In an era of the sport where moving clubs is increasingly the norm, loyalty is more difficult to find. It’s a different time in football where players are driven more by financial growth and success more than a sense of belonging to one team or the appeal of leaving a legacy and becoming a one club player like the men on this list were.
Who are some of the world’s best one club players?
Here, we look to the past and talk about 10 players who gave their all to one club and cemented a legacy there that can never be taken away from them. Club legends who have created a home for themselves at the club and have given their fans moments they will never forget.
When you think of Manchester United’s greatest team, your mind immediately goes to the 1999 team that to this day, is the only English team to win a treble. When you remember that team, you remember the class of 92. Ryan Giggs is a key part of the core that made up that team.
Born in Cardiff, Giggs spent most of his life at Manchester United. A career that spanned over 22 seasons, with a record 963 club appearances and 794 starts. Giggs has made the most appearances by any Manchester United player and has made the second most in the Premier League. Only Gareth Barry has done better than his 632 League appearances. His 162 assists for United in the Premier League is still the most of any player in the competition.
Giggs was an elite ball carrier and dribbler from the left wing and was constantly a threat in games for Man United. The Welshman had a return of 168 goals and 271 assists in a 22-year spell and retired as the only player to score in 21 straight Premier League seasons. He is also the highest scoring British player in the UEFA Champions League with 28 goals.
With 13 League titles, two Champions League trophies, four FA Cups, three League Cups, one FIFA Club World Cup, two PFA Young Player of the Year awards, Six PFA Team of the year nominations and one PFA Players Player of the year award, Giggs is easily one of the most decorated players in football history.
No other footballer represents Roma like Totti. The Italian forward spent his entire career, through thick and thin with the Giallorossi, cementing himself as the ultimate one club player and one of the greatest ever Italian players. He might not be the first name mentioned when it comes to Italy’s greatest, due to his loyalty to Roma but his impact on the football club is incomparable.
Totti made 786 appearances for his club, the most of any Roma player and retired as their all time top goal scorer with 307 goals. Playing as either the main striker or a second striker, Totti had the lethal finishing ability as well as passing incision to be a menace to the opposition wherever he played.
He won the award for Serie A young player of the year in 1999 and went on to fulfill his potential by winning a Serie A title as well as two Coppa Italia and Super Coppa Italia trophies each for his team. Guerin d’Oro (Serie A Best Player) 1998 and 2004, Serie A footballer of the year in 2000 and 2003, Italian Footballer of the year in 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2007, Serie A top scorer in 2006/2007 and European golden shoe winner in 2006/2007 were the individual awards won by the man affectionately known as the eighth king of Rome.
El Tiburón spent 16 glorious seasons at Barcelona’s first team and was the captain of the greatest side in the club’s history, which was also the most dominant team European football had ever seen.
A tally of 593 club appearances for the Pobla de Segur born defender, ranks him at fifth at the club, with 18 titles won in that time. The fact that he didn’t win his first trophy until he was 27 makes his numbers even more impressive.
He is a six-time La Liga winner, two-time Copa Del Rey winner, four-time Super Copa De Espada winner, three-time UEFA Champions League winner, two-time UEFA Club World Cup winner and a UEFA Super Cup winner.
His invaluable leadership, defensive acumen and footballing ability made him one of the greatest defenders of his generation.
“He’s a real Rossonero, his soul belongs to Milan.”
These were the words of his father Cesare Maldini, who spoke glowingly of his son Paolo Maldini. Born in Milan, Italy, Paolo Maldini was a player that exuded class and composure. A versatile defender who could play across the back four, made a name for himself by staying on his feet and relying on his intelligence to deal with the opposition. He even famously said that if he had to make a tackle, he had already made a mistake.
A phenomenal 26-year career saw him make a staggering 902 appearances for the club with 26 titles won in that time. Seven Serie A titles, Five European Cups/UEFA Champions Leagues, one Coppa Italia, five Supercoppa Italiana titles, Five UEFA Super Cups, two Intercontinental Cups, and a FIFA Club World Cup makes up his massive collection of club Silverware. He also placed third in the Ballon d’Or rankings twice and made the FIFPro World 11 in 2005.
Romford born Tony Adams made 532 appearances for the Gunners between 1983 and 2002. He became Arsenal’s greatest captain and enjoyed a fine career on the pitch.
Immortalized outside the Emirates stadium with a statue in his name, Adams was a rugged and determined defender who was very powerful in the air and became a good ball player under Arsene Wenger. He won 11 trophies in his spell at the club and was hailed for his leadership skills and consistency.
Four League titles, four FA Cups, Two League Cups, one European Cup winners Cup, one PFA Young Player of the Year award and four team of the year selections made up his playing achievements.
Born in Buenos Aires but belongs to Milan, Xavier Zanetti became a symbol of everything that is good about Inter Milan and was integral to their success during his 19-year spell at the club.
The man, who was nicknamed El Tractor for his incredible work rate and fitness levels, could play on either side of the fullback positions due to his superb technique, dribbling and ability to use both feet. His defensive work is second to none as he was known to be a formidable ball winner.
A glorious 19 seasons at Inter saw him make 858 club appearances, winning 16 trophies along the way. Five straight Serie A titles from 2005/2006 to 2010-2011, four Copa Italias, a UEFA Champions League in 2010, one UEFA Cup in 1997/1998 and a FIFA Club World Cup in 2010 saw him win all the honors you could win at club level. He was an integral part of the Nerazzurri team that won the treble in the 2009/2010 season.
He is an Italian football Hall of famer, a five time UEFA Team of the Year Nominee and a three time FIFPro World 11 nominee.
He transitioned from the pitch to the boardroom as he is now Inter Milan’s vice President.
Known for his long range strikes, incredible passing ability and eye for goal, Paul Scholes is arguably the greatest English midfielder to play the game. A man who has been hailed by his peers as one of the great midfielders of their generation, Scholes was respected over the world as a player who could do it all on the pitch.
He spent 19 seasons at the heart of the United midfield, making 718 appearances along the way with 155 goals scored in that time. He was part of the famous Class of 92 which also featured Ryan Giggs and was part of United’s treble winning side in 1998/1999.
Like Giggs, his trophy cabinet is full of medals. 11 Premier League titles, three FA Cups, two League Cups, two UEFA Champions League Trophies, an Intercontinental Cup and a FIFA Club World Cup saw him win 20 trophies for the Red Devils.
Individually, he became the Jimmy Murphy young player of the year in 1993, nominated for the PFA Team of the Year in 2002/03 and 2006/07 and was inducted into the English Football Hall of fame in 2008 as well as the Premier League Hall of Fame in 2022.
“Captain Leader Legend” is the banner you would regularly see with his face on it at Stamford Bridge, the eternal home of Chelsea Center back John Terry.
The Barking born defender, who captained Chelsea for the first time at 21 years old, went on to be the most successful captain in their history and one of the greatest center backs of his generation.
Terry spent much of his prime being the most feared defender in the League. Aggression, tenacity, doggedness and a powerful fighting spirit were some of his defining mental traits but his hard tackles, ability to read the game and dominant aerial prowess was what made him an exceptional defensive machine.
A praise-worthy 19 seasons at Chelsea saw him clinch five League titles, five FA Cups, three League Cups, one UEFA Champions League and Europa League title. He won 14 of those 15 trophies as Chelsea Captain.
Much later and 717 games after, he retired as the first Chelsea player and first defender to become PFA Player of the year. He also made the PFA team of the Year four times, UEFA Team of the year four times, was part of the FIFPro world 11 selection five times, and was named UEFA Club defender of the season three times.
“I have run out of compliments for him. There is no-one who can compare to what he represents as a person and a player. His statistics, the years, the feelings he conjures up, his way of doing things are beyond words. He is a unique player, unrepeatable and he has been fundamental to the club and Spain. It is a true pleasure and privilege to have played alongside him for my entire career.”
These were the words of former Barcelona teammate Andres Iniesta, talking about Xavi, the player he formed a deadly midfield partnership that ruled Europe and redefined football.
He was born in Terrasa, Barcelona and was raised the Barcelona way. From La Masia to the world stage, Xavi was destined for greatness and achieved it with high class and grace. The Spaniard’s impact and influence in an era defining team will never be understated and the respect of his teammates and opponents are a testament to that fact.
Xavi spent 17 seasons on the senior team, which saw him play 767 games and win 25 trophies. He was a key member of the midfield that helped win eight La Liga titles, three Copa Del Reys, Six Supercopa De Espana, four UEFA Champions League trophies, Two UEFA Super Cups and Two FIFA Club World Cups.
He has been voted among the top three in the Ballon d’Or rankings. He made six straight FIFPro world 11 selections between 2008 and 2013, five straight UEFA Team of the Season selections between 2008 and 2012, was La Liga midfielder of the year for three straight seasons between 2009 and 2011 and won the La Liga Spanish player of the year award in 2005.
As at the time of writing, he is the coach of Barcelona looking to create another legacy of Blaugrana greatness from the touchline.
“Philipp Lahm is perhaps the most intelligent player I have ever trained in my career. He is at another level.”
Words coming from Pep Guardiola, the man who had already coached some of the greatest footballing minds of all time. Lahm was a leader for so many years at the club and became a symbol of excellence in Germany and a player who epitomized the dominance of Bayern Munich, one which they still enjoy even beyond his retirement.
He may not be the first name that comes to mind when mentioning some of the greatest right backs in football history but his resume speaks for itself. His 13 brilliant seasons at Bayern Munich, saw him make 517 appearances and win everything there was to win in club football.
Eight Bundesliga titles, six DFB Pokals, three DFL Supercups, one FIFA Club World cup, a UEFA Champions League and Super Cup to go with two FIFPro world 11 selections, five UEFA team of the year nominations, one UEFA Champions League team of the season selection and a German player of the year award in 2017 makes up for one of the greatest trophy cabinets in football.