The Greatest One-Club Players of All Time XI: Maldini, Scholes, Giggs and More
For a footballer to spend his entire career at one club has always been rare. Quite rightly, therefore, such one-club men are praised for their loyalty and commitment, especially when that dedication is tested by money, lack of success and sometimes even relegation. This, therefore, is a team made up of the best players to only ever play for one club.
In order to qualify for this list, players must have only ever played for one club, so loan spells disqualify players (John Terry, for example). That is a tough criteria as players often have no say in being loaned out, but a line must be drawn somewhere and that is where I have done so. Players must also have been at their club and playing for the first team for 10 years or more. That means Andres Iniesta, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lionel Messi, for example, do not qualify.
The team lines up in a 4-4-2 formation. Please feel free to let me know what you think in the comments section below.
GK: Lev Yashin (Dynamo Moscow)
Regarded by many as the best goalkeeper of all time, Lev Yashin played his entire 22 year career at FC Dynamo Moscow. Throughout his career, Dynamo Moscow were closely linked to the Soviet Interior Ministry, a link which made it virtually impossible for a player of Yashin's standing to move. However, he was, nonetheless, a one-club man for all of his 326-match career.
Yashin's all black kit and ability to save just about anything earned him the nicknames "The Black Spider" and "The Black Panther." In addition to his incredible ability to save, an ability that helped him stop around 150 penalties during his career, Yashin was one of the game's great innovators. It was Yashin who began the practice of a goalkeeper leaving his area to deal with danger, Yashin who started punching rather than catching under pressure, and Yashin who began throwing the ball out to start an attack.
Yashin was the only goalkeeper to ever win the Ballon d'Or and the Lev Yashin award was created in his honour for the best goalkeeper of the World Cup. His contribution to world football cannot be overstated; he was a pioneer and a legend.
LB: Paolo Maldini (AC Milan)
Arguably the greatest left-back in the history of the game, Paolo Maldini spent 25 years at AC Milan, appearing in 647 league matches as he helped his side to seven Serie A titles. Counting non-league appearances, he featured 902 times for AC Milan.
Maldini was incredibly adaptable. When he started out for AC, left-backs were just that, players on the left at the back. He was incredibly good in such a role, and continued to be excellent, even as the role changed and became more offensive. He was not afraid to break up the flanks, and even the odd trick here and there was well within his ability. He was voted as UEFA's best defender of the season at the age of 39, a testament to his enduring ability. He was still a regular starter until the day he retired.
In addition to being an incredible player, he is an incredible man. He is hugely respected by all, even Inter Milan fans who unveiled a banner showing their respect for him in his final derby game, a rare occurrence. He was widely viewed as true leader, and was, therefore, nicknamed Il Capitano.
CB: Franco Baresi (AC Milan)
Franco Baseri was an AC Milan great, and was also partly responsible for making Paolo Maldini the player he became. It could have been very different. His brother, Guiseppi, played for Inter and Franco even had a trial there. Luckily for AC, he was rejected, and went on to notch up 719 appearances for the club. The sweeper even stuck with AC Milan through relegation, including once due to a betting scandal.
Physically, Baresi was not imposing, standing at just 5'9", nor was he blessed with extreme pace. Instead, he could read the game brilliantly, constantly dealing with attacks before they ever really got started. It was this ability that saw him named AC Milan's player of the century and his number six shirt retired after his 20 years of service.
Three Champions League titles, as well as six Serie A triumphs were just part of the reason Baresi notched up 81 appearances for Italy. It would have been more if it were not for disputes with coaches. He missed a World Cup final penalty in 1994, which meant his only World Cup winners' medal came in 1982, a tournament he did not actually play in. Nonetheless, Baresi was a true great of the game and one of AC Milan's most loyal servants.
CB: Tony Adams (Arsenal)
Another number six, Tony Adams spent his entire 19 year career, spread over three decades, at Arsenal, captaining them for 14 of those years with great distinction. He was the vocal leader of the defence, one of the best English football has ever seen. Arsenal lost just once in the 1990-1 season, largely due to the efforts of Adams and his three colleagues at the back, as Adams helped the club earn a reputation for being nearly impossible to beat.
In addition to being a monumental leader, Adams was strong enough to hold off any striker, an accomplished aerial presence at both ends of the pitch, and a perfect timer of tackles. It is little wonder Arsene Wenger dubbed him the "professor of defence."
That he did much of this whilst suffering from severe alcoholism—he is reported to have played a match while drunk—shows just how determined and talented he was. Partly due to the arrival of Arsene Wenger in 1996, Adams managed to get a handle on his addiction and became an even more reliable and impressive force at the back.
"Mr Arsenal," as he was known, played 672 times for the Gunners and is, quite rightly, regarded as one of their greatest players of all time.
RB: Carles Puyol (Barcelona)
Now predominantly a centre-back, Carles Puyol started out as a regular for Barcelona at right-back, and demonstrated last season that he can still perform admirably in that role. He was even named European right-back of the year in 2002.
Regardless of the position he is playing, and it can be anywhere across the back or even in a defensive midfield role, Puyol is a machine. He has impressive stamina, incredible strength and can time tackles to perfection. In addition, he is a brilliant leader and has captained Barcelona through one of the most successful periods in their history. Sometimes criticised for being too slow, Puyol makes up for it with incredible positional sense and toughness. He may only be 5'10", but he will compete with even the biggest of strikers in the air.
He is a traditional defender who provides the solid basis both Barcelona and Spain require to be able to play with the flair and fluency they do further up the pitch. There is a reason the 33 year-old has 94 caps for his country and has appeared over 500 times for Barcelona. He is dependable, uncompromising and passionate.
LM: Ryan Giggs (Manchester United)
As with many great players, Ryan Giggs has been able to reinvent himself over the years. After starting out as a player relying heavily on pace and skill on the wing, Giggs turned himself into a second striker behind Ruud van Nistelrooy, before further proving his versatility and enduring ability by adding the role of playmaker in central midfield to his repertoire. In that role, he is as good as ever, despite lacking the pace that allowed him to break into the Manchester United side aged just 17.
Giggs still has the same brilliant first touch he did when first started out at Manchester United. For evidence, look no further than his sublime control in the build up to United's goal against Chelsea in last season's Champions League.
613 league appearances mean that Ryan Giggs is now the only player to have played and scored in every Premier League season. He has played a crucial role in a side that has dominated English football for almost his entire career, and even at 37 he continues to play in the most important matches for his club; he is still very much on top of his game.
CM: Matt Le Tissier (Southampton)
Matt Le Tissier never played for a big club and had little success at international level; he made just eight appearances for England and failed to score once. However, to quote Barcelona midfielder Xavi in The Sun, "His talent was simply out of the norm. He could simply dribble past seven or eight players but without speed - he just walked past them. For me he was sensational."
"Le God," as he was christened by Saints fans, had an almost unparalleled touch, a brilliant long shot and loyalty that saw him turn down big sides such as Chelsea and Tottenham. He was the first midfielder to reach 100 Premier League goals and was deadly from the penalty spot, scoring 48 out of 49 penalty kicks during his career.
His goal against Newcastle, a wonderful solo effort that saw him waltz through the defence flicking and chipping the ball with total confidence is—and this is as a Portsmouth fan—one of the best goals I have ever seen. How he only played eight times for England is beyond me.
CM: Paul Scholes (Manchester United)
When Paul Scholes retired at the end of last season, there was an outpouring of gratitude from Manchester United fans, as well as footballing fans in general. To quote Zinedine Zidane, "Scholes is undoubtedly the best midfielder of his generation." Zidane is in that generation, and he is one of the all time greats.
In his 17 year career, Scholes racked up 466 appearances and 102 goals for Manchester United, his local club, and did it all without seeking any glory or fame. He could pass and shoot as well as anyone else and had an awareness for his surroundings that ensured he was always in the right position and always made the right pass. He could control a game when in possession and play his opposing man out of the game when defending.
This was partly as a result of his incredible talent, which saw him break into the United side aged 19, but also due to hard work that earned him a reputation for being one of the hardest working players in the game.
While giving evidence in court, a lawyer was listing Manchester United's best players. Ferguson said, "You've missed Paul Scholes, and he's my best player!"
RM: Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
Steven Gerard, much like Paul Scholes, has spent his entire career at his local club, and done exceedingly well while doing so. He is a versatile player, capable of playing on the right of midfield, in the centre, or as a second striker. Very good when shooting and passing at distance, Gerrard has a habit of performing when it matters; he was the driving force behind Liverpool's incredible comeback in the 2005 Champions League final, and his two goals in the FA Cup final against West Ham in 2006, including a classic Gerrard long shot, kept his side in the match.
Gerrard has turned down chances to move away in the past, including a possible move to Chelsea in 2005. Consistently the hardest worker on the pitch, Gerrard is a great asset going forward, but can also help out at the back when required. Not always brilliant to watch, he is a practical operator who gets his job done, and does it extremely well. He epitomises what it means to play for Liverpool, and will continue to do so for a few years to come.
ST: Francesco Totti (Roma)
In his 19 years of professional football, Francesco Totti has scored 207 times in 474 Serie A appearances for Roma, the first coming when he was just 16. He is the clubs most capped player, and their highest scorer. In total, he has appeared over 600 times for his local club.
Totti has been Roma captain since 1997, and has long been a fan favourite, as well as Roma's talisman. One of the most talented players of his generation, Totti could have moved to plenty of bigger clubs if he had wanted to, including AC Milan and Real Madrid, but has stayed loyal to his local side, despite winning just one league title and, on occasion, flirting with relegation.
Totti's passing ability makes him the ideal second striker, linking between midfield and attack, while also allowing him plenty of opportunities to score himself. Famous for his brilliant "Cucchiaio" technique, Totti makes the goalkeeper think he is going to unleash a powerful shot, when instead he places a chip over the goalkeeper's head.
His record at international level is not so impressive; nine goals in 58 appearances is a tally that could lead you to think he is an Italian Emile Heskey. However, that is simply not the case. His incredible collection of personal awards show just how good he really is. He is a five-time Italian player of the year, a two-time Serie A player of the year and was the winner of the 2007 Golden Shoe. Most impressively of all, he has done it all at a club that has achieved relatively little success.
At 34, Totti is still very much central to Roma's fortunes. When he does retire, he will leave a hole that the club will find very hard to fill.
ST: Nat Lofthouse (Bolton)
Nat Lofthouse was one of the finest examples of a classic English striker of the immediate post-Second World War period; tough, uncompromising with a powerful shot, the England international had a brilliant goalscoring record, both for Bolton Wanderers whom he led to victory in the 1958 FA Cup Final, scoring both the goals himself, and at international level, where he scored 30 times in 33 appearances. Not a bad record for a man who spent much of his youth in the mines of Lancashire.
Known as "The Lion of Vienna" after running 50 yards and refusing to give up, despite taking an elbow to the face and being tackled from behind, until he had put the ball past the goalkeeper, who promptly took him down, the goal typifies everything Lofthouse was about.
The Second World War meant that his career started later than it otherwise would have, both for England and Bolton. Nonetheless, his record of 255 goals in 452 league appearances is impressive.
His post-playing career helped to strengthen his grip on the title of ultimate one-club man. He coached, managed, scouted and was president of Bolton Wanderers.
Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), Jamie Carragher (Liverpool), Jimmy Dickinson (Portsmouth), Xavi (Barcelona), Gary Neville (Manchester United), Jack Charlton (Leeds), Alessandro Costacurta (AC Milan), Giuseppe Bergomi (Inter Milan)