10 Greatest One-Club Men in World Football History
A one-club man is essentially an endangered species because loyalty in modern-day footballers is generally perceived as an irrelevant attribute.
This article will pay homage to those footballers who overcame a combination of the "out with the old, in with the new" managerial school of thought, potential moves to other clubs, and politicking within the club.
What is the method behind my list of the 10 greatest one-club men in football?
I've only included retired players because how do we know a current player will stay at his club? Raúl comes to mind.
The players are ranked according to their place in football history.
Invariably with lists like this, I've omitted some big names, so here are the 10 players who were cut: Uwe Seeler, Billy Wright, Tony Adams, Fritz Walter, Berti Vogts, Giuseppe Bergomi, Giampiero Boniperti, Max Morlock, Bill Foulkes and Matt Le Tissier.
10. Matthias Sindelar, Austria Wien, Centre Forward, 1924-39
Matthias Sindelar has to be the most enigmatic footballer.
He was so elegant that the Austrians likened his performances to Mozart.
A member of that audacious Austrian wunderteam, he won the 1934 FIFA World Cup Silver Ball, an achievement that has yet to be matched by an Austrian.
Decades after his mysterious death, he is still revered as one of the greatest footballers Austria has ever produced.
What I admire about Sindelar was his bravery against all odds.
Unlike Franz Binder, Franz Wagner, Hans Mock, Hans Pesser, Josef Stroh, Karl Sesta, Leopold Neumer, Rudolf Raftl, Stefan Skoumal, Willi Hahnemann, Willibald Schmaus and many more—Sindelar stayed true to his Austrian roots.
He refused to play for Nazi Germany during the Anschluss.
Several months later, he and his girlfriend were found dead in their apartment.
In 2003, Jonathan Duffy revealed to the BBC what most suspected:
Sindelar humiliated the Nazis by scoring one of two winning goals against Germany.
Within a year, Sindelar was dead, aged 35. A Gestapo file marked him out as pro-Jewish and a social democrat.
His death was recorded as an "accident", but the reason for this has remained a mystery until now.
Egon Ulbrich, a lifelong friend of the forward, revealed to the BBC documentary makers how a local official was bribed to record his death as an accident, thereby ensuring he would receive a state funeral.
Several years later, Polish superstar Ernst Wilimowski was turned into a propaganda piece for Nazi Germany.
9. Ricardo Bochini, Independiente, Playmaker, 1971-91
Ricardo Bochini was to Independiente what Xavi is to Barcelona.
Bochini surprisingly played sparingly for Argentina and when you look at their 1978 FIFA World Cup-winning midfield, you'd take him over Ossie Ardiles and Américo Gallego.
If you're confused as to why Bochini was playing against Liverpool, this was the 1984 Intercontinental Cup final—which Independiente won 1-0.
Bochini was an old-school playmaker, in a way, a free-role midfielder who was given freedom to run the attack like a quarterback.
8. Sir Tom Finney, Preston North End, Right Winger, 1946-60
Marcel Dries' facial expression is one of "not again," and Sir Tom Finney used to leave defenders for dead.
He was so good that Palermo were willing to pay him £10,000 just to sign with them. Finney was earning £12 a week but stayed loyal to Preston North End.
7. Sandro Mazzola, Inter Milan, Inside Right, 1960-77
In case you don't know what Sandro Mazzola looks like, he's No. 7, and I'm so thankful to zouzinho5 for making 10/10 retro compilations.
Two things come to mind when I think of Mazzola: 1) Grande Inter and 2) the game against North Korea.
He played an integral role as an inside right in Helenio Herrera's catenaccio system and contrary to popular opinion, Herrera didn't create the system—Karl Rappan did.
Mazzola was brutally honest about how the Italians managed to lose to North Korea:
We missed three chances at the start of the game. We became scared of losing. Then our teammate was injured, and there were no substitutes back then. So we had to play with 10 men. That's no excuse of course—Italy should beat Korea with 10 men. But it was the worry and the insecurity we all felt which stopped us performing the way we could.
It wasn't just any teammate that got injured; it was captain Giacomo Bulgarelli.
I always wondered how someone with such individual brilliance like Mazzola didn't take over the game like Eusébio did after North Korea scored three in a row.
By the way, if you have some free time, I strongly recommend watching Daniel Gordon's The Game of Their Lives.
Just to throw in another anecdote: Fabio Capello is No. 8 in the embedded video.
6. Giacinto Facchetti, Inter Milan, Left-Back, 1960-78
Giacinto Facchetti was loyal to Inter Milan as a player and as a non-player. So, he devoted 46 years of his life to the club.
He was a marvelous defender and underrated technician. His overlapping runs were a trademark characteristic when he played at left-back.
The No. 3 shirt will forever belong to Facchetti.
5. Nílton Santos, Botafogo, Left-Back, 1948-64
It's a feel good moment when someone like Nílton Santos isn't forgotten. Forty-six years after he last played for Botafogo, the club still treat him as if he's a star player.
Possibly he and Djalma Santos are the most lethal right-back and left-back combination in the history of the game.
4. Paolo Maldini, AC Milan, Left-Back/Centre-Back, 1985-2009
When Paolo Maldini turned professional, he was still known as Cesare Maldini's son.
By the time Paolo's career had finished—Cesare was known as Paolo's father.
This is the expectation that awaits Christian and Daniel, Paolo's two sons, to not just carry on the Maldini legacy, but to extend it.
For me, Paolo played his best game against Juventus in the 2003 UEFA Champions League final. His display was key in another European triumph for AC Milan.
The best thing to ever happen to Paolo was referee Byron Moreno, because do you remember who allowed Ahn Jung-Hwan to score the golden goal?
This is actually a really depressing quote from the AC Milan legend:
If I could play one game again, it would not be Milan-Liverpool in Istanbul. We played there for 120 minutes like Gods and for six like idiots. No, I’d love to replay the 2002 game against South Korea. I can still see Ahn Jung-Hwan’s Golden Goal, my last moment in the Nazionale.
3. Sepp Maier, Bayern Munich, Goalkeeper, 1962-79
The idea that a goalkeeper could win the German Footballer of the Year award three times is unfathomable.
Sepp Maier won everything there was worth winning.
People often remember him for trying to catch a duck, but most forget that he could have died in a violent car accident at age 35.
2. Lev Yashin, Dynamo Moscow, Goalkeeper, 1950-70
After winning the Ballon d'Or in 1963, no goalkeeper has replicated Lev Yashin's achievement.
He's universally regarded as the greatest goalkeeper ever.
Though I find it odd that in the three FIFA World Cups he played in, he was never voted into a FIFA All-Star team.
1. Franco Baresi, AC Milan, Sweeper, 1977-97
Gaetano Scirea was smooth with the ball whilst Claudio Gentile was brutal. Baresi wasn't as elegant as Scirea but at the same time wasn't as thuggish as Gentile.
What Baresi lacked in finesse, he compensated in high football IQ.
He read the game as well as Franz Beckenbauer.
Baresi went through so many downs.
Suffering the indignation of relegation with AC Milan, rejecting a call-up to the 1982 FIFA World Cup team—which won the tournament—missing the 1994 European Cup final through suspension and failing to convert his penalty in the 1994 World Cup final.
Talking about that World Cup final, evidently his threshold of pain is very high because four weeks after a knee operation, he started the final—when many suspect his tournament was over.
He dominated Romário, who was the World Cup Golden Ball winner.
Some have speculated that Baresi shouldn't have taken the penalty because he was a defender.
Well, he once scored a hat trick of penalties, so he was more than capable of putting the ball away from 12 yards.