Team loyalty is not too common in the modern era, as many players will opt to see if the grass is greener elsewhere or they will be tempted to a team that can offer them higher wages. It is also now more common for players to test the waters in leagues overseas where they can earn more money, lead a luxurious lifestyle and play with the best players in the world, and as they are not joining a club from the same league, it does not seem like such a betrayal. More and more players are also now finishing their careers in the up and coming MLS, making one-club players a rare breed and something that should be celebrated.
To play your entire career with just one club shows extreme loyalty and commitment. It of course always helps if this is a team that is likely to win trophies each year, but you do find players that stick with their club even if they are unlikely to lift a trophy or taste much success. The players that stick by their club are worshipped by fans through the good times and the bad, and they will come to be important figureheads with many going onto coaching roles with the team after they hang their boots up.
There has been a lot of talk surrounding one-club players with Steven Gerrard’s announcement that he is set to leave Anfield in the summer, and it is likely that he will be taking his talents stateside to finish his career. This bold move will see Gerrard shed his one-club player status, which is a surprise to many as he has proven himself to be fiercely loyal to Liverpool in his career. This proves how unpredictable football can be, so consequently this list will only include players that have retired as one-club players and therefore the likes of Xavi, Casillas, Ceni and Totti will not be included. Loan spells disqualify players, but non professional and youth teams do not count.
The list will also focus on footballers from the last 40 years, as there are countless one-club players going back further than this, but this was during a time where it was more common for players to remain with one club. Nowadays players can easily play overseas, they are often expected to play elsewhere and clubs such as PSG, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Barcelona will lure players to their clubs and throw staggering amounts of cash at smaller clubs to pry the player from their hands.
14 Lars Ricken (Borussia Dortmund – 301 appearances)
Dortmund legend Lars Ricken may not have made as many appearances or be as highly regarded as some of the names on this list, but his loyalty cannot be questioned and he will be forever remembered by Dortmund fans. In 15 years Ricken helped his team to three Bundesliga titles and the Intercontinental Cup, as well as a famous Champions League title in 1997. Ricken came on as a substitute in the final against Juventus, and 20 seconds later he found the back of the net with an audacious lob over the keeper. This vital goal earned him cult hero status, but it does not overshadow his loyalty to the club with 301 appearances to his name. Ricken is now Youth Coordinator at Dortmund.
13 Pat “Packie” Bonner (Celtic – 641 appearances)
Pat Bonner will probably be best remembered for his penalty save for Ireland in the 1990 World Cup, but the keeper is also a one-club man and a club legend for Celtic. He signed for the Scottish outfit in 1978 and would stay with them until 1997, although his final game came two years earlier. He would play 641 times for Celtic and prove himself to be one of Ireland’s and Celtics greatest goalkeepers, and also help them to many trophies including 4 Scottish League titles.
12 Matt Le Tissier (Southampton – 541 appearances)
You will notice that most of the players on this list played for teams that won many trophies and enjoyed plenty of success, but Matt le Tissier’s Southampton team never won any honours. This makes Le Tissier’s loyalty to the badge even more impressive, although many claim that this loyalty held him back as he was one of the finest of his generation. He helped Saints achieve promotion to the Premier League where he would go on a goalscoring rampage, attracting attention from teams such as Spurs and Chelsea, but he opted to remain on the South Coast. ‘Le God’, as he was affectionately called by fans, bagged 209 goals in 541 games for Saints, including an incredible 47 penalties from 48 attempts.
His loyalty has to be admired by sticking with a smaller club, but you have to wonder what could have been if he took his talents to a bigger team. Le Tissier later went on to play for two clubs, but these were not professional teams and therefore he fits the criteria for inclusion.
11 Thomas Schaaf (Werder Bremen – 281 appearances)
Thomas Schaaf took his loyalty to Werder Bremen to the next level after retiring, as he went on to become their manager for 14 years. This means that he spent 41 years with Bremen, proving himself to be fiercely loyal and a club legend. During his playing career he helped the team to two Bundesliga titles, the DFB-Pokal two times and the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, and he made nearly 300 appearances for the club. He took over coaching duties for the youth team while he was still playing, before retiring and being given the reigns to the senior squad in 1999. He would later guide them to a league and cup double.
Schaaf has now parted with Bremen and took over as Eintracht Frankfurt boss, and his new team recently thrashed his life-long club 5-2 in what must have been a strange day for Schaaf. Nevertheless, he spent his entire playing career with Bremen before managing them for 14 years, making him a figurehead and club legend.
10 Tony Adams (Arsenal – 669 appearances)
Tony Adams is widely regarded as one of Arsenal’s greatest ever players. After a look back through his career it is difficult to argue otherwise. He spent 19 years at Arsenal (14 as captain), made 669 appearances, won 10 major trophies and was leader of their formidable back four which also included Steve Bould, Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn. He impressively helped the Gunners to win league titles in three different decades, and his leadership and defensive efforts played a large part in this. One of England’s greatest defenders, a fierce leader and a player who helped his team to lift many trophies, Adams is the perfect example of a one-club player.
9 Paul Scholes (Manchester United – 718 appearances)
Paul Scholes was an integral part of Manchester United’s dominance in the late 90’s and beyond, and he played key roles in their double-winning campaign in 1996-97 and their famous treble-winning campaign in 1999. Scholes was a player that was always in control, one of the more accurate passers we have seen and a player more than capable of popping up with important goals. He made his debut for United in the League Cup in 1994 where he would score a pair of goals, and this would be the start of something special. He would go on to make 718 appearances, score 155 goals and help United to 11 league titles, three FA Cups, two league cups, two European cups and two Club World Cups.
8 Lars Hogh (Odenese BK – 817 appearances)
Although Peter Schmeichel may be the most famous Danish goalkeeper, there is no question that Lars Hogh is the most loyal. He spent his entire career with Danish outfit Odenese BK, making a stunning 817 appearances in 23 years with the club. In this time his goalkeeping helped them to three Danish football championships and three Danish Cup trophies, and he also took home the Danish Best Goalkeeper of the Year award an impressive five times. He retired at the age of 41 in 2000, and further proving his loyalty he went on to become sports director for Odenese BK before becoming goalkeeping coach for Denmark in 2008.
7 Gary Neville (Manchester United – 602 appearances)
Similar to Paul Scholes, Neville was a key part of United’s dominance and is a club legend. The fullback did not make as many appearances as Scholes, but he did crucially captain the squad following Keane’s departure, and he captained them to Premier League success when they lifted the trophy at the end of the 2006-07 season. He enjoyed an illustrious career which nearly lasted 20 years, winning eight Premier League titles, three FA Cups and two Champions League titles, playing alongside and against some of the world’s best.
You do not get players more loyal than Neville, who famously blanked his former team-mate Peter Schmeichel in the tunnel after the keeper moved to Man City. He is now a popular pundit who provides excellent analysis, and is not one to hide his bias for his former club.
6 Manuel Sanchis Hontiyuelo (Real Madrid – 710 appearances)
Sanchis was a product of the Real Madrid youth academy before playing for the first team reserve side Castilla, and he would then soon make his first-team debut in 1983. He would go on to make 710 appearances for Madrid in 18 years, showing great composure in midfield. His abilities as sweeper helped Madrid to 8 La Liga titles (including 5 consecutive titles), 2 UEFA Champions League titles, 2 European Cups, 5 Spanish Super Cups and 2 Copa Del Rey’s. Sanchis retired a Real Madrid legend and one of Spain’s elite players. Sanchis was part of the famous Quinta Del Buitre, the 5 home-grown Real Madrid players that played such an integral role in the team’s dominance and success during the 1980’s.
5 Franco Baresi (AC Milan – 719 appearances)
Franco Barsesi spent 20 years with the Rossoneri, making his debut in the 1977-78 season. He would go on to play 719 games for AC Milan, and in this time he helped them win six league titles, three Champions League titles, two European Cups, three UEFA Supercups and four Supercoppas in Serie A. Not only was he a part of their success, but he was club captain and leader of the team for the majority of his career. He became known as the best sweeper in the world, and it was here that he would control the tempo of the game. He retired in 1997, with his number 6 jersey being retired in his honour.
4 Giuseppe Bergomi (Inter Milan – 758 appearances)
Giuseppe Bergomi made a whopping 758 appearances for Inter Milan, becoming an important figurehead for the club in this time. He made his debut in 1979 and would hang up his boots 20 years later, but in those 20 years he proved himself to be one of the greatest defenders in the world and one of the best Italy has ever produced. He would captain Italy during the 1990 World Cup, which they hosted, where he led his team to a third place finish. He made his debut for Inter at just 17 years old after playing with the youth team, and even at such a young age he was one of the most composed players around.
Inter were in the shadows of AC for much of his career, but he was able to lift several trophies which was largely thanks to his leadership. His leadership skills were second to none, earning him the nickname “Il Capitano”.
3 Jamie Carragher (Liverpool – 737 appearances)
Jamie Carragher was a local boy that enjoyed a very long and successful career with Liverpool, cementing himself as a club legend during his 16-year career. He made 737 appearances for Liverpool and became their fierce leader and a rock in defence, which would help the team to two FA Cups, three league cups, a UEFA Cup and a famous Champions League trophy in 2005. With a thick Liverpudlian accent and such commitment to his team it is hard to imagine Carragher ever taking his abilities elsewhere, and despite never lifting the Premier League trophy he remains one of the best centre-backs the league has ever seen and is a character that Liverpool lack these days.
2 Carles Puyol (Barcelona – 593 appearances)
Carles Puyol is a big reason why Barcelona have been so dominant in recent times, as his excellent defensive play and leadership helped the Catalan giants lift 21 trophies during his time with the senior team. He spent 15 years with Barcelona (10 of these as captain), and it may have been a lot more if it were not for knee injuries. He developed a reputation as one of the greatest centre-backs in the world, and he is exactly the type of player that Barca could use now. A terrific talent and leader, Barcelona owe a lot of their success to having the instantly recognizable, shaggy haired Puyol in their squad for so long.
1 Paulo Maldini (AC Milan – 902 appearances)
Not only is Paulo Maldini one of the greatest defenders to have ever played the game, he is also one of the most loyal players too. He spent 24 years with AC Milan, and his club loyalty and incredible ability make him a player that is a terrific example for aspiring players to look up to. He made 902 appearances for the Rossoneri, helping them lift 26 trophies during his career.
It was sad to see such a gifted, important and loyal player who was also a positive role model step away from the game in 2009, but what he contributed to AC Milan, Italian and world football will not be forgotten and he has influenced an entire generation of players. His last Milan derby saw Inter pay tribute to him, a testament to what an important figure he was in the game.
1. Ryan Giggs (Manchester United – 963 appearances)
Ryan Giggs enjoyed an astonishing career with Manchester United and has retired to become one of the all time greats. He is the most decorated player in English football and his natural ability and work ethic have been praised by the best in the business, and of course his loyalty to one club makes his story even greater. It all began at 17 years old, where he signed his first professional contract in 1990. An amazing 23 years and 963 appearances later he would retire a football icon and global star. Giggs helped United to an astounding 34 trophies, playing a key role whether he was setting up teammates, defending, scoring goals himself or lifting the performances of those around him.
He is still ever present around Old Trafford as assistant manager, and surely one day he will take the helm and continue to demonstrate his loyalty. Giggs’s ability, work ethic and loyalty cements his status as a football legend, and his legacy is admired by all.