Nearly every week, like clockwork, Real Madrid fans look on in awe of Luka Modric and wonder how he continues to perform at an elite level. The Croatian may not win the war, as we all eventually fall to Father Time, but the momentum is in his favor — the 36-year-old is winning battle after battle. It’s not the first time a player has gone on to produce in their late 30s. Legends of the game, like Paulo Maldini and Ryan Giggs have done so, and the feat has been achieved even as far back as the 1960s with Madrid’s most legendary players: Di Stefano, Gento, and Puskas — all three of whom extended their legacies late into their third decade.
These aforementioned names and their post-30 performances are remembered because they are anomalies. Most players see a rapid decline in their performances post 30-years-old. The average player (I.E. - not you super star heading to China, Qatar, or the US) opts for retirement by 34-years-old. This will not be the case for long. The target retirement age will begin to inch further along in the years ahead, and in the coming decades many players could be playing into their 40s. The exponential rate at which sports science and technology is growing, means more and more players will be able to elongate their careers.
Change that once took a 100 years, will now take a quarter of that time. Life expectancy for someone in the early 1900s was 40-year-old and have now doubled to 80 in more recent years. In 2015, TIME magazine plastered a baby on the cover with the headline, “This baby could live to be a 142 years old”.
Take this excerpt from Rick Edelman’s, “The Truth About Your Future”:
“How far will the coming coming advances in medicine and neuroscience take us? Well, Ray Kurzweil thinks you may live forever. Before you dismiss this notion as entirely crazy—something so ridiculous that not even Jim Dator can’t mollify you—be aware, that in 2016, TIME magazine called Ray “one of the 7 smartest people in the world”. He is the director of engineering at Google, a member of faculty at Harvard University, a cofounder of the Singularity University, a world-renowned scientist, a graduate of MIT, and a recipient of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. He’s received 20 honorary doctorates, awards from three US Presidents, and is the author to numerous best selling books. So when Ray says you might live forever, you might want to ponder that statement instead of dismissing it”.
Reading the above, it’s easy to come to a simple conclusion: Ray is brilliant, but possibly crazy. Whether the human race goes on to live forever is up for debate, but the basis from which Ray’s theory is built comes from the law of exponential growth, particularly in the technology sector. Information technology is doubling in performance and capacity, compounding as each year goes by. Ray Kurzweil pointed to the fact that a current smartphone is more powerful than a computer from when he was an undergraduate in college. He predicts that in the next 20 years, there’ll be another shift to a “2030s scenario” in which we’ll have computers the size of blood cells. Diseases will be eradicated at a significantly higher rate. Aging is a disease and its effects can be mitigated.
We are already seeing the evolution of technology and science play it’s role in extending the careers of professional athletes. Discoveries regarding sleep, nutrition, recovery based exercises, and other factors have already grown leaps in bounds in the last decade. Like Luka Modric, Cristiano Ronaldo is still playing in the Premier League for Manchester United because of these advances. The world’s top professionals have invested their time and money into identifying these youth elexeris and allowing them to form as part of their daily routines.
In the Amazon Prime series, “La Leyenda de Sergio Ramos”, the former Real Madrid captain is seen dedicating part of his recovery to resting in a hyperbaric chamber. The studies around the benefits of a hyperbaric chamber are still limited, but some believe the elevation in tissue oxygen, which occurs in the chamber, promotes material changes in the wound repair process (particularly for muscle tendons) that helps athletes sports injury heal more quickly.
Karim Benzema, another player aging like a fine wine, has often promoted “cupping therapy” with many posts on his social media channels. Much like the hyperbaric chamber, there is limited scientific evidence behind the true benefits of cupping therapy, but elite athletes like Benzema will use alternative methods in order to maintain an edge and provide that marginal gain vs the competition. Some physical therapist, like Michael Phelps trainer, believe that cupping can alleviate muscular and skeletal discomfort concentrated in the neck and upper limbs.
The list of new innovative technologies to enhance performance seems endless. From compression therapy boots, to cryotherapy, a vibrating pliability roller, underwater treadmills, and so much more. Marcos Llorente is known to use a €35,000 mattress which is said to slow down aging. Legendary quarter-back Tom Brady lasted so long in the NFL due to a number of different recovery techniques documented in his book “The TB12 Method”, which included banning tomatoes due to the potential that the “nightshade” food could cause inflammation. Nearly every professional football club uses ice baths to aid recovery and many use “contrast baths” (both hot and ice tubs which players interchange between) providing additional blood-flow to aching muscles. Many of the best players in the world not only have a nutritionist, but a chef to help keep them in the best shape possible.
Given the growth of the sports science sector and the advancement in overall medical practices, Real Madrid needs to make a change at an institutional level. The club have adhered to a strict policy in regards to renewing the contract of players over the age of 30. One year contract extensions are offered in order to mitigate the risk associated with professional footballers decline post-30. With the rate of exponential growth in sports science, Madrid will need to reevaluate their stance in the coming decade as many of the best players in the world will continue to perform past 30. A strict one year extension policy based on evidence from the past, rather than future technologies, could put the club at a competitive disadvantage vs their rivals. A player like Luka Modric, not only competing but dominating at 38-years-old, will become all the more common.