The year 2023 will be remembered as the end of an era in the world of football.
Players with big names – and even bigger personalities in some cases – have bid farewell to a game they dominated for years, and millions around the world who have loved them for their achievements on the field.
A legendary keeper who was the bane of forwards everywhere, a striker with a habit of doing the impossible, midfield maestros who weaved their magic all over the park, and a winger who flew more than he ran – here is a list of the giants who have retired this year:
Italian legend Gianluigi Buffon announced the end of his glittering career last week, having won almost everything there is to win in football.
“That’s all folks! You gave me everything. I gave you everything. We did it together,” Buffon, 45, said on X, formerly Twitter.
He ended his time between the sticks after 975 club appearances for Juventus, Parma and French side Paris Saint-Germain (PSG).
Buffon played 176 matches for Italy and won the World Cup in 2006. He also featured at the 2002, 2010 and 2014 World Cups.
He started off his club career in 1995 with Parma, where he won the Italian Cup, Italian Super Cup and the UEFA Cup.
He joined Juventus in 2001, where he was a mainstay, winning 10 Serie A trophies and nearly a dozen cup titles.
Buffon moved to PSG for a season in 2018 and returned to Juventus after winning the French Ligue 1 title.
In 2021, Buffon left Juventus to join Parma, making his boyhood side the last club he represented before calling time on his career.
Gareth Bale was a dribbler par excellence blessed with exhilarating speed and a thunderous left foot, making him one of the most coveted players of his time.
The Welsh winger retired in January this year at the age of 33, relatively young for a footballer, after an illustrious and trophy-laden career.
He started off as a left-back at English side Southampton, but switched to the role of an attacker after joining Tottenham Hotspur in 2007, becoming one of their main offensive threats.
He scored 56 goals in 203 games during his first stint with Spurs, attracting attention from some of the world’s biggest clubs.
In 2013, Real Madrid snapped him up for €101 million ($133 million at the time), which was then a world-record transfer fee.
He won five UEFA Champions League titles with the Spanish giants – 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2022 – and three Spanish La Liga trophies in 2017, 2020 and 2022.
In his second spell at Spurs for the 2020-21 season, he scored 16 goals in 34 matches. Bale retired six months after signing for Major League Soccer club Los Angeles FC.
He is the all-time top scorer for Wales with 41 goals in a record 111 appearances. In 2022, he played an instrumental role as the Dragons reached the World Cup finals for the first time since 1958.
Mesut Ozil, a World Cup winner with Germany in 2014, was a playmaker with a magical left foot.
After a remarkable club and international career, the midfielder of Turkish descent retired this March at the age of 34.
Ozil played for German clubs Schalke and Werder Bremen before his big move to Real Madrid in 2010, where he matured into a truly world-class player.
He was an integral part of the Real Madrid side that won the 2011 Spanish Cup and 2012 La Liga title, scoring 27 goals and producing 81 assists in 159 appearances.
In 2013, Arsenal signed him for a club record £42.4 million ($51.7 million at the time).
Ozil racked up 44 goals and 79 assists in 254 matches, helping the Gunners win four English FA Cups.
He left London in 2021, making his way to Türkiye to play for Istanbul clubs Fenerbahce and Basaksehir. However, he failed to replicate the form that made him one of the biggest names in the game, and hung up his boots this spring.
Ozil was a key player in the German side that lifted the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
However, Germany’s shocking group-stage exit at the 2018 World Cup in Russia sparked fierce criticism of the team and Ozil in particular, leading to his retirement from international football.
Overall, the midfielder scored 23 goals in 92 games for Germany.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic will go down as one of the most prolific and technically gifted strikers in footballing history.
A player with a persona as large as his repertoire of skills, he retired in June at the age of 41, having played for nine clubs in his career, including PSG, Juventus, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Manchester United and Barcelona.
He scored 496 goals in 827 club matches, with his most productive time being his 2012-2016 stint at PSG, where he netted 156 times.
He also remains Sweden’s all-time leading scorer with 62 goals in 122 games.
He won the Italian league five times – thrice with Inter and two with AC Milan – as well as the domestic titles in Spain, France and the Netherlands.
With Manchester United, Ibrahimovic won the UEFA Europa League in 2017.
Cesc Fabregas and David Silva
Midfielders Cesc Fabregas and David Silva – both key figures of Spain’s golden generation – ended their careers this July.
The duo helped Spain win the 2010 World Cup and back-to-back European titles in 2008 and 2012.
During his 20-year career, Fabregas, a Barcelona product, played for top clubs such as England’s Arsenal and Chelsea, as well as Barca’s senior side.
Fabregas won the English Premier League twice with Chelsea in 2015 and 2017, along with a UEFA Europa League title.
He helped Barcelona secure the Spanish La Liga title in 2013 and won an English FA Cup during his 2003-2011 stint at Arsenal.
Renowned for his control and passing in the middle of the park, Fabregas had 125 goals and 217 assists in 739 club appearances, along with 15 goals in 110 games for Spain.
His compatriot Silva, who rose to stardom at English club Manchester City, retired at the age of 37 following a serious knee injury.
Silva was a City regular from 2010-2020 before his move to Real Sociedad.
He won four Premier League titles, two English FA Cups and five English League Cups in Manchester, along with two Spanish Cups with Valencia and Real Sociedad.
He had 121 goals and 194 assists in 744 club appearances, apart from 35 goals in 125 games for the Spanish national side.