The one club player is an inspiring and respected figure in world football, however, it is a sight which is becoming less and less prominent with the lure of major trophies and financial gain being whispered into players’ ears in the contemporary game.Quickly becoming a rarity in the beautiful game, the one club player commands respect and adoration through his phenomenal loyalty to his club and so here are five of the best.
According to Roy Keane in a recent documentary, “just because you had a great career doesn’t mean you are a great player.” I don’t think that many people would be as ignorant as to forget the phenomenal heights reached by Ryan Giggs at the peak of his career, who remains the most decorated man in British football.23 seasons in a Manchester United shirt and counting, the 40-year-old has notched up an unbelievable 957 appearances for his club. He is the only player to score in every Premier League campaign, with the exclusion of the current season.
With a litany of honours that continue to defy the record books, Giggs has collected an astounding 13 Premier League titles, four FA Cups, nine Community Shields, two Champions League Trophies, one UEFA Super Cup and a FIFA Club World Cup and those are just the ones worth mentioning. It is just a shame Giggs’s talent was hidden from the international scene and he never made it to a World Cup. Perhaps the standout moment of his phenomenal career is the goal he scored against Arsenal in the 1999 semi-final FA Cup replay, where he latched onto a misplaced Vieira pass and embarked on a never-ending dribble down the centre of the pitch, dodging tackle after tackle, before firing the ball beyond the helpless David Seaman.
4. Paolo Maldini
One of the game’s greatest ever defenders, Paolo Cesare Maldini excelled on the pitch and was a defensive masterclass in his playing days, the likes of which comes along once in a lifetime. Earning the title of ‘Il Capitano’ (The Captain) among AC Milan supporters and players, Maldini illustrated exceptional defensive capabilities, was a solid performer in the air and had an unmatched ability to read the game.
Maldini won a staggering five European Cups, which is more than most clubs have won in their entire history. He lifted the European Cup in 2003 exactly 40 years after his father had done so for the same club. He is AC Milan’s record appearance holder with an astounding 902 games for the club. Every single season of Maldini’s career was played at the top level of European football. Eventually retiring at 41, his lengthy playing career was perhaps supplemented by his early retirement from international football in 2005.
3. Steven Gerrard
Steven Gerrard’s talent simply cannot be denied. Big players come to big games and Gerrard has a habit of performing when it matters. Arguably the best player to ever grace Merseyside in its long history, he is the captain of his boyhood club Liverpool and one of the shining lights of the Premier League era. It is a shame that Gerrard has never won a Premier League title, although his chance to win one has come on several occasions as he was much sought after at the peak of his career, with Sir Alex Ferguson even attempting to lure the loyal scouse captain away from his beloved club.
Making 650 appearances for his club and also seen as a regular standout player and top performer for England on the international scene, Gerrard’s midfield presence was supreme at the peak of his career. He is the most well-rounded midfield player of the Premier League era, demonstrating dangerous ability going forward, excellent vision, passing, a cannonball-like strike and a fine master of tackling, positioning and reading of the game. Undoubtedly his most defining moment as a player is the awe-inspiring captain’s performance Gerrard summoned after going 3-0 down in Istanbul against AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final. Gerrard was the talisman of that squad, lifting every one of his team-mates to the top of their game and in the end brought home Liverpool’s fifth European title when they should have had no right to.
2. Xavi Hernandez
This Catalan inspiration has been a key feature in both Barcelona and Spain’s midfield for the last decade, continuously proving his exceptional footballing ability on the game’s biggest stages. Considered one of Spain’s greatest ever players, and there has been many, Xavi’s passing, creativity, vision and shooting are among his finest attributes. Adored throughout Catalonia and Spain, the central midfielder has notched up over 750 appearances for his club and 130 for his country, claiming seven La Liga titles, two Copa Del Rey’s, three Champions League trophies, two UEFA European Championships and a FIFA World Cup.
Xavi has won 25 trophies – more than any other Spanish player in history and is tipped to finish his playing days with his beloved Barcelona, although at 33 he still has a couple of seasons at his best before he should consider hanging up his boots.
1. Francesco Totti
An Italian trequartista who commands respect on the field and deserves all the plaudits that have come his way over the years.
Totti played his first game for Roma in the youth squad in 1989 and has stuck with the club ever since. Widely regarded as Roma’s greatest ever player, the Italian legend has spent his entire career at the club and is their number-one goalscorer as well as the club’s most capped player in history.
The influence of ‘Il Bombo D’Oro’ (The Golden Boy) or ‘Il Re di Roma’ (The King of Rome) is similar to that of Alessandro Del Piero’s at Juventus. Such loyalty demonstrated by Totti over his 25 year tenure in Rome in the modern era of football is to be admired and respected, especially given the Italian’s massive talent and numerous opportunities to join one of Europe’s elite clubs to obtain lucrative contracts, whopping financial gain and major championships.
Five-time Italian Footballer of the Year, two-time Serie A footballer of the Year and second all-time Italian league goalscorer with 231 goals, ‘Il Gladiatore’ has continuously expressed his loyalty to Roma and also shined on the international scene. One of Italy’s finest ever players, Totti will be mourned for years to come when he eventually hangs up his boots at Roma and understandably so. His trophy cabinet does not do him justice with only five domestic honours for his club, but Totti is equipped with countless individual achievements and a FIFA World Cup with Italy in 2006.
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