The issue of a 'one-man team' is one that has been quite contentious recent years. The term is seen as somewhat derogatory, and managers, players and supporters alike are often unhappy with their team being labelled with the tag. Of course, no team can solely rely on one player, but there are certainly some teams in which one player's contribution is often far greater than that of his teammates.
In club soccer, if a player stands out so clearly they will most often move on to a new club, but in international soccer, regardless of how much better you are than the rest of the team, you can't challenge nationalities. It is for this reason that the majority of entries in this list, eight in total, are one-man national teams, and the other seven are club sides.
It's hard for fans and media to not get the impression that one man is carrying the team when time and time again, that player seems to bail his team out. The average viewer won't see the game the same way as a professional, so when they see one man turning in one great performance after another, while the team doesn't seem to follow suit, of course they'll label the club as a one-man team.
The list is ranked by the degree in which the player stood/stands out in their team, how the team are affected in their absence and also the achievements that they almost single-handedly inspired their team to reach. Here are the top 15 one-man teams in soccer history:
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15 Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
One that is fresh in all our minds, Luis Suarez only left Liverpool in 2014, but the struggles of the club since his departure emphasize just how much the Reds relied on the Uruguayan striker. Suarez spent four seasons at Anfield, in which he scored 82 goals in 133 games, many coming in his last and most memorable season with the club. In the 2013-14 campaign Suarez almost inspired Liverpool to a first Premier League title, scoring 31 league goals in 33 games as the club finished second. In his absence, they dropped to sixth the following season, 25 points behind leaders Chelsea.
14 Hristo Stoichkov (Bulgaria)
Bulgaria's greatest ever player, Hristo Stoichkov, unsurprisingly shone in the Bulgarian national team during his playing days. Although Bulgaria's team of Stoichkov's era was regarded as something of a golden generation for the country, the former Barcelona man was still head and shoulders above his teammates. Stoichkov guided them to the greatest ever World Cup showing in 1994, when they reached the semi-finals. Stoichkov won the Golden Shoe at the tournament as top scorer and also won the Ballon d'Or later that year.
13 Abedi Pele (Ghana)
Abedi Ayew, or Abedi Pele as he has become better known, was one of the first genuine African soccer superstars, and is still regarded by many as the continents greatest ever player. Whilst Ghana have a team littered with decent players today, in Abedi Pele's time, their team was rather less illustrious. With Pele as their star man, Ghana won the 1982 African Cup of Nations, reached the final in 1992 and the semi-final in 1996. Between 1982 and 1998, he won 67 caps for Ghana, scoring 33 goals.
12 Charlie Austin (Q.P.R.)
The only current club one-man team to make this list, many were surprised that Charlie Austin stayed with Queens Park Rangers over the summer following their relegation. In the 2014-15 Premier League season, Austin scored 18 goals, only Sergio Aguero, Diego Costa and Harry Kane scored more, yet Rangers still finished dead last. In total they scored 42 goals, meaning Austin contributed roughly 43% of all the clubs goals. Now back in the Championship, Austin already had seven goals in nine games, still contributing around 40% of all the teams goals.
11 Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Portugal are not a poor team by any stretch. Unlike most on this list, they do have a number of talented players. The likes of Pepe, Fabio Coentrao and Joao Moutinho are all quality players, but that doesn't change the fact that when it comes to attacking threat, none of the top nations would fear playing Portugal were it not for Ronaldo. When the team need a goal, there is only one man they turn to. The three-time Ballon d'Or winner has 123 caps and 55 goals to his name already.
10 Matt Le Tissier (Southampton)
In terms of longevity, few can match how long Southampton relied upon the brilliance of Matt Le Tissier. Rarely seen running, Le Tissier still often dominated games due to his technical ability. Known for his superb touch and often majestic goals, Le Tissier scored 100 Premier League goals from attacking midfield and is Southampton's second highest scorer of all time. A one-club man, many believe the Saints wouldn't have been able to retain their Premier League status without him.
9 Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden)
The Swedish national team is not littered with world class players. In general, they are a solid, hardworking and reliable bunch, but there is of course one exception, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The PSG striker has long been considered one of the best players in the world, just outside the Ronaldo/Messi stronghold. Zlatan has 108 caps for Sweden and has scored 58 goals, he was recently voted Sweden's second greatest sportsman of all-time, behind Bjorn Borg.
8 Gareth Bale (Wales)
The only British player currently playing in La Liga, Gareth Bale is a world class player who has all the attributes required to be simply unstoppable on his day. With blistering speed, wonderful control and a great left foot, Bale could have made two appearances on this list, given that Spurs were largely a one-man team in Bales last season with the club. Once again, Wales do not have a poor team, in Ashley Williams and Aaron Ramsey in particular they have two very good players, but as with Sweden and Portugal, without their star man they lack any real attacking cutting edge.
7 Mario Jardel (Gremio)
The only player on this list to be a one-man team whilst being on-loan at a team, Mario Jardel spent two seasons on-loan at Gremio from Vasco de Gama, where he went on to become a Gremio legend. A prolific scored, Jardel scored 67 goals in 73 games for Gremio, winning the Copa Libertadores in 1995. The competition is the most prestigious in all of Latin America, and it was only Gremio's second success in their history. Jardel went on to have huge success with Porto, Galatasaray and Sporting, but failed in England and Spain.
6 Diego Maradona (Napoli)
Perhaps the greatest player of all time, Diego Maradona set a world record transfer fee when he moved from Barcelona to Naples, joining Napoli in 1984. The transfer was huge, and redefined Italian football. Napoli had just finished twelfth out of sixteen teams when the Argentine arrived, and no team from Southern Italy had ever won a Serie A title. Juventus, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Roma were all rocked by the arrival of Mardaona, who turned Napoli into a genuine force. When he arrived, Napoli had only ever won the Coppa Italia, when he left, they had won Serie A twice, the UEFA Cup, the Supercoppa Italiana and the Coppa Italia again.
5 Michel Platini (France 1984)
At the 1984 European Championships, Michel Platini was in the form of his life. The playmaker had just signed for Juventus and showed his class to single-handedly upstage Europe's elite in a far from remarkable French team. At a time when the Euros consisted of only eight teams, in two groups, with a semi-final and final, in France's five games, Platini scored nine goals, including hat-tricks against Belgium and Yugoslavia, and goals in both the final and semi-final. His nine goals were an incredible achievement, and the next highest scorer in the competition scored three.
4 Juninho (Middlesbrough)
Juninho Paulista was voted Middlesbrough's greatest ever player in a recent fans poll. The diminutive Brazilian attacking midfielder, nicknamed "The Little Fella" or simply "TFT", wowed supporters at the Riverside stadium with his vibrant style of play, quick feet and wonderful inventiveness. It was clear Juninho was good enough to grace any team in the Premier League, yet he was playing for a bottom half team in the form of Middlesborough. He won the League Cup with Middlesborugh in 2004, and the World Cup with Brazil in 2002.
3 Eusebio (Portugal)
The second time the Portuguese national team feature on this list, and it is fair to say that the Portugal team of the 1960s relied even more heavily on the genius of Eusebio than the current crop rely on Cristiano Ronaldo. Mozambique-born Eusebio was described by Alfredo di Stefano as the "best player of all time," and with his incredible speed, technique and sheer power, Eusebio became one of the greatest strikers in the history of the game. With Benfica he won 11 league titles and a European Cup, and with Portugal he scored 41 goals in 64 caps, winning the Golden Boot at the 1966 World Cup.
2 Diego Maradona (Argentina 1986)
The only player to appear twice on this list, it was impossible to leave out either Diego Maradona's influence upon the Napoli team or the Argentina team at the 1986 World Cup. There are normally restrictions upon what a one-man team can achieve, such is their reliance on a single individual. Especially given top class opponents will often be able to focus on that one player and neutralize them. With Maradona though, there were no limits and no possibility of thwarting his genius.
In 1986, he was simply irresistible and without him, there was no chance Argentina were going to challenge at that World Cup. With him, they won the tournament in Mexico, and Maradona was named Best Player.
1 Sir Tom Finney (Preston North End)
The greatest example of a one-man team in history is that of Sir Tom Finney at Preston North End. For 14 years the Lancashire club relied on Finney to make them a force within English football, and more often than not, he delivered. Preston's team was, with the greatest respect, very average without Finney. At the 1950 World Cup, 1954 World Cup and 1958 World Cup, only one Preston player could be found in the England squad, and on every occasion this was Tom Finney. A tremendous winger, Finney scored 210 goals in 473 games for Preston. Due almost entirely to him, the club finished as runners-up in the First Division twice and finished in third place once, as well as reaching an FA Cup final in 1954.
Sadly, Finney never won a trophy at Preston, where he spent his entire career. Such was the team's dependance on Finney, one newspaper report commented, "Tom Finney should claim income tax relief ... for his 10 dependents." His importance to the club was finally drummed home when having challenged at the top of the First Division, Preston were relegated the season after Finney's retirement, and didn't return to the top flight for 39 years.
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