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:
15 Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
14 Hristo Stoichkov (Bulgaria)
13 Abedi Pele (Ghana)
12 Charlie Austin (Q.P.R.)
11 Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
10 Matt Le Tissier (Southampton)
9 Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden)
8 Gareth Bale (Wales)
7 Mario Jardel (Gremio)
6 Diego Maradona (Napoli)
5 Michel Platini (France 1984)
4 Juninho (Middlesbrough)
3 Eusebio (Portugal)
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.
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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