The cricket world was taken aback when South Africa’s star batsman – and some would say the best in the world – AB de Villiers, announced his retirement from international cricket. At 34, he was not exactly a spring chicken, but then he was in a sport where people tend to leave when they are closer to forty than thirty five. Many has been the pundit who has expressed shock and dismay at de Villiers’ decision to pull down the curtain on his international career. That said, de Villiers is not the first (and definitely is unlikely to be the last) sportsperson to have surprised people with a relatively early retirement from the highest level of his sport.
Here are ten other retirements – not caused by injury or suspension – that shocked sports followers because they came well before they were expected:
He had been the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world for six years, undefeated and at thirty two, many considered him coming close to the peak of his powers. And yet Rocky Marciano opted to call it a day, allegedly to focus on his family life. Unlike many boxers, he would not be lured out of retirement and remains the only heavyweight champion in history to have retired undefeated. Many consider him to have been the greatest white boxer of all time, some even call him the greatest ever in statistical terms.
He might not be the best known player in this list, but in the 1950s, Thoms was being seen by many as a potentially great batsman for Australia. He made his debut against the West Indies in 1952 alongside Richie Benaud and Colin McDonald, and played one Test, scoring 28 and 16. Two years later, he had retired from cricket altogether. Not because of any dramatic loss of form (he averaged a very steady 35) but because he was worried that the sport could injure his hands and affect his career as a gynaecologist. It was a wise decision, it seems. He was a very successful doctor and introduced laser surgery in Australia.
One of the legends of gridiron football, Brown was a record setting machine. A fullback for the Cleveland Browns, he was named rookie of the year in his debut season in 1957. He was the first NFL player to rush for over ten thousand yards. He was named the NFL’s most valuable player in 1957, 1958 and 1965. He was the only player to have six games with four touchdowns. And then in 1965, he quit. With a stack full of records. He was 29. He did pursue a very successful Hollywood career, but there are many who wonder just how much more he would have achieved on the American football field – he was named the Greatest Professional Football Player Ever by The Sporting News in 2002.
She remains the youngest women’s US Open champion in history, winning the tournament at the age of 16 in 1979. In 1980, she grabbed the world number one ranking, ahead of the likes of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. She won another US Open in 1981, at the age of 18. And by the end of 1983, she had called it a day at the age of 21. Numerous injury niggles are said to have contributed to her decision, but many feel it was a case of burnout. She did attempt a comeback later but it did not quite work out.
He is still considered by many to be one of the greatest tennis players of all time, with five consecutive Wimbledon titles between 1976 and 1980 and six French open titles. From 1975 1981, he was one of the biggest names in sport, idolised for both his tennis and stunning good looks. In January 1983, however, he announced his retirement from the sport, citing a lack of motivation. He was just 26. He did try to make a comeback much later but many feel that was caused by financial strife. For most people, the era of Borg ended in late 1981. It was brief. It was wonderfully golden.
Three years after winning the Euro 1984 tournament, two years after being named the best football player in the world for the third year running, one year after leading France to third place in the 1986 World Cup, French midfield maestro Michel Platini called it a day from sport. A sensitive man there had been murmurs that he had been shocked by the Heysel football tragedy of 1986, but no one had quite expected him to leave this early – he was just about to turn 32, and had a style of play that relied more on artistry and guile than sheer power or speed. A very high-profile career in management and football administration followed.
She might have won just a single Grand Slam title (the 1990 US Open), but from 1985 to 1996, there was perhaps no tennis player in the world who had the sort of following that the Belle of Pampas did, thanks to an extraordinary backhand and stunning good looks. She was the legendary Steffi Graf’s bête noir and friend, and along with Monica Seles and Arantxa Sanchez, formed the quartet that dominated women’s tennis in the early nineties. However, she was often accused of “choking” under pressure and some say this was what led her to give up the sport at the age of 26. She still turns heads and has a perfume named after her.
He was the entrant terrible of French football who was adored by English fans. He had scored amazing goals, been irresponsible, been an amazing leader, been suspended for having assaulted a spectator…and he was just thirty. And the darling of the Manchester United fans at Old Trafford, who never tired of aping his turned up collar and trademark sneer. But the French forward decided he had enough in 1997, retiring from the sport with a reputation of having been one of its most enigmatic stars. He remains an incredibly high profile personality and still appears in ads and films.
The man many consider to have been perhaps England’s best centre froward in the modern era called it a day in international football when he was just 29. Shearer’s retirement from the international arena came on the heels of a very disappointing Euro 2000 campaign. But he kept playing football in the Premier League, raising hopes that he would don the three lions again. Alas, it never happened.
The diminutive Zimbabwe wicket-keeper remains the youngest player to ever captain a Test cricket team. He was given the responsibility in 2004, slightly more than a week before his 21st birthday. He did his best, and for a while was considered his country’s best player, even as a number of prominent cricketers left Zimnbabwe. However, at the age of 29, he announced his retirement. The reason? Not stress or fatigue. Or even politics. Taibu wanted to focus on his work in the church. He did get into cricket coaching and people still speculate about his making a comeback some day. He is still only 35!