Continuing with the list of all-time great single-club men from the modern era, here are a few more players sorely missed by their clubs. Not only will the players on this list be missed by their clubs, but they leave unfilled voids in their respective leagues as well.
With thirteen league titles, four FA Cup wins, and two Champions League trophies to name only a few, here’s another from the Manchester United stable: Ryan Giggs. Giggs boasts one of the longest serving football careers in history – 24 years for a single club at the very highest level and laying claim to a very enviable list of accolades along the way.
Even in his penultimate season at Old Trafford, many felt that Giggs was United’s best player at the age of 38, and with 963 appearances at the time of retirement, he holds the club record for appearances.
And who could forget his late, late FA Cup winner against Arsenal in 1999? The word ‘legend’ seems something of an injustice.
Raul Gonzalez for Real Madrid
Real Madrid’s Raúl, began his youth playing career at archrivals Atletico Madrid. Following the then Atletico President’s decision to close the youth academy for cost reasons, Raúl made the switch to Real Madrid’s youth setup in 1994 at the age of 17.
In the same year, Raúl made his first team debut for Real after scoring 13 goals in only 7 appearances for the youth side.
In the 1999-00 season Raúl really hit his stride, averaging better than a goal every other game until the 2002-03 season. Never a forward with much pace to play with, Raúl relied on his innate sense of timing and goal-poacher’s instinct to score most of his many, many goals.
He was, for some time, the club’s leading Champions League goal scorer – that is until one Christiano Ronaldo leapfrogged the stalwart into top spot.
Alessandro Del Piero for Juventus
Alessandro Del Piero joined Juventus from Padova in 1993, aged just 19, but by which time his talents were already extraordinary. Throughout his 19 years spent spearheading the Juve attack, Del Piero averaged just about a goal every other game, but it’s the manner in which many of those goals were scored.
There are two types of centre forward in football – great goal scorers and scorers of great goals, and Del Piero has his roots set firmly in the latter. He may not have been the most prolific of strikers, but his list of honours for club and country is long and extensive.
It should also be noted that he elected to stay with the club even in the wake of the 2005-06 match-fixing scandal that rocked Italian football, and relegated the club to Serie B for a season. And in that season Del Piero would finish as the Serie B top scorer and win his team promotion back to Serie A.
Roy Keane for Manchester United
This is an inclusion that may cause some consternation, especially for Sir Alex Ferguson, but his devotion to Manchester United cannot be denied. He joined United from Nottingham Forest in 1993 for a then-British record transfer fee of £3.75 million.
A tough tackling, no-nonsense defensive midfielder, Keane took over the Manchester United captain’s armband from the retired Eric Cantona in 1997 and led the team to a string of league and cup triumphs – most notably the infamous treble in 1999.
Much publicised run-ins with Alf-Inge Håland and club management for what was said in a pair of MUTV interviews do leave something of a blemish on an otherwise glittering career, but one thing is certain: United fans would have another Roy Keane in a heartbeat.
Andres Iniesta for Barcelona
With more tricks than David Copperfield on a good day, Andres Iniesta was destined for greatness at an early age, evidenced by joining Barca’s youth setup at just 12 years old. His phenomenal on-the-ball ability, coupled to knowing who and what’s around him at any given moment, make Iniesta a true great for both club and country.
As stated in my assessment of Xavi Hernandez, these two midfielders perfected the tiki-taka football style on route to success beyond either’s wildest dreams. With a series of La Liga titles, three Champions League trophies, a Euro and FIFA World Cup winner, success seems to have followed Andres Iniesta at his every turn.
In fact, in the 2008-09 season Iniesta, Xavi and Lionel Messi helped guide Barcelona to every club honour available: claiming the League trophy, Copa del Rey, Spanish Super Cup, Champions League, Eufa Super Cup, and FIFA Club World Cup – all in one year.
And such success can only be made through immense talent and unwavering dedication.
Lionel Messi for Barcelona
Of all the names on my list so far, Lionel Messi would have been the most obvious exclusion as he is simply the greatest of all single-club players. As mentioned with Del Piero above, there are two types of striker in world football, but Lio Messi (and CR7 for that matter) is the exception in that he is the perfect combination of both great goal scorer and scorer of great goals.
Messi’s every success has come as a result of signing his first contract with Barcelona on a paper napkin at just 11 years of age. The fact that his tremendous success has come in the face of great adversity, having been diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency as a child, makes his list of achievements all the more remarkable.
The 2008-09 season saw Messi catapulted to the summit of all-time footballing greats, surpassing both Ronaldo’s, Pelé and even Diego Maradona.
As Christiano Ronaldo has given the diminutive Argentine a run for his money of late in respect to Ballon d’Or titles, we as a generation should feel privileged to bear witness to two of the greatest players of all time going toe-to-toe for the honour of World’s greatest football player year on year.
But as for the world’s greatest single-club player, there is only one.
Now, what’s this I hear about Manchester United, Man City and Chelsea chasing Messi’s signature?
To view the first half of the list, please click here.