La Liga is known for developing young players with talent, from the famous La Masia football program at Barcelona to La Fabrica at Real Madrid. Gavi, who joined Barcelona’s La Masia at age 11, and Dani Carvajal, who joined Real Madrid’s La Fabrica at age 10, are now regular starters for their respective teams.
La Liga is also filled with experienced players, particularly those with Spanish origins, who want to see out their careers in a league they love. Some even play into their 30s on a regular basis.
This often leads to questions about whether there is a minimum or maximum age limit for La Liga players. This article gives a clear answer to both questions and gives examples of players who have set records at both young and old ages.
Is There a Minimum Age to Play in La Liga?
Because most teams have top academies all over the place, it is common for very young players to train with the main team. They prepare them to replace older, sold, or injured players on the main squad and often have them appear as substitutes.
The Liga Nacional de Fútbol Profesional regulates La Liga under the Royal Spanish Federation (RFEF) and releases a rule guideline for each season. Based on the guidelines for the 2022/2023 season, there is no particular rule setting a minimum age limit for players.
La Liga clubs are, by default, expected to follow FIFA’s Article 19 International Transfer Guidelines, placing strict rules and punishments on the signing of players under the age of 18.
Because of this, La Liga clubs and academies can only recruit very young players from Spain or other neighboring EU countries.
However, teams are allowed to give playing time to top talents in their academies, as FC Barcelona showed here, where young talent from its academy made up 30% of its playing time.
Who Are the Youngest Players to Have Played in La Liga?
La Liga teams give young players a lot less playing time than teams in the German Bundesliga and the French Ligue 1, where young players get a lot of playing time. This has meant the record for the league’s youngest players has stayed intact for quite some time.
Some of the record-holders for the youngest players in the league are:
Luka Romero, Mallorca
Luka Romero is a young player who draws notable comparisons to Lionel Messi. This is because he is a young, left-footed, and cunning attacking player from an Argentine family born in Mexico before moving to Spain.
At 15 years and 229 days, Romero came on as a substitute in the 83rd minute for Mallorca in their 2-0 defeat to Real Madrid in June 2020. This smashed the record for the youngest player to play in an official La Liga match.
Before the Real Madrid game, the young attacking midfielder had been a substitute in Mallorca’s three previous games, so he could have broken the record much earlier. After scoring a remarkable 230 goals in 108 games for Mallorca’s youth team, he was moved up to the main team.
After Mallorca dropped to the Segunda Division that season, he played eight games for them before joining Lazio in the Serie A.
He received his first senior team call-up to the main Argentine squad in March 2022 and trained with the first team.
Here’s a highlight of him in action:
Francisco “Sanson” Bao Rodriguez, Celta Vigo
Francisco Bao Rodriguez was a Spanish football player who was often called “Sansón.” He mostly played as a defender.
He set the record for the youngest La Liga player when he made his debut at 15 years and 255 days for Celta Vigo in their 4-1 win against Sevilla FC in 1939. His record stood for an astonishing 81 years before Luka Romero broke it.
He would play only six league games for Celta Vigo before joining Deportivo Leonesa two years later. He would bounce around several Spanish teams before returning to Celta Vigo as a backup player for the 1950–51 season.
Francisco retired in 1956 after a short stint with Xeres CD, after playing a total of 167 matches and scoring one goal. He died on February 13, 2012, at the age of 87, with his record still unbroken then.
Other notable mentions are Real Zaragoza’s Oscar Ramon (born 25th November 1968), who made his debut for them at the age of 15 years and 306 days. Also, Pedro Irastorza (born on 22nd April 1918) was 16 years and 16 days old when he made his debut for Real Sociedad.
Is There an Age Limit for Players in La Liga?
The Spanish Federation, the Liga Nacional de Ftbol Profesional, or FIFA, does not have an age limit for La Liga clubs. Teams can play players of any age they think are physically fit if they follow the league’s rules for contracts and transfers.
La Liga clubs are known to have one of the oldest team averages among Europe’s top five leagues, with most teams having an average of over 25 years and some as high as 28 years.
Who Are the Oldest Players to Have Played in La Liga?
La Liga is one of the leagues with the fewest players under the age of 25 among Europe’s top leagues. There is often a perception that the league is more suitable for older players who have embraced the Spanish tiki-taka style.
Even though most of the players in the league are older, a few of them have managed to set incredible playing age records, and some of the notable examples are:
Joaquin, Real Betis
Only a few players have a clear association with a single club, like Francesco Totti with AS Roma and Paolo Maldini with AC Milan; Joaquin with Real Betis is one of them. He has been and is still the life and soul of Real Betis, whether he is playing on the field or on the bench.
Born on the 21st of July, 1981, the 42-year-old is contracted to Real Betis till June 30, 2023, and in every game he features for Betis until then, he sets a new record as the oldest player to feature in a La Liga.
Joaquin is a right-wing forward who started his football journey in the academy of Real Betis in 1997, long before some of his current teammates were even born. He made his team debut for Betis in 2000 and helped them in their promotion push that year.
He has played 21 seasons of top-flight football and has bounced around some Spanish and Italian teams before returning to Betis and helping them win the Copa del Rey.
Very few players can play competitively into their late 30s, not to mention their early 40s, but Joaquin bleeds the white and green of Real Betis. He is regarded as an integral part of the team even though he rarely features.
Here he is setting another record as the oldest player to ever score a hat trick in La Liga:
Diego Lopez, Espanyol
Diego Lopez is a top-notch goalkeeper who has played for an impressive list of Spanish and Italian teams. When he finally retires, he will have a career that any professional would be proud of.
Born on November 3rd, 1981, the 42-year-old signed his first professional contract for Real Madrid, acting as a third keeper with Iker Casillas and David Cobeno.
After spending time with Real Madrid B and youth teams and failing to unseat Casillas as Real Madrid’s No. 1, he moved to Villareal in July 2007. He would go on to establish his spot with Villerael and spend over five seasons with them.
He later moved to RCD Espanyol of Barcelona, where he helped them regain promotion from the Segunda League back to La Liga.
He’s currently contracted to Rayo Vallecano, which would run until June 2023, and has played once for them this season.
Here’s a clip of some of his best saves:
Jorge Molina, Granada
Jorge Molina is an effective center-forward who has played the entirety of his long and illustrious career in Spain.
Born on April 22nd, 1982, the 41-year-old Spanish international is an instinctive striker who started his professional journey with CD Alcoyano.
He bounced around several teams before signing for Real Betis, where he had the most impact in six seasons, scoring 70 goals in league and cup tournaments for them.
He later joined relegated Getafe as a free agent in the summer of 2016, scoring an impressive 22 league goals for them in his first season there and helping them gain promotion to La Liga.
He would spend three more seasons with Getafe before moving to Granada, where he is currently contracted until June 2023.
Here is a clip of some of his exploits for Real Betis:
La Liga and every group in charge of regulating the league have no restrictions on players’ minimum or maximum age. Teams can field young players from their academy, and older players they feel will impact and improve them.
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