Great players are often measured by the number of trophies they win. This is, of course, not a fair way to truly measure a players ability, as this list illustrates. That being said, can a player who has won nothing of any acclaim really ever be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Maradona, Pele, Beckenbauer, Zidane or any of the other eternal greats of the game, who all amassed vast arrays of trophies throughout their careers.
The fact that former Manchester United player Anderson has won two Portuguese titles, four Premier League titles and a Champions League, in comparison to someone like Steven Gerrard who has won no league titles and one Champions League, shows that trophies do not equate to talent. All fifteen players on this list were very talented footballers, yet none of them ever got to life a major trophy.
To make it clear, by ‘major trophy’, we are including league titles and the main domestic trophy in any country with a highly-regarded league, as well as major European titles such as the European Cup, Champions League or UEFA/Europa League. International honors such as the World Cup or European Championship are also of course ‘major trophies’, but lesser domestic competitions such as the League Cup in England are not included. Here are the top 15 best soccer players who never won a major trophy:
Honorable Mentions: Stuart Pearce, Robin Friday & Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink
Stuart Pearce was a cult hero for the England national team. Nicknamed ‘Psycho’ for his passion and determination, he won 78 caps for England and played for the likes of Nottingham Forest, Newcastle and Man City, but never won a single trophy. Robin Friday was a fantastic player who had a short but legendary career with Reading and Cardiff. His career lasted just three years and he never won a trophy. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was a Holland international who played for teams such as Atletico Madrid and Chelsea, but despite finishing as a runner-up in the Premier League, Copa del Rey, UEFA Cup and FA Cup (twice), Hasselbaink never won a major trophy.
15. Tim Cahill
Possibly the greatest footballer Australia has ever produced, Tim Cahill was a player with great ability and the heart to match it. He never gave less than 100% for all his clubs. To date, he has played for Millwall, Everton, New York Red Bulls and now Shanghai Shenhua. He has won trophies over the course of his career, a Second Division title in England, an MLS Supporters Shield title in the U.S. and the AFC Asian Cup and OFC National Cup with Australia. The MLS Supporters Shield comes close, but none are major trophies. It could have been so different for Cahill, who finished as a runner-up in two FA Cup finals.
14. Matt Le Tissier
Matt Le Tiss, or ‘Le God’ as Southampton fans crowned him, played his entire professional career for the Saints, despite interest from the likes of Tottenham and Chelsea. Had he made one of those moves, he probably would have a major trophy to his name. Le Tissier scored 161 goals for Southampton and 100 in the Premier League, with many of them being spectacular and stunning strikes, as well as 47 from the penalty spot. A naturally gifted player but far from a fine athlete, Le Tiss was described by Alex Ferguson as the type of player he would never pick but hated to see in the opposition line-up.
13. George Camsell
One of the greatest goalscorers in English – and world – football history, George Camsell holds the record for the highest goals to game ratio for the England national team. Camsell spent almost his entire career with Middlesbrough, where he scored 345 goals in 453 games. He once scored 59 league goals and 63 goals in all competitions in a single season, which stands as the second highest in English football history, behind the great Dixie Dean. For England, Camsell scored 18 goals in 9 games, averaging two goals every game, which remains a record. Despite his goalscoring prowess, Camsell never won a single trophy.
12. Jermain Defoe
Jermain Defoe is eleventh on the list of Premier League all-time top scorers, with 130 Premier League goals, the second highest of any player still playing in the division, behind Wayne Rooney. A clinical and clever striker who loves to play on the shoulder of the defender, Defoe is Tottenham’s fifth highest all-time scorer, and has also played for West Ham, Bournemouth, Portsmouth and currently Sunderland, as well as playing 19 games for Toronto in the MLS. Defoe has made 55 caps for England but never won a trophy of any kind for club or country. Still playing, there is a chance Defoe could change this, but aged 32 playing for struggling Sunderland, this seems unlikely.
11. Les Ferdinand
Another prolific Premier League goal scorer, Les Ferdinand scored 149 Premier League goals, making him the eighth highest scorer in the competitions history, despite making a late arrival to the top tier. Ferdinand was 24 before he started making a real impression in English football with QPR, before moving to Newcastle, Tottenham, West Ham, Leicester, Bolton, Reading and Watford. Like Defoe, Ferdinand never won a trophy of any description.
10. Lakhdar Belloumi
A truly great dribbler and playmaker, Belloumi is the greatest player Algeria has ever produced. He did win trophies, most notably two Algerian league titles, but few would claim that was a major trophy, especially for a player of Belloumi’s remarkable ability. Barcelona and Juventus both tried to sign him, but he was tied down by a horrible contract and denied the moves. Had he played for either of those titans, he probably would have had a number of major trophies. Belloumi is Algeria’s most capped and top scoring player of all-time, and scored in their legendary 2-1 defeat of West Germany at the 1982 World Cup.
9. Len Shackleton
Len Shackleton is one of the game’s great talents and mavericks. His determination to entertain above all else made him a crowd favorite but not always with his managers. Nicknamed the ‘Clown Prince of Soccer’, it was this jovial attitude which saw him overlooked by England and the reason he never made a move to a trophy winning team. Shack played for both of the major North East clubs, Newcastle and Sunderland, but the closest he came to a major trophy was finishing third in the First Division and reaching two FA Cup semi-finals.
8. Antonio Di Natale
A legend of Udinese and a great of Italian football in general, Antonio Di Natale is still going strong, despite being on the verge of 38 years of age. He is the sixth highest scorer in Serie A history, ahead of Roberto Baggio and Alessandro Del Piero, and will likely overtake the great Guiseppe Meazza at some point. Di Natale has played his best football since turning 30 and often looks best playing in a withdrawn role just behind the main striker, especially since he has lost some of his pace. He has never won a single trophy, although he did reach a European Championship final at Euro 2012 with Italy, only for Spain to thrash Italy 4-0.
7. Vasilis Hatzipanagis
The ‘Greek Maradona’ as he has become known, Vasilis Hatzipanagis is widely regarded as Greece’s greatest ever player, yet he only played twice for Greece due to being ineligible having already played for the Soviet Union. Desperate to leave the communist state, Hatzipanagis signed a horrible contract which tied him to Greek club Iraklis for as long as the club wished. As such, despite interest from Lazio, Arsenal, Porto and more, Iraklis refused to sell their star and fan favorite. He won a Greek Cup, a Balkans Cup and the Soviet second division, but never a major trophy.
6. Neil Franklin
Considered by many as Bobby Moore’s only rival for the title of England’s greatest ever defender, Neil Franklin represented a new breed of defender, certainly new to the English game. Not content with winning the ball and clearing it up field, Franklin liked to carry the ball forward or play a tidy pass out of defense. Of course, today this is the norm, but in the 1940s/50s, Franklin was revolutionary. He was considered second only to the great Sir Stanley Matthews in England when he chose to leave Stoke City and moved to Colombia, due to the wage cap in England and simultaneously turned down playing at the 1950 World Cup. He returned disgraced and never reached those heights again, as the closest he came to a major trophy was finishing 2 points off league champions Liverpool in 1946/47.
5. Carlos Valderrama
One of the most recognizable faces in football during the 1990s, Carlos Valderrama was Colombia’s wild and eccentric midfielder who entertained football fans the world over. Notable for his wild blond hair and equally wild style of goalkeeping, Valderrama amassed 111 caps for his country, but never won a major trophy. Valderrama did win some trophies, the most notable being the French Cup, Colombian Championship and MLS Supporters Shield, but all three were hardly major trophies when Valderrama won them.
4. Giuseppe Signori
Joint ninth in the all-time list of Serie A goal scorers, level with Alessandro Del Piero, is Giuseppe Signori. While Del Piero won major trophies such as six Serie A titles, the Coppa Italia, Champions League, Super Cup and World Cup, Signori won none. His trophies included one Serie B title and one Intertoto Cup, but few would claim either constituted as major trophies. Despite his lack of medals to show for it, Signori was a wonderful striker. He was Serie A top scorer in three seasons and Coppa Italia top scorer twice. In 1993, he won the Guerin d’Oro as the player in Serie A with the highest average rating, beating off the likes of Roberto Baggio, Paolo Di Canio, Franco Baresi, Marco van Basten and other such legends.
3. Johnny Haynes
“The best passer of a ball I’ve ever seen.” That was how Brazil legend Pele described Fulham player Johnny Haynes. The inside forward who captained England 22 times and was capped 56 times has a stand named after him and his own statue outside Fulham’s Craven Cottage. He was the first footballer to earn £100 a week and Fulham famously turned down an offer of £80,000 for Haynes from A.C. Milan, which would have doubled the record transfer fee at the time and made Haynes the best paid player in the world. Haynes never won a major trophy due his loyalty to Fulham, spending much of his career in the second division, even dropping down to the third in his final season.
A true genius of the game, and quite the genius outside the game too, Socrates is rightly regarded as one of the finest midfielders football has ever seen. His doctorate in medicine earned him the nickname ‘Doctor Socrates’ and his iconic headband made him a cult hero and one of the ‘coolest’ figures in football. He should have won a World Cup with Brazil in 1982, but he didn’t, as Brazil – captained by Socrates – were eliminated by Italy. He never won the Copa America and never won a league title, as the only trophies he won coming at club level and those being regional/state championships.
1. Tom Finney
Tom Finney’s religious loyalty to Preston North End may not have won him a major trophy, but it has probably made him the most revered man at any one single club on the planet. Finley, who was born in Preston, spent his entire 14 year professional career at the Lancashire club, playing 596 games. He carried a largely average Preston team throughout his career, a newspaper report once quipped that “Tom Finney should claim income tax relief … for his 10 dependents.”
As close to a one-man team as they come, Finney inspired Preston to finishing as runners-up twice in the First Division and took them to an FA Cup final, but never managed to win a trophy with his boyhood club. Preston’s dependance on Finney was made clear, as they were relegated the season he left the club and didn’t return to the top flight for 39 years. He played 76 times for England, scoring 30 goals, which was a joint record when he retired, later to be surpassed by Bobby Charlton.
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