A player being bigger than a club is an idea that will be immediately rejected by some. An individual who thinks they're 'bigger than the club' is a phrase which has become far more prominent thanks to Sir Alex Ferguson, who often used those words or similar to justify the sale of a major player with a supposed ego problem. Whilst Manchester United are one of the biggest clubs on the planet, and no player is bigger than that club, that is not always the case with lesser sides.
In some cases, the player is genuinely bigger than the club. This list is a collection of the 15 most glaring cases of exactly that. It counts only players who spent a significant amount at a club - at least two seasons - thus ruling out examples such as Socrates at Garforth Town or Paul Gascoigne at Boston United. The list includes some of the greatest and best known players of all time, as well as some who are far less well-known, that is because the list accounts for the relationship between the respective size of the player and the club.
'Bigger' does not have an absolute or concrete meaning within the world of football, and as such, there could be some confusion. However, we have used the term 'bigger' largely to mean the global appeal, worldwide interest and recognition of either the player or club. It is also worth noting that the list relates only to when the player was at the club, it is not to say the players time at the club eclipsed that of their entire history. Here are the top 15 soccer players who are/were bigger than their clubs:
15 Alessandro Del Piero - Sydney FC
14 Matt Le Tissier - Southampton
13 Zico - Kashima Antlers
Nicknamed the 'white Pele', Zico was a marvellous footballer who had it all; skill, vision, goals and he was also one of the finest passers of a ball the game has ever seen. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, many considered him the most talented player on the planet. Zico spent the majority of his career and his best years playing for Flamengo in Brazil, but in 1991, aged 38, he headed to Japan, where he signed for Kashima Antlers.
12 Raich Carter - Hull City
11 Samuel Eto'o - Anzhi Makchkalala
One of the greatest African footballers of all-time, Eto'o is in fact the most decorated African footballer in history. His list of honors include three La Liga titles, one Serie A title and three Champions Leagues. When Eto'o left Inter Milan for Anzhi Makhachkala, he was widely regarded as one of the finest strikers in the world. Although the deal, completed in August 2011 made Eto'o the highest paid player in the world, most were still shocked he made the move to the wealthy Russian minnows.
10 Sir Stanley Matthews - Stoke & Blackpool
9 Thierry Henry - New York Red Bulls
8 Pele - Santos & New York Cosmos
There is no shame in being smaller than Pele, arguably the greatest player in the sport's history and now a global ambassador of the beautiful game, a phrase he popularized, Pele is one of the most recognizable faces in world sport. Some would take issue with describing Pele as bigger than Santos, who are a fine club steeped in history and the joint most successful in Brazil. However, in the 18 years Pele spent in a magnificent Brazil team, he was undoubtedly always the star, and his worldwide appeal was on another level. Santos made a fortune touring the world, and their USP - more than being a great team - was Pele.
7 Diego Maradona - Napoli
Similarly to Pele, being smaller than Diego Maradona in footballing terms is a little like being smaller than Michael Jordan in basketball terms - no great shame. The Argentine maestro took centre stage in every team he ever graced, including the Argentine national team, but none more so than at Napoli. While Napoli certainly are a big club, they were never a successful club, before the arrival of El Diego that is.
6 Giorgio Chinaglia - New York Cosmos
The second New York Cosmos player to make this list, the five-time NASL champions were no stranger to a marquee signing, with Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto being other blockbuster examples. While commercially and globally Pele was certainly the biggest, none had a greater impact on the pitch itself than Giorgio Chinaglia.
5 Asamoah Gyan - Al Ain
A quick and skilful forward with an eye for goal, Asamoah Gyan gained worldwide recognition for his performances for Ghana at the 2010 World Cup. He moved to the Premier League with Sunderland shortly after, but after only 34 league games, his ambition seemed to have been thwarted somewhat. A huge contract was waved in front of him by Abu Dhabi-based Al Ain and Gyan was on his way. He scored 128 goals in 74 games for the club, playing at a really poor level which was quite clearly below him for four years.
4 Jose Andrade - Nacional & Penarol
3 Magico Gonzalez - Cadiz
Few clubs are as synonymous with a single player as Cadiz are with Magico Gonzalez. It is a testament to the player's global celebrity that even today, almost a quarter of a century since he played for the club, that Gonzalez is still more famous himself than the current Spanish third tier side. Cadiz have spent a total of 12 seasons in their history in the top flight, seven came whilst Gonzalez was at the club.
2 David Beckham - L.A. Galaxy
1 Phil Younghusband - Loyola Meralco Sparks
It might seem laughable that the relatively unknown Phil Younghusband ranks higher than one of the most famous sportsmen of all time in David Beckham, but in terms of the relative size of the player and club, no-one compares to Phil Younghusband at Loyola Meralco Sparks. Phil and his older brother James both came through the Chelsea FC academy, but never broke into the Premier League champions first team. Having seemingly failed to establish themselves within the English game, the pair began to give up on their hopes of becoming professional footballers.
Until being thrown a lifeline by the country of their mothers birth that is, namely the Philippines. Both brothers signed for Loyola Meralco Sparks in 2011, where Phil in particular has gone on to have quite unprecedented success. He scored 7 goals in a 15-1 win on his debut, rather setting the tone for what has followed. The Sparks, who were only founded in 2006 and play in a stadium which seats only 2,000 people, have nowhere near the appeal and celebrity of Younghusband, who is now a hero in the Philippines thanks to his achievements with the national team.
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