Where have all the one-club footballers gone? Just a few years ago we were celebrating the careers of Giggs, Puyol and Maldini, but many modern one-club footballers have jumped ship for a last payday. Will we see another one-club footballer ever again?
Given the widespread following of modern-day football, there is little debating the fact that the sport has become the global game – with the money on offer as a result nothing short of staggering.
While the best players on the planet naturally flock to Europe for fame and fortune, the growth of football across other continents continues to gather pace, collect followers and receive more and more financial backing.
Major League Soccer, the Australian A-League and the Qatar Stars League are just a few examples of footballing divisions that are able to attract an ever-increasing higher calibre of player as the sport grows in their respective nations.
While the increase in popularity in these leagues can only be a good thing for the health of football globally, it also threatens to spell the end of a prestigious club, with inductees having a very special bond.
One-club men, or players that only represent one football team throughout the entirety of their career, have a certain mystique; an unbreakable allegiance to the cause that turns them from fans’ favourites to club icons due to their loyalty.
Over the years there have been plenty, some more distinguished than others, but all held in the absolute highest regard by the fans that have the unique pleasure of being the only supporter group to sign that player’s name.
One-Club Footballers: Giants of Football
Some of the more noteworthy include Paulo Maldini, Ryan Giggs and Carles Puyol, who have all retired from the sport now – but they hung up their boots in the same place that it all started.
Maldini, and Franco Baresi for that matter, only wore the black and red of AC Milan and achieved widespread success and iconic status with the Rossoneri as a result.
Giggs was part of a glorious generation of Manchester United youth graduates, the class of 92, that defined Sir Alex Ferguson’s time at Old Trafford and propelled the club to English and European football’s elite over many years.
While other members of the same fabled school such as David Beckham sought challenges elsewhere, Giggs and fellow one-club men Gary Neville and Paul Scholes are held in much higher regard in the Stretford End due to their unwavering dedication to the Red Devils’ cause.
Barcelona is quickly becoming another hub of potential one-club men, with Blaugrana stalwart, talisman, captain and leader Puyol retiring having only played for the Catalan side.
Of the current Camp Nou contingent, the likes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and a host of other La Masia graduates could well follow suit – but the chances are being reduced as the wealth behind football in second-tier competitions grows.
Thinking about the afore-mentioned three growing leagues, the allure of a challenge in foreign climes and the inevitable lucrative last pay day that comes with it have robbed football of a host of potentially legendary one-club men.
The lure of MLS
The MLS was Steven Gerrard’s preferred destination after ending a career-long affinity with boyhood club Liverpool, with the former England captain now wearing the white and yellow of LA Galaxy.
For many members of the Kop, not having the blood-and-thunder midfielder in the heart of the team this season has still not truly sunk in.
Although Liverpool fans will always love Gerrard for his decision to shirk interest from other major clubs whilst he was in his prime, there is a feeling that had he ended his career as a Red, like Jamie Carragher did, forsaking all others, it would have been more fitting.
Australia and Qatar – attracting European stars
The A-League’s biggest-ever transfer coup saw Italian wizard Alessandro Del Piero step out for Sydney FC after 17 years as a Juventus hero came to an end.
The sublimely gifted attacker captured the imagination of Australian audiences with his ability and helped to build the increasing popularity of the sport Down Under – he also became the country’s highest-ever paid sportsman in the process.
Finally, Xavi opted not to follow Puyol’s lead and end on a high, instead being lured to Qatar for a final pay day before retirement.
A crowd of less than 2,500 was in attendance to witness his Al-Sadd debut earlier this year and although the Spaniard’s bank balance will be thriving, his sense of self-worth given the stellar achievements from days past will not exactly be soaring.
Others such as ageing Roma pair Daniele De Rossi and Francesco Totti will have the choice to make in upcoming years – but it is hard to criticise the players in truth.
With only a season or two left in the tank before the inevitability of retirement, why not bolster the coffers before a new life away from the pitch begins?
The reduction in importance at their beloved clubs as the frailties of age set in must surely be another heart-wrenching factor, with the chance to be a superstar all over again, albeit at a significantly lower standard of play, having its appeal.
Although the players that opt for the riches of a final payday in the sun should not be given too much of a hard time, the romanticism of the one-club men is slowly being weaned away as a result, with this prestigious and venerable group potentially struggling for new noteworthy members.