster is one of many NBA icons to have enjoyed a new life well past his 30th birthday.

Michael Jordan won his sixth NBA title at age 36, while LeBron James and the late Bill Russell were both 35 when they won their fourth and eleventh rings, respectively.

Rafael Nadal

Like Messi, Nadal was 35 when he achieved what is arguably the greatest achievement of his extraordinary career.

In June, the Spaniard clinched a record-breaking 22nd Grand Slam title in men’s singles after winning the French Open for the 14th time.

While younger than some of his peers on this list, Nadal gets the nod as his longevity has been achieved despite a series of horrific injuries and while competing in arguably the sport’s most competitive era.

Rafael Nadal won a record-breaking 22nd men's singles Grand Slam title at Roland Garros in June

Rafael Nadal won a record-breaking 22nd men’s singles Grand Slam title at Roland Garros in June

The first man to win majors on three different surfaces in the same year, Nadal has appeared in the top-10 of the ATP world rankings continuously since 2005.

When the Spaniard won his first non-clay Grand Slam title in 2008, Roger Federer had already won 13 of his then record 20 majors.

That Nadal not only broke the record but even bettered it is amazing.

B Lionel Messi, Jimmy Anderson and Tom Brady have all beaten Father Time and gotten BETTER with age

Maureen Mackey

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