One Club Men: Eleven Of The Best

Paul Macdonald looks back at some of the one club men whose names will be forever bound up with just the one team...
Football in the modern era has become so indisputably business orientated and money-driven, that tales of loyalty and sacrifice to a single club are few and far between. An amalgamation between inflated player worth, and the often justifiable desire for players to travel to pastures new to test their abilities in a foreign environment, has led to the concept of the 'One Club Men' becoming even more of a dying breed. The globalisation of the sport makes swapping Brazil for Bolton easier than ever before, and so true commitment to a club and its cause is rare.
However, there are those throughout history who have demanded recognition for their utter dedication to a single club for their entire careers, and below are just a few examples of the most famous, and most successful, 'One Club Men' in football history.  
So, in no particular order:
1. Rafael Moreno Aranzadi ‘Pichichi’ - Athletic Bilbao (1911-1921)  

Many football followers outside of Spain will not recognise his full moniker, but mention the name 'Pichichi' and instantly they will rhyme off a list of famous forwards who have landed the coveted top goal scorer prize in Spain. The term 'Pichichi' was the nickname of one for the most gifted forwards the Spanish game has ever seen.  

Rafael Moreno Aranzadi scored an incredible 200 goals in 170 appearances for Athletic Bilbao at the beginning of the 20th century, and was an instantly recognisable figure on the pitch due to his headgear, which he wore in every match, and also for his incredible instinct in front of goal.

Aranzadi died tragically at the age of just 29, succumbing to the horrific condition known as typhus, and his dedication to Athletic Bilbao led to a statue being erected outside the stadium in his honour, which remains to this day. Had he lived longer, his statistics would almost certainly have been more impressive and his influence within the Basque club may be even more prevalent.

In 1953, Spanish publication Marca decided to commemorate his accomplishments by creating an award for the leading goal scorer in the Primera Division, and to this day the Pichichi trophy is among the most coveted awards in the Spanish game.

2. Paolo Maldini - AC Milan (1985 – present)

It is impossible to compile a list such as this without immediately thinking of the living-legend that is AC Milan defender Paolo Maldini. A testament to incredible fitness, loyalty and a bona-fide love of the game, Maldini will go down in history as arguably the greatest left-back ever.

Making his debut as an impressionable 17-year old in January 1985, he has made verging on 900 appearances since, ruthlessly seeing off any challengers to his position to become a centrepiece of the hugely successful Rossoneri side of the late 80s and early 90s that dominated Italy and Europe with an exemplary defensive record.

Seven Serie A titles, five European Cup crowns and 126 caps for his country barely scratch the surface of the team and personal awards that Maldini has amassed during his glittering career, and the fact that his club plan to retire his number 3 jersey is in part to honour his service, but to also avoid any player having to carry the burden of following in the footsteps of such an illustrious individual.

24 years later, and he is still giving his all in a bid to win the Serie A crown in his final season, and when the Inter fans unfurled a banner before Sunday’s derby match it encapsulated what Paolo Maldini means to the football world.

It read simply, “For twenty years our opponent, but in life, always loyal.” That level of respect from opposing fans is a rare commodity, but further underlines the respect that Maldini has gathered not only domestically, but also on a global scale.

3. Lev Yashin - Dynamo Moscow (1949 – 1971)

Lev Yashin is believed in many quarters to be the greatest goalkeeper of all time. Playing in an era where goalkeepers were not offered the ridiculous overprotection that they are given in the modern game, Yashin was unashamedly brave, throwing himself into situations that lesser players may have been reluctant to.

His club was Dynamo Moscow, where he made over 300 Russian league appearances and his displays earned him recognition for the USSR at three World Cups, including a position in the All Star team in the 1958 tournament. Despite precious little footage available of his exploits, the tales of his clean sheet record and his 150 penalty saves across his entire career are celebrated.

In 1994, four years after his death, FIFA formed the Lev Yashin award, to be presented to the best goalkeeper at the World Cup tournament, and in the same year FIFA also named him in the greatest team of the 20th century.

It all stemmed from his time at Dynamo, and his determination to break into their first team that created his incredible desire to treat his goal area as an impenetrable fortress.

If ever a quote summed up a man, then his epithet should read,

“What kind of a goalkeeper is the one who is not tormented by the goal he has allowed? He must be tormented! And if he is calm, that means the end. No matter what he had in the past, he has no future.”

Goalkeepers across the world can relate to that determination not to concede, but only Yashin truly used it as a metaphor for life.

4. Ryan Giggs - Manchester United (1991-present)

A nation wept when Ryan Giggs opted to play for Wales despite representing England at schoolboy level, and the world was robbed of the opportunity to watch one of the best wingers the game has ever seen play at an international tournament.

But Giggs’ achievements at club level alone make him one of the games’ true modern greats. The way in which he has adapted his style from quicksilver winger to intelligent, rounded midfield player is testament to his supreme ability, and to remain at a club of the stature of Manchester United for such a substantial period in an offensive position is unprecedented.

He has gathered respect from all quarters, none more so than from manager Sir Alex Ferguson who not only has offered him a new one year contract at the age of 35, but has called for him to be knighted for his services to football.

550 appearances and counting, 10 Premier League titles, two Champions League wins and PFA young player in 1992 and 1993, Giggs has enjoyed a career that may never be seen again in English football, and Manchester United will have a mammoth task replacing him with a player anywhere near as talented as the Welsh Wizard.

5. Raul Gonzalez - Real Madrid (1994 – present)

There are individuals who become fans’ favourites due to their dedication to their club, and then there is Raul, who has become so synonymous with the white jersey of Real Madrid that the pair are destined to be inseparable for as long as the Spaniard wishes to remain involved in the game.

Raul will have an active involvement in the future of Real Madrid, simply due to what he has achieved already in his 15 years with the club. Whether it be breaking Alfredo Di Stefano’s all time goal scoring record, leading the club to Primera Division and Champions League glory, or becoming a dutiful, hugely-respected club captain, his ring-kissing goal celebration became commonplace as the darling of the supporters scored prolifically for club and country. He remains Spain's all time leading goal-scorer, despite not having played an international match in close to three years, and at 31-years old is Madrid's leading striker this season with an impressive 17 goals.

As he scored his record-breaking 309th goal for Los Blancos on Sunday afternoon, Coach Jaunde Ramos simply said, "We may have to wait many years to see another like Raul."

What does the future hold for him? He can perform any role at the Bernabeu that he desires. He has the tactical nous to develop into an excellent coach, and the leadership skills to be club president one day. Whatever option he decides on, Raul will remain at the heart of Real Madrid for many years to come...

... even though he played youth football for Atletico.

6. Francesco Totti - Roma (1992 – present)

Similarly to Raul at Real Madrid, Francesco Totti has reached immortality status in Rome.  Not only is he AS Roma’s all time leading goal scorer, but also the most internationally capped player ever to wear the jersey. As cultured an attacker as the world has ever seen, Totti has had the opportunity to move to pastures new for lucrative contracts, but his heart has always been in his spiritual home.

Ever since his mother rejected an approach from AC Milan to ensure his remained in the nation's capital, Francesco Totti has held an enduring affection for AS Roma, and the city itself, with every sinew of his being.

Many will argue that Totti never truly fulfilled his potential, and that he could have achieved so much more by making a move away from the Stadio Olimpico. But 213 goals in 527 appearances from a player not generally regarded as an out-and-out penalty box finisher can never be deemed as anything other than an enviable strike rate.

Still only 32, the talismanic forward is sure to continue to set records that may never be matched, staking his claim as one of the most gifted Italian players of his generation.

7. Santiago Bernabeu Yeste - Real Madrid (player 1912-1927, coach/assistant manager/manager, 1927-1936, club president 1943-1978)

To have the stadium where you spent your entire career named after your achievements truly is an honour, and no individual was more deserving of the accolade than Santiago Bernabeu.

He spent almost 66 years of his life devoted to the club he helped to develop, rebuild and nurture, from being one of the volunteers who helped to paint the stadium and lay the pitch in 1910, to becoming club president in 1943.

As a striker, he is thought to have scored over 1000 goals in his sixteen year playing career, and he almost single-handedly dragged Los Blancos from the brink of extinction after the extremities of the Spanish civil war to become the dominant force in world football in the 1950s.

He indeed was one of the founder members of the European Cup in its original format, with Real Madrid winning the first five tournaments, and under his tenure as club president he oversaw the signings of greats such as Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano.

Only arguably Matt Busby at Manchester United can be mentioned in the same breath as Bernabeu in terms of shaping an iconic, internationally renowned club that which football could not live without, and his legacy will never be forgotten.

Quite simply, there would have been no Galaticos without the tireless work of Santiago Bernabeu in creating the Real Madrid we know today.

8. Uwe Seeler - Hamburg (1953-1972)

Despite being one of the deadliest strikers of post-war West Germany, Uwe Seeler is often overlooked in favour of more distinguished names such as Gerd Muller or Jurgen Klinsmann as examples of the archetypal Deutschland goal-getter. However, Seeler has a scoring record and an affinity with a single club that is almost unparalleled in world football.

Following in the footsteps of his father, Seeler spent 19 years with SV Hamburg, making 476 German league appearances and scoring an astounding 404 goals, giving him one of the most impressive goal-to-game averages around. Even on the international stage he managed a ratio of a goal every two games, which surely should confirm Seeler’s place as one of the finest offensive players of his era.

He participated in four World Cups with West Germany from 1958 – 1970, and was named as team captain in three of those tournaments. His heroic performances for his nation led to the affectionate nickname ‘Uns Uwe’, simply meaning ‘Our Uwe’, testimony to the place that he holds in the hearts of the Hamburg supporters and those of the German people.

9. Giuseppi Bergomi - Inter (1980-1999)

Across the Milan divide, Inter have their own icon in Giuseppe Bergomi. The central defender was a permanent fixture for the Italian giants for almost two decades from his debut as a 17-year old in 1980, amassing 758 appearances in that time (which remains an appearance record for Inter) and perfecting the art of man-marking in the process.

He beloved Inter side were left in the shadow of their city rivals AC for much of Bergomi’s career, but Il Capitano still managed to lift the UEFA cup on three occasions, and one Scudetto crown during his nineteen-year career.

He became an icon for the Nerazzuri faithful for his allegiance to the club and his tough, uncompromising style was never clearer than in the 1982 World Cup final, where his flawless performance barely allowed German Karl-Heinz Rummenigge a kick of the ball as Italy were triumphant 3-1.

Despite not amassing as many personal and team accolades as some of his peers, Bergomi was always destined to remain on the turf at the Giuseppe Meazza for his entire career, perhaps surrendering success for his devotion to his boyhood heroes in the process.

10. Billy McNeill - Celtic (1957-1975)

As brave a club captain as there has ever been, Billy McNeill and his Celtic side of the 1960s were, at times, an unbeatable force not only in the Scottish league but also on a European scale.

The image of McNeill lifting the European Cup, surrounded by supporters, after his unfancied Lisbon Lions had overcame the rigid philosophy of Inter has become part of football folklore.

McNeill was the inspirational leader who rallied his flock in times of need, becoming coach Jock Stein’s on-field influence and relaying the managers’ tactical genius. He bore the image of heroic defender that would be willing to do anything for the good of the team.

In addition to his success on the continent McNeill inspired Celtic to nine consecutive league titles from 1966-1974, and he made over 800 appearances for the club in all competitions.

Two moderately successful spells as manager followed, and now McNeill is one of the most respected ambassadors for the club with which he will be inexorably associated.

11. Tony Adams - Arsenal (1983-2002)

It wasn't too long ago that Arsenal's back line, far from being the cosmopolitan, multi-national set-up that it is now, was staunchly English. Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn and Steve Bould comprised three quarters of it, but one name stood above them all: Tony Adams.

A captain's captain, Adams served as Arsenal skipper for fully 14 seasons, taking the armband at the age of just 21.

Although he was troubled by alcohol problems, Adams remains statistically the Gunners' greatest ever skipper, a four-times league winner, managing to take the club to two league and cup doubles in the process - in 1998 and in the year of his retirement, 2002.

Overall his tenacity and ability were recognised by not only his club but the sport as a whole, leading to his being awarded an MBE and a place in the English Football Hall of Fame after he hung up his boots.

His management career has been underwhelming, but he remains one of Arsenal's most emblematic figures, and with his Sporting Chance clinic he is also a key figure in the battle against addictions among athletes.

Paul Macdonald,