Some players become such an integral part of the footballing landscape that they seem almost irreplaceable when they announce their retirements from the game. With a new European league season about to get underway, looks at the big names who will not be gracing the stage this coming campaign, leaving a big hole and some wonderful memories behind them.

Italian institution Paolo Maldini has been around so long that the youngsters taking to the field in the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009 in just a few weeks time were not even born when he made his Serie A debut. That was in 1984/85 and in 24 subsequent seasons the AC Milan youth product remained steadfastly loyal to the Rossoneri, pulling on just one other shirt in all that time; the blue of his beloved Italy.

In over two decades at the San Siro the incombustible left-back, son of another Milan legend, Cesare Maldini, amassed a huge collection of trophies, including one FIFA Club World Cup, five UEFA Champions Leagues and seven Italian championships.

I'd love to carry on playing but my body and my mind have told me that the time has come for me to make way for younger players.

Czech idol Pavel Nedved

When Maldini ran out for his final appearance against Fiorentina at the end of last season, club vice-president Adriano Galliani explained his longevity in the following terms: "Paolo has kept his place in the first-team because he is the best player in his position." In fact, Milan think so highly of the newly retired No3 that they have retired the shirt number in his honour.

Maldini is not the only highly valued veteran to say ciao in recent weeks. Luis Figo, the 2001 FIFA World Player and 2000 Ballon d'Or winner, has also decided to go out at the top after a trophy-studded career in which he delighted the fans with his sublime skills and collected four Spanish championships, two with Barcelona and two with Real Madrid. In an extended swansong with Inter Milan, Figo then went and added four Serie A winners medals to his personal haul.

Portugal's most capped player of all time with 127 appearances, the departing Figo said that the most satisfying aspect of his many years at the pinnacle of the game was "never having had a single problem with a team-mate". One group of players who will not be lamenting his absence from the pitch, however, are the defenders he tormented during the course of his consistently excellent career.

Like Figo, Pavel Nedved was once named European Footballer of the Year, and like Figo, the blond-haired Czech has taken his final bow. The 36-year-old midfielder won three scudetti during his time in Italy, one with Lazio in 2000 and two more with Juventus in 2002 and 2003.

"I'd love to carry on playing but my body and my mind have told me that the time has come for me to make way for younger players," said Nedved after Juventus fell to Chelsea in a Champions League match in February this year. Nedved brings the curtain down on a career in which he fulfilled his huge potential at the very highest level.

As an up-and-coming teenager Argentina's Juan Pablo Sorin was determined to make his mark in world football. Not unlike Nedved, the versatile Sorin became a distinctive presence on the pitch thanks to his flowing locks and combative performances. After starting out in the Argentinian and Brazilian leagues, Juanpi fulfilled his ambition by playing for a string of major clubs in Italy, Spain, France and Germany, and wearing the captain's armband at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™. Following repeated injury problems, however, Sorin has bowed to the inevitable and retired from the game.

Veteran Bayer Leverkusen and Germany full-back Bernd Schneider had his fair share of injury setbacks as well. A slipped disc kept him out of UEFA EURO 2008 before subsequent calf problems gave him no option but to retire at the end of last season. On the losing side in both the Champions League and FIFA World Cup finals in 2002, Schneider failed to win a single trophy in an otherwise distinguished career in which he was capped 81 times by his country.

International team-mate Michael Tarnat did manage to get his hands on some silverware, however, helping Bayern Munich to four Bundesliga crowns between 1999 and 2003 and the Champions League title in 2001. Now 39, the hard-tackling, strong-shooting left-back announced in May that his playing days were behind him, following the example set by fellow Bayern stalwart Willy Sagnol.

The durable French full-back received a heartfelt tribute from the Allianz Arena in February when he told the club that he was hanging up his boots. His impending departure prompted general manager Uli Hoeness to declare, "It will be very hard to find another player like Willy."

Paolo has kept his place in the first-team because he is the best player in his position.

AC Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani on Maldini

Russian midfielder Alexei Smertin has played his last game after a 17-year career that took him from Russia to Bordeaux, where he spent three productive seasons before decamping to the English Premier League and helping Chelsea to the championship in 2005.

Faring slightly less well in England was Ukrainian export Serghiy Rebrov, who nevertheless made up for his lack of success with Tottenham by winning nine league titles with Dynamo Kiev. The leading marksman in the 2000 Champions League, Rebrov has called time on his playing career while deciding to take up a youth coaching post with Dinamo.

One-time dustman turned polished goalscorer Steve Savidan is another player to bid adieu to the game over the summer. A journeyman striker for most of his career, Savigol made a late but dramatic entrance to Ligue 1, impressing with Valenciennes and then Caen and earning a call-up to the France team in the process. His solitary appearance for Les Bleus came in November 2008, just months before his career was brought to a premature end.

Have your say
Sweden's Henrik Larsson, Martin Laursen of Denmark, the Czech Thomas Galasek and Italian striker Vincenzo Montella are four other big names who have decided to call it a day. Do you think any of them will regret their decision? Click on ‘Add your comment' and tell give us your opinion.