Who are the greatest football players to never win a major soccer title?
We all remember the guys who have won the Premier League, the World Cup, the Champions League or their own domestic league. But who are the men who have never won anything of note, and who should be mentioned in the very same breath as legends like Pele, Lionel Messi, Roy Keane, Alessandro Del Piero or Thierry Henry?
Here, I look at 10 of the best players who have never won a major title—men who never took home the league championship that their skill deserved, who never won the major European trophy their abilities deserved and who never won the major international tournament their hearts desired.
When it comes to football, there are usually winners and losers, with the losers usually quickly forgotten. But one thing is for sure: These 10 will never be forgotten.
We have wizards, big men, goal-poachers and scorers supreme, a goalkeeper with the reflexes of a cat, a psychotic defender and many more.
Read on and leave your comments in the section below.
Hope you enjoy the videos.
For the purpose of this article Major Trophies are classed as League Titles, the Champions League and International Competitions such as the World Cup and European Championships. The FA Cup, which some players mentioned have won, is not classed as a major competition by most teams or managers any more.
Paul McGrath is probably the greatest defender that the English game has ever produced.
The quiet-spoken giant from Inchicore in Dublin, Ireland, was a poetically beautiful player to watch.
He made defending an art form and made it seem so simplistic that whenever he was playing, his team and supporters had supreme confidence that the "big man" would see them through.
He was quick, he was strong, he could tackle, mark, destroy and play and was gifted enough that he could play anywhere across the back-four or in central-midfield, where he was often deployed at international level.
Unfortunately, McGrath was also an alcoholic with huge issues left over from an unhappy childhood. And he had no cartilage in his knees and had to take pain-killing injections before every game.
In the end, these issues all came together to help end his career at Manchester United, just as the Sir Alex Ferguson period was in its infancy.
He moved to Villa in 1989, where a sympathetic Graham Taylor took him under his wing. And, as a result, McGrath began to play the best football of his career.
He was a truly tremendous player over his 17-year career as a professional, and it is one of the great crimes of football that he never won more prestigious titles.
One of McGrath's greatest performances as a professional was in 1994 for Ireland against Italy in the group stages of USA '94.
During that particular game, McGrath put in what has been described as the best defensive performance ever seen at a World Cup. On that day, he was simply incredible.
Then, a couple of years later, he put in one of the performances he is best remembered for, returning to Old Trafford with Derby County to record a shocking 3-2 win.
During the game, McGrath completely marked Eric Cantona and Andy Cole out of the game, with Sir Alex Ferguson left to lead the plaudits by describing the big man as one of the best players he had ever seen.
- Manchester United
— League Cup: 1993–94, 1995–96
— Runners-Up: 1989-90 Football League Championship
— Runners-Up: 1992–93 FA Premier League
— PFAI Player of the Year: 1982
— PFA Player of the Year: 1993
To learn more about one of the greatest players of all-time, read his autobiography: Back from the Brink. It is a truly remarkable and heart-rendering book about a truly remarkable footballer.
Has there ever been a more under-valued player in England than Matthew Le Tissier?
The Southampton forward, who spent his entire career on the South Coast with the Saints, tragically only won eight caps with England.
This unbelievable oversight of one of the most skillful and talented English players of the last 50 years came at a time when 4-4-2 ruled the world and every team played a "little and large" combination up front.
Given the type of player Le Tissier was, it is fair to say that, just like Glenn Hoddle, he would have been best utilised in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Here, his incredible creativity and goalscoring skill could have been combined to great effect.
As a player, Le Tissier was slow, but his languid speed hid an incredible dribbling ability where he could twist, turn and get the ball out from under his feet with great speed.
In a one-club career with Southampton, he played 540 games and scored a superb 210 goals.
Football lovers of a certain age will fondly remember Giuseppe Signori.
Even today, the mere thought of the Gazzetta with James Richardson is still enough to bring misty eyes to the hardest of men.
But I digress.
When Channel 4 started showing Italian football, it was in its heyday. There was no better football on the planet at the time than in Serie A, and one little striker was about the best player on the planet: Giuseppe Signori.
Between 1992 and 1997, when the popularity of Gazzetta was at its peak, Signori was banging in the goals for Lazio—117 in 152 games, to be precise.
During this time, the electric striker was Serie A's top scorer three times. However, despite his great skill, lightening speed, incredible control and superb temperament, he was never signed by a bigger club.
This could have something to do with the fact that Lazio was paid pretty high wages at the time that few clubs could match. It could also have something to do with the fact that his goalscoring exploits at international level were quite poor—just seven goals in 28 internationals. But he was often played out wide on the right or left in master-tactician Arrigo Saachi's beloved 4-4-2.
One thing is for sure: The little maestro deserved to play for a big club, and one often wonders how the great Milan side of the mid '90s might have been improved if Signori had played up front.
Coming towards the end of his career, Signori signed for Bologna. The main reason for him signing for the Rossoblù was that his wage demands for a top club were just too high. When Bologna offered him a deal they offered a minimal weekly wage but a huge goalscoring bonus.
Good ol' Giuseppe scored 70 goals in 142 games!
Serie A Top Scorer (3): 1992–93, 1993–94, 1995–96
Johnny Haynes is without doubt one of the greatest players the English game has ever produced.
He played for England 56 times, including 22 as captain, and playing an astounding 658 games for Fulham over an 18-year career, Haynes is rightly held as a football legend in England.
As a player, he was a playmaker supreme who was gifted with either foot and who could pass the ball to a pinpoint from any range.
Haynes is probably most famous for being the highest paid player in England and the first-ever player to make £100 per week from the game.
This was given to the Cottagers captain to ward off advances from Sir Matt Busby and Manchester United, Bill Shankly and Liverpool and numerous other high-profile teams in Spain and Italy like Real Madrid and AC Milan.
A majestic player, and probably the best passer the English game has ever seen, Haynes glided around the pitch with ease and always managed to find time on the ball before, always, releasing the perfect pass.
The next Irishman to make the list is Donegal's Shay Given.
Like McGrath, Given is a soft-spoken giant of a man who, for the vast majority of his career, was considered too small to be a top-class goalkeeper.
Now in the twilight of his career with Aston Villa and fully retired from international football, the 125-capped Irishman is easily the most underrated goalkeeper of the Premier League era.
Given is probably best known for his 344 Premier League games for Newcastle. And it is entirely all too easy to forget that his career so far has accounted for 593 games in the last 19 seasons.
In goal, Given's strengths are obvious. He is a great communicator, distributes the ball well, reads the game perfectly and, up until recently, possesses incredible reflexes and an innate shot-stopping ability that's second to none.
The most unfortunate thing about Given's career is that, when he finally did get the transfer he deserved, it was to Manchester City, with the prodigious Joe Hart as his understudy.
When Given retires, the biggest question about his career will not be why he did not win more, as goalkeepers are always undervalued. Rather, it will be, why didn't Arsenal or Liverpool or Tottenham Hotspur sign him when he was at his peak?
Football League First Division: 1995–96
— UEFA Intertoto Cup: 2006
— FA Cup Runner-up (2): 1998, 1999
— FA Cup: 2011
— Republic of Ireland, Nations Cup: 2011
— FAI Senior International Player of the Year (2): 2005, 2006
— Newcastle United F.C. Player of the Year: 2006
Most famous these days for his role as Match of the Day's anchor, Gary Lineker was once the most lethal striker in the world.
The strictly right-footed striker enjoyed a great career that saw him hit the back of the net 281 times in 568 club games and 48 times in just 80 internationals for England.
His career began in the less auspicious surroundings of Leicester City, where he scored 100 goals in 208 games for the Foxes. He then moved to Everton, who were defending league champions in 1985, for the exorbitant sum of £800,000.
Despite scoring 30 goals in 41 league games and finishing as Division 1's top scorer, Everton eventually collapsed on the title run-in and were only just overtaken by city rivals Liverpool, who claimed their 16th league title.
In the form of his life, Lineker then spearheaded Bobby Robson and England's assault at Mexico '86. He finished as top scorer with six goals in five games, but as with his club, he could do nothing about England's exit at the hands of Argentina in the quarterfinals.
From there, Lineker earned a move to Barcelona, where he stayed for just one seaso, before joining high-flying Tottenham Hotspur instead of Manchester United.
Once again, Lineker provided the goals and scored an impressive 67 goals in just over 100 league games. He even finished as the league's top scorer again in 1990 as Spurs finished third.
After Spurs, he practically retired from the game, moving to Japan to play in the new J-League. However, injuries kept him on the sidelines for much of his time there, and he eventually retired for good in 1994.
As a player, Lineker was quick, intelligent and was one of the most gifted finishers I have ever seen. He had an almost magnetic association with the goal, and with him up front, his teams always stood a chance of winning the game.
— Football League Second Division: 1980
— FA Charity Shield: 1985
— Copa del Rey: 1988
— European Cup Winners' Cup: 1989
— FA Cup: 1991
— English League Top Scorer (3): 1984–85, 1985–86, 1989–90
— English Second Division Top Scorer: 1982–83
— FIFA World Cup Golden Shoe: 1986
— PFA Players' Player of the Year: 1985–86
— FWA Footballer of the Year (2): 1985–86, 1991–92
— Ballon d'Or: Runner-up 1986
— FIFA World Player of the Year: third place 1991
Like Matthew Le Tissier before him, Gaizka Mendieta was an incredible footballer who was born out of time.
The play-making midfielder with an eye for goal was one of the greatest players on the planet between 1996 and 2001.
Able to play on either side of a conventional midfield or through the middle in either a defensive or attacking capacity, the versatile and mobile Mendieta terrorised defences in Spain and in Europe.
Mendieta played for unfashionable sides for the entirety of his career with the exception of one year with Barcelona between 2001 and 2002.
He is most famous for his nine seasons with Valencia, where he helped guide them into the Champions League twice as captain. On both occasions, they finished as surprising runners-up.
The Spanish international gained 40 caps for his national team and was the precursor to all that we know and love about the modern Spanish midfield. It goes without saying that he would easily fit in with the likes of Xavi and Iniesta today.
Unfortunately for Mendieta, he was born a few years too early. As his great career was coming to an end in 2007 with Middlesborough, the great Spanish armada as we know it was about to launch its assault on world football.
Mendieta would have fit right in.
— English League Cup: 2003–04
— UEFA Champions League: Best Midfielder (2) 1999–00, 2000–01
Stuart Pearce was one of the toughest players ever to play the game. He was also one of the best left-backs European football has ever produced, never mind English football.
The hardened defender is best known for his time at Nottingham Forest, where his marauding runs, tough tackles, free kicks and never-say-die attitude marked him out as a player of huge importance.
Unsurprisingly for a player in the '70s and '80s, Pearce played over 170 games at the lower levels of the English game with Wealdstone before moving to Coventry City. There, he was introduced to the physical aspects of the game, where younger players were eaten for breakfast if they shirked their duty. Pearce rose to the occasion with aplomb.
His reputation grew in the game, and Brian Clough was the first to see the huge potential to the 23-year-old.
Once Pearce joined Forest, his game took off. And two years later, he made his England debut. He would go on to make 78 appearances for his country and play in four major tournaments.
During this period of his career, the only left-back in world football who actually surpassed Pearce was Paulo Maldini.
Pearce's career with Forest came to an end in 1997 when he linked up with Shay Given at Newcastle United. He then he rounded out his career with a couple of seasons at West Ham and Manchester City.
— Football League Cup (2): 1988–89, 1989–90
— Nationwide Division One Title: 2001–02
— Domestic Team of the Decade – Premier League 10 Seasons Awards (1992/3–2001/2)
— Nottingham Forest Player of the Year (3): 1988–89, 1990–91, 1995–96
Say what you like about Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Pele, Maradona and George Best, but there will only ever be one "Wizard of Dribble."
Sir Stanley Matthews is one of the greatest giants football has ever produced. And he is rightly hailed in the same breath as the previous players I mentioned.
The winger, whose career saw him play professional football until he was 50, helped revolutionise the game in ways that are still being used today.
He was a supremely intelligent player who could play on either flank or as an inside forward in the old W-formation. This was aided by the fact that he was incredibly skillful and possessed, quite possibly, the quickest feet ever seen in football.
Primarily used on the wing, Matthews never self-indulged when playing. He used his speed, skill and dribbling ability to great affect. He comes from an era in which the goal was to get past your opponent in the most effective way without looking like a showoff or without trying to make your marker look foolish. And he is rightly hailed as one of the classiest players on or off the pitch of all time.
Even though he is best remembered for his amazing dribbling skills—try to walk in those hobnail boots they used to wear back then, never mind play in them—his greatest effect on the modern game was probably through his health regime.
Before health and fitness were even a factor in football and in an era where players were not allowed to see a ball from one end of the week until the next (because it made you hungry for the match), Matthews employed his own unique fitness regime. He trained every single day, with and without the ball, and only ate healthy food he thought would promote energy.
Today, even the most amateur of footballers knows about the advantages of a healthy diet and fitness regimen. Back then, Matthews might as well have been talking rocket science.
To this day, Matthews holds the record at being the oldest ever player to play in the top division in England, and he is the oldest player to represent his country.
Game-wise he is probably most famous for the Matthews Final in 1953.
In a game that will be forever known as the Matthews Final, Bolton were leading Blackpool 3-1 with 20 minutes to go. The then-38-year-old turned on the style to inspire his team to a remarkable 4-3 victory that is still hailed as the best FA Cup final of all time.
Legends don't come much more deserved than Sir Stanley Matthews, the first European Footballer of the Year ever.
— FA Cup: 1953
— FA Cup runner-up (2): 1948, 1951
— Football League First Division runner-up (1): 1955–56
— Football League Second Division (2): 1932–33, 1962–63
— FWA Footballer of the Year (2): 1948, 1963
— European Footballer of the Year: 1956
Robin van Persie is probably the greatest player in the modern era never to win a major title.
This unlucky statistic comes thanks to three years at Feyenoord in a Dutch league dominated by Ajax and PSV Eindhoven, followed by eight years at an Arsenal side that are still moving slowly backwards.
The gifted centre-forward has always had his fair share of critics, but that's mainly been due to his frail physicality rather than his sublime skill. Before 2011, in a 10-year career, Van Persie only ever managed to play an average of 24 league games a season.
His constant visits to the physio room obviously didn't curtail his incredible eye for goal, because since he achieved full fitness at the beginning of 2011, the Dutchman has scored an unbelievable 80 goals in just 98 matches.
Such a statistic immediately places the now-Manchester United striker in the same kind of bracket as the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in terms of his effectiveness in front of goal.
Like most Dutch players, Van Persie is as technically-gifted as they come. And he also possesses a keen sense of movement that almost gives him a telepathic link with his fellow attackers.
This season, the highly talented striker signed with Manchester United. The transfer has since boosted United's chances of winning the Premier League title and has had the added effect of diminishing Arsenal's chances of finishing in the top four, never mind winning the league.
If he can keep up his early-season form, he might not be on this list next season.
— UEFA Cup: 2001–02
— FA Cup: 2004–05
— FA Community Shield: 2004
— KNVB Best Young Talent Award: 2000–01
— Dutch Football Talent of the Year: 2001–02
— Euro 2008 Bronze Boot
— Arsenal Top Goalscorer (4): 2006–07, 2008–09, 2010–11, 2011–12
— Arsenal Player of The Season (2): 2008–09, 2011–12
— Premier League Golden Boot: 2011–12
— PFA Players' Player of the Year: 2011–12
— PFA Fans' Player of the Year: 2011–12
— PFA Premier League Team of the Year: 2011–12
— FWA Footballer of the Year: 2011–12
— ESM Team of the Year: 2011–12