Footballing leagues around the world have brought us moments of absolute magic, from players that have woven their way into history.
From Diego Maradona’s slippery feet to John Barnes’ ruthlessness in front of goal, football has seen some of the best players to ever grace the sport within the last century or so.
But with great talent comes great loyalty – a moniker that not all those who have entered the best-ever category have upheld.
And as the seasons have progressed, Premiership money, silverware, attractive paychecks, and TV coverage rights have ensured that the loyalty that was synonymous with the earlier period of football is dying out.
So, we’re taking a look at the top 20 one-club players that have remained faithful to their team, and stayed true in the face of temptations galore.
With reflections from the Premier League to the Bundesliga, Serie A and the far ends of the La Liga, strap yourselves in, sit back and read below of the dutiful troopers…
Top-flight English football has had its fair share of steadfast players who have transformed clubs across the divisions.
Whether it was powerhouses like Liverpool and Manchester United or invincible seasons produced from the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea, the Premier League really came into its own as the years progressed.
And the so-called golden era from which these trusty players emerged from was during the last nineties and into the early 2000s.
First things first…
5) Jamie Carragher
When most people are asked of their favourite one-club players to have graced the Premier League Steven Gerrard is one of the go-to answers around.
As the captain that masterminded his side’s 2005 historic Champions League comeback in Istanbul, staved off interest from rival clubs despite being offered double the salary, and almost led the Reds to their first domestic title since 1990 under Brendan Rodgers in 2014, it’s no surprise why he is mentioned so often.
And yet, with the England international having moved onto the MLS to join Robbie Keane at LA Galaxy, our attentions turn to his partner in crime: Jamie Carragher, one of the Reds most prized possessions down the years.
The veteran defender spent 17 years at Liverpool, playing his way through various managers, from Rafael Benitez to Graeme Souness, Gerard Houllier and Roy Hodgson.
With over 500 appearances under his belt, and no desire to ever leave Merseyside, his place in our top 20 one-club players is a deserved one.
4) Paul Scholes
Following up Carragher is a man who played his entire career with the scouse’s rival club – Manchester United.
The veteran in question is Paul Scholes, who spent 18 years with the Red Devils under Sir Alex Ferguson. And in that period, he won several honours including 11 Premier League titles, two Champions League titles, three FA Cups, and two Football League Cups.
Such a packed cabinet is apt for a man who did it all for United when the team was operating as one of the best sides in world football.
Whether it was pulling the strings with inch-perfect passes from midfield, or scoring long-range beauties, from attack to defence, there wasn’t a role Scholesy couldn’t fill and perform well in.
And the Englishman also came out of retirement in 2012 to aid United in their most recent title win in 2012 – Ferguson’s last season as the mastermind of one of the best domestic sides to grace the league.
A true midfield maestro, if there ever was one!
3) Bill Nicholson
Straying away from the battle between Manchester and Merseyside, North London has also produced a few gems – dutiful ones – down the line, and we’d go amiss if we didn’t mention the late Bill Nicholson in our top 20 one-club player list.
The former Spurs man has lived and breathed Tottenham as one of their best players, epitomised when he uttered:
‘’It’s been my life, Tottenham Hotspur, and I love the club’’.
And that same love and passion were evident in both his playing and managing days. Indeed, after arriving at the club in 1936, Nicholson had the privilege to play in Tottenham’s first title-winning team of 1950-51.
In 1955, he retired and took up the role of assistant manager. In the following years, Nicholson was at the helm of one of the finest Spurs team of all time, steering his side to the double in 1960 and becoming the first club to do so.
If there was ever an epitome of a one-club player, Nicholson is all that and more.
2) Tony Adams
Just missing out on top spot is a man known as the ‘professor of defence’, one that many hail as the best the Premier League has ever seen.
Yes, we’re talking about Arsenal’s very own Tony Adams – a man who was as faithful as they come in our top 20 one-club players.
Not only did he spend his entire 19-year career with the Gunners, but spent 14 of those as skipper, leading his side to plenty of successes down the years.
Such was his strength and verve in and around the back four, with Tony in the midst Arsenal became a defensive powerhouse, impossible to penetrate, unwavering in the face of any attacking unit.
And not just thanks to the Englishman’s leadership skills. Indeed, the centre-back was very physically adept, intelligent, and a perfect timer of tackles.
It seemed that ‘Mr. Arsenal’ had everything a defender could have offered, with the talent and leadership that led the North London club to a near-perfect season in 1990.
But there is one man who trumps even Adams in our list…
1) Matt Le Tissier
The Premier League’s greatest ever attacking threat, a national treasure, skilled, professional, clinical.
Matt Le Tissier was all of these things in his heyday under Southampton’s careful tutelage. And he repaid that service in a 16-year career littered with goals that saved the Saints from certain relegation.
Adored by a young Xavi, Le Tiss worked his way through Southampton’s academy. Once he reached the Dell, there was simply no denying his talent: he was, and is, the most skilful player to have graced the Premier League.
And the stats certainly prove it, if nothing else. The striker was able to consistently net 20 + goals per season, which was only bettered by the likes of Alan Shearer and Andy Cole.
To think that he was able to do all this while he struggled with his physical health is a testament to his talent and skill.
True, Le Tiss was omitted from England permutations by Glenn Hoddle for that very reason. But he will forever remain a Saint to the St Mary faithful.
From the realms of English top-flight football, we now traverse across to the Serie A in Italy – a country that holds football in the same light as religion and cultural relevance.
And as passionate as the fans are, the players down the years have been cut from the same cloth.
Trust in each other, love for the sport, and an overriding ability to play with the heart has been the running motif for Italian football.
The five players below are no different and have stamped their place in our top 20 one-club players list with their transformative careers.
As they say in Naples, il Calcio è vita…
5) Giuseppe Bergomi
Bringing up the rear is a man they called ‘lo zio’ – the uncle. And particularly so for his rather odd-fashioned facial hair.
But there was nothing odd about Bergomi’s playing style. In over 750 appearances for Inter Milan over 20 seasons, the Italian honed his skill and physical prowess as one of the greatest defenders Italy ever produced.
He was disciplined but stringent, tough but fair, aerially adept, and smart with the ball at his feet.
Such skill and talent deservedly earn him the accolade of a legend of the sport, let alone Italian football.
And yet, there are more Serie A greats to touch upon as we continue our hunt of the best one-club players to grace football.
4) Gianpaolo Bellini
A lesser-known name in our top 20 one-club players list, yes, but one just as worthy of warranting a mention is Gianpaolo Bellini.
Those who are niche enough to know of his talents will have recognized him as one of the best fullbacks to ever play in the Serie A, and all under the trusty guidance of Atalanta.
Indeed, with the Italian club at his side, Bellini was able to notch 435 appearances under his belt as Atalanta’s record-holder before he finally hung up his boots in 2016.
Yet, in that period of career, the Italian was as faithful as any of our special mentions, remaining with the club throughout their two stints in Serie B.
Trophies, paychecks and external temptations never attracted the fullback’s attention – he was an Atalanta man through and through, and his passion and loyalty make him a well-recognized figure in the world of football.
3) Daniele Di Rossi
Roma’s ever-present Daniele De Rossi takes up third place in the Serie A standings. And rightly so, given the stats, he’s racked up over the years for the Italian club.
The midfield veteran amassed over 600 appearances for the Giallorossi in his time on the field, and retired as recently as in 2018 at the ripe old age of 35 – further proof that loyalty, not money has been the root of the motivation that has spurred him on down the years, hence the tears on the final day.
And as midfielders come, Di Rossi is the complete package.
With the vision to play majestic forward passes, the intelligence to break down attacks in their infancy, and the verve to dribble through the park with quick feet, there is very little the Italian is not able to do.
He’ll even be applauding the man who leapfrogs him into second place, such is his trust and resolute support for Roma…
2) Francesco Totti
Yes, it’s the King of Rome himself, the man who made a staggering 786 starts for the Giallorossi, scoring 307 goals along the way alongside his partner in crime, Di Rossi – Francesco Totti.
As the club’s most-capped player, there is very little this midfielding maestro hasn’t achieved. From clinching the record for the second-highest goal-scorer in the history of the Serie A to winning the league title, the veteran is sole proof that loyalty to your club can reap awards.
Especially since over the years, Totti would have had plenty of opportunities to leave the capital in search for more trophies, as many players have done.
His skill and talent alone have attracted attention from some of the biggest clubs in Italy and Spain. Whether it’s muddying the lines in between midfield and attack on his way through to goal or thwarting defenders to provide inch-perfect passes, it’s clear that the forward would easily slot into any of the aforementioned teams with ease.
But in his own words:
‘’Winning one league title with Roma is worth winning 10 with Real Madrid or Juventus”.
What else is there to say?
1) Paolo Maldini
II Capitano leads the Italian charge in our top 20 one-club players list with ease. For who in Serie A’s history could contest the numbers that the great Paolo Maldini has racked up? Is there any better than the man hailed as arguably the best left-back to grace the great game that is football?
According to the stats, no.
25 years at AC Milan, 647 league appearances, and 902 altogether counting non-league affairs, seven Serie A titles, and UEFA’s best defender of the season at the ripe age of 39.
And all thanks to his transformative performances in the left-back role. As an incredibly adaptive player, Maldini was able to uphold his offensive duties while stringently defending down the left flank.
As the role developed, so did his style of play. From trickery to guile, and promising width play, there simply was nothing that could’ve thwarted the Italian once he was in his stride – he was just that good.
Even up until the day he retired, Maldini was a regular starter for Milan.
If that isn’t enough to convince you of his role in our standings, then there’s not much else we can say to do the trick.
And from the cities of Naples and Milan, we now travel to Madrid and Catalonia to discuss a whole host of Spanish players who, just like their Italian friends, are loyal to the badge.
Whether it’s derived from powerhouses like Barcelona and Real Madrid, or classic sides like Valencia and Sevilla, there were clubs littered across Spain’s domestic proceedings that produced players as loyal and steadfast as they came.
And bringing up the rear in our top 20 one-club players list – the Spanish edition – is…
5) Markel Susaeta
Susaeta is about as loyal as they come, given that he’s been a feature of the Athletico Bilbao setup since 1997 when he first joined the youth academy.
With 12 years in the first-team under his belt and a combined 22 years at the club, the Spaniard has become somewhat of a stalwart for the side.
And having played in more than 490 competitive games for Bilbao, with over 50 goals netted in that period, there is very little doubt of his trust and steadfast nature.
There are a few Madrid men on this list, the first of them being Marcelo.
The former Fluminese man joined Los Blancos in the January transfer window of 2007 and has been a regular starter at the Bernabeu since his breakthrough season in 2010/11.
And rightly so, given how well he has revolutionized and become one of the top 10 best left-backs in the world, with his goalscoring contributions pace, and trickery.
With Marcelo on the left, for many years the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bales have received service clinical and accurate enough to ensure the trio 20 + goals per season.
Now that Ronaldo has left for Italy, the 31-year-old hasn’t been able to lead the assists charts as frequently.
But his loyalty to the club and the passion and vigour in which he plays continues to flourish.
3) Sergio Ramos
Sergio Ramos isn’t a man who’ll take the bronze medal in any competition if he can help it. But he’ll have to make do in our top 20 one-club player listings.
Indeed, Ramos’ journey with Los Blancos has seen him spend the last 14 years in Madrid, after having been transferred from Sevilla in the summer of 2005 for 27 million euros – a record-fee back then.
And he hasn’t looked back since. A true Madrid man through and through, the 33-year-old has been captain of the club ever since Iker Casillas’ departure, leading from the back as a vocal and skilled figure.
What’s more, his passing and goalscoring abilities have been just as adept and entertaining to watch. With 59 goals recorded in his current stint with Madrid, seeing the Spaniard in the opposition’s attacking third down the years has become somewhat of a formality.
Yet, there are two who trump him in our proceedings, chiefly…
2) Lionel Messi
Just missing out on top spot is a man whose name is sung at the Camp Nou almost every game without fail, filling the rafters, drowning out the whistles from opposition fans. Yes, it’s Lionel Messi.
How do you describe a player who appears to be an echelon above the rest? Plays as if in a world of his own? Uncontainable? Unequivocally skilled?
To describe such a player would be to find an answer as to how the Barcelona forward has become the kind of man he is today.
Lest we forget, this is a man who, in his career, broke the record for the most goals scored in La Liga (404), most goals in a single La Liga season (50), most goals in a calendar year (91), and most goals in the El Clasico (26).
Cesc Fabregas sums up the prognosis that most think:
”He’s not human”.
Alien or not, to try and quantify his excellence and loyalty, Messi has scored over 670 senior career goals for club and country – an absolutely staggering figure.
And he’s still going. Who knows how many more records he’ll break?
What is clear though, is that we’re seeing one of the greatest ever player, let alone greatest ever forward, grace our screens and pitches. We can only watch and applaud his faith in the club that has raised him, nurtured him, and put him on the path to ascendancy.
1) Carlos Puyol
Leading the charge for the La Liga in our top 20 one-club players list is none other than Carlos Puyol.
Alongside Messi, the former Barca defender dons the label of one of the greatest the Camp Nou ever watched, but also one of the most faithful and unwavering, with over 500 appearances notched under his belt for the Catalan club.
And to watch him play was something else for both home and away fans, rivals and neutrals alike. Such was his skill and ability in and around the back four, Puyol was able to play in any position in both attack and defence.
Aided by incredible stamina and physical prowess, there were not many who could snatch possession off of him, or bustle him off the ball.
He was dependable, passionate, and most of all, patriotic to Barca and Barca only till the very last day of his retirement.
A true trooper!
The last stop in our tour of the top 20 one-club players takes place in Germany. Well, the Bundesliga to be precise.
As one of the most competitive leagues in the world, the Germans have bred teams, and indeed players, down the years that have been the most wrought and steadfast about their respective badges.
United on the international front with the national team’s successive, and on domestic affairs, there is very little that can divide these players, or separate them from their clubs for what it’s worth.
So, sit back and drink in the last five in our one-club player’s listings. Or, as they say in Germany: “Da steppt der Bär” …
5) Roman Weidenfeller
Bringing up the rear is Borussia Dortmund’s Roman Weidenfeller – a real modern stalwart.
Having joined the Black and yellows back in 2002 after departing FC Kaiserslautern, the keeper has been with the Schwarz-Gelben through thick and thin.
Whether it was during mid-table clashes, back-to-back title-winning seasons under Jurgen Klopp, or during their darker days, Weidenfeller was and is an ever-present figure.
And as loyalty goes, he’s about as steadfast as they come.
4) Philip Lahm
You can’t have a discussion surrounding legendary top 20 one-club players that graced the Bundesliga without mentioning Philip Lahm.
Having joined Bayern’s youth academy as an 11-year-old, the German’s playing career was unequivocally successful.
Indeed, the 2014 World Cup-winning captain was a player who clinched every accolade in the book for the Die Roten, from personal milestones to trophy hauls.
We’re talking about a man who many considered in his peak to be the best right-back in the world, claiming six Bundesliga titles, six DFB-Pokal trophies, one Champions League trophy, one Club World Cup, and 20 individual honours in his stint with Bayern.
There was nothing the right-back didn’t achieve, whether it was under Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klinsmann.
In doing so, Lahm leaves a distinct legacy behind for a club which he served for over a decade.
3) Thomas Muller
The man who has leap-frogged Lahm into third place is another one of Bayern’s talented contingent – Thomas Muller.
Just like his ex-skipper, Muller has devoted his career to the Die Roten with a litany of accolades.
From the moment he committed himself to the Bavarian club a month or so prior to his 19th birthday, it was clear that his talent would take him far.
And rightly so. The forward has racked up 450 senior appearances, double-figure goal-tallies, 106 goals and 114 assists in his time with Bayern. But the most impressive stat is that Bayern haven’t lost any of the 84 league games in which Muller has scored.
Such was his goalscoring attributes that the former Bayern manager, Louis Van Gaal, had this to say about him:
‘’Even if Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben are available, Muller will always play in my team’’.
To this day, Muller credits the Dutch tactician for the role he played in his development under one of the worlds’ biggest clubs.
2) Marco Bode
Another lesser-known name in our top 20 one-club players list appears at number two, but a name that has a story worth telling attached to it.
The man in question? Marco Bode, discovered by another great of the game in Otto Rehhagel.
Bode was a player that Rehaggel admired very much. And when he advised him to make the move to Werder Bremen in 1988, no one predicted that he would flourish the way he did for the then, amateur club.
Indeed, between 1989 and 2002, Bode featured in 379 first-team games in which he scored 101 goals, making him the record goal-scorer at the time (he has since been overtaken by another Bremen legend, Claudio Pizarro).
Aside from his attacking prowess, Bode was also a very calm and level-headed forward, reportedly having only been booked 10 times in his entire Bundesliga career, without a single sending off.
Despite handsome offers from rival clubs, Bode remained a Bremen player until he hung up his boots after the 2002 World Cup.
1) Steve Cherundolo
Leading the final charge is a man Hannover fans will forever remember fondly – Steve Cherundolo.
‘The Mayor of Hannover’ is the nickname that Die Roten knighted him with, such was the skipper’s impact on a then, tiny German club.
And Cherundolo’s stats and accolades for Hannover prove exactly why he is deemed as a legend in Lower Saxony, as well as a notable Bundesliga figure.
Especially more so, given that he arrived from the United States, not knowing the people of England, nor the language or the culture.
Yet, in a 15-year association with the club, Cherundolo led the side through promotion from Bundesliga 2 to the top-flight German football league, played in the UEFA Europa League and was captain on 96 occasions during this stint.
There is no doubt of his loyalty and faith in a club who made him an emblem for the Hannover locals. And as such, he has a deserved place in our top 20 one-club player listings.
Mr Hannover – we salute you.