As Steven Gerrard calls time on his Liverpool FC footballing career, I would like to explore and suggest my list of greatest ever single-club footballers in Europe. This list certainly features a few who may not be considered as true greats of the game, but in respect to their clubs, these players will go down in folklore – and so in no particular order:
Gary Neville for Manchester United
Neville is the quintessential one-club player. His rise and progression through the Manchester United youth system and first-team squad was meteoric – from captaining the club’s youth team, Neville assumed the reins upon Roy Keane’s departure in 2005.
Over the course of his career, Gary Neville claimed twenty major honors with his beloved team, including eight Premier League titles, three FA Cup trophies, two Champions League winners’ medals, and a FIFA Club World Cup trophy.
Paulo Maldini’s synonymous association with AC Milan began as early as 1978, when he was just ten years old. As with a number of the greats on this list, Maldini went on to captain both the youth team and senior first team later in an auspicious career.
He would also receive two nominations for the Ballon d’Or crown, one in 1994 and the other in 2003. While he failed to win either, he was the only defender to come so close to winning the title until Fabio Cannivaro claimed it in 2006.
Jamie Carragher for Liverpool FC
Born and raised as a fan of the Blue half of Merseyside, Jamie Carragher doesn’t fit the traditional mould for a one-club man, but his 17 years of loyal service to Liverpool FC casts doubt over any prior allegiances to any other football club.
He served as vice captain of The Reds for ten years, and is second only to Ian Callaghan (from the notorious Bill Shankly era) in terms of first team appearances. However, Carra does boast the Liverpool record for the highest number of European appearances for the club.
While his defensive record contains a few blips, Carragher is the epitome of a no-nonsense defender, and his absence from the current team is surely being felt given Liverpool’s defensive woes this season.
Paul Scholes for Manchester United
Current and triple Ballon d’Or holder, Christiano Ronaldo once said: “When we were in training, I used to do a lot of tricks which hardly any other player at the club could do. Once I was showing my skills to Scholesy and when I finished he took a ball and pointed towards a tree which was about 50m away from where we were standing and said ‘I’ll hit that in one shot. He clipped the ball and hit the tree in one go. He asked me to do the same, I tried about 10 times but got nowhere near. Scholesy just smiled and left.”
His importance to Alex Ferguson’s multiple title-winning team/s could hardly be understated. His range of passing, presence of mind and deadly right foot helped guide United to 25 pieces of silverware, including two Champions League crowns, three FA Cup wins, and eleven Premier League trophies.
All super heroes have their flaws, and Paul Scholes’s shortcoming was tackling, but he more than made up for it in every other facet of his game.
Xavi Hernandez for Barcelona
Joining Barcelona at just 11 years of age, Xavi made his first-team debut at just nineteen years old. Since his debut in 1998, he has made over 700 club appearances and claimed over 150 international caps for Spain.
Along with Andres Iniesta, the two helped perfect the tiki-taka style of football that guided Barcelona to seven of their league titles (since the 1998-99 La Liga season) and three Champions League trophies among others.
It’s also this footballing style that led Spain to their Euro 2008, and World Cup 2010 successes.
Steven Gerrard for Liverpool FC
Gerrard may be departing for US soil in the European summer, but he will forever be an Anfield hero in the eyes of the Liverpool faithful. Proof of this is that in joining a US-based team, Gerrard has ensured that he’ll never face Liverpool FC in anger.
In nearly 700 appearances so far, Stevie G has scored 182 goals for his boyhood club, with surely more to come before bidding Liverpool a fond farewell in the off-season. Gerrard has a staggering range of passing, and while he has scored many a memorable goal, he will more likely be remembered for his ability to perform in any given role on the field – from centre half, to winger, defensive and attacking midfield, and even striker when called upon.
Players of this ilk come along once in a generation and hardly ever for the same club, so to say that he’ll be sorely missed on Merseyside is a stark understatement.
Francesco Totti for AS Roma
At a ripe 38 years of age, Francesco Totti still does what he does best in regularly appearing on the score sheet for home and boyhood club AS Roma. Most top strikers call time on their careers between the ages of 33 and 35, so for Totti to still be putting in appearances at the top level, let alone scoring and creating at the rate he is, is simply phenomenal.
His list of accolades stretches nearly as far as the eye can see, with everything from a World Cup winners’ medal, and a former league title holder, to the holder of the all time AS Roma appearance and scoring records. He is also Serie A’s current active leading goal scorer and appearance maker.
Retirement is surely on the horizon for Francesco Totti, but given his continuing dynamism on the pitch for his home-town club, he may well keep retirement at arm’s length into his 40’s yet.
To view the second half of the list, please click here