A significant chapter in the history of FC Barcelona came to a conclusion on Sunday evening as Andres Iniesta kicked his last ball for the Blaugrana. A key figure in their success for the past 16 years, he is one of the increasingly rare figures in the game who spend their entire career with one club.
As a tribute to him, here’s an outstanding XI of players who only kicked a ball for one team in their entire career. Of course, there’s no place for Iniesta himself as he is strongly rumoured to be heading to the Chinese Super League next, in order to procure a giant wheelbarrow full of money. Sorry mate.
SEPP MAIER (BAYERN MUNICH)
A career which spanned the arrival of The Beatles (1962) right through to the heyday of the New Romantics (1980) – it seems weird when you put it like that. Set the record for consecutive Bundesliga appearances (442, between 1966 and 1979) and pioneered the oversized goalie gloves. Also once attempted to catch a duck that had ran on to the pitch.
CARLOS PUYOL (BARCELONA)
This shaggy-haired swashbuckler was happy to defend either at full back or in the centre and gave 15 years to Barcelona. Quietly vowed to maintain his flowing locks early in his career after Louis van Gaal suggested he get a haircut. Enjoyed warming up for matches by listening to the music of Napalm Death, but probably not their one-second classic ‘You Suffer’.
FRANCO BARESI (AC MILAN)
A Rossoneri legend and undoubtedly the complete defender, Baresi enjoyed two decades with Milan and captained them during their sublime trophy-hoovering phase in the 1990s. If you are a football fan of a certain age, you admire and fear Baresi in equal measures.
TONY ADAMS (ARSENAL)
An Arsenal icon with 669 appearances to his name, Adams was castigated as a ‘donkey’ in his early years but matured into one of the best defenders of the Premier League era, winning a battle against alcoholism as well as a lovely sackful of medals.
PAOLO MALDINI (AC MILAN)
Those eyes. Those thighs. What a specimen. Arguably one of the greatest defenders of all time, Maldini spent 25 seasons at Milan, making over 900 appearances. Has eased into retirement as co-owner of Miami FC and even had a diversion into tennis, briefly enjoying a pro doubles career in 2017.
EDDIE GRAY (LEEDS UNITED)
Consistency and longevity was the key to the success of Leeds United during their 1970s pomp, and Eddie Gray was there for the ups as well as the subsequent downs, turning out and winning stuff between 1966 and 1983. Don Revie once said that ‘when he plays on snow, he doesn’t leave any footprints’ and Gray followed in Revie’s own footprints by managing the club on two occasions and playing a key role in their youth development in the late 1990s.
RYAN GIGGS (MANCHESTER UNITED)
When Sir Alex Ferguson first saw Giggs, he likened him to being ‘like a cocker spaniel chasing a piece of silver paper on the wind’ and it’s hard to think of a more beautiful description than that from the 24-year, 963-appearance career Giggs had at Old Trafford. No, really – 24 years. That’s insane.
MATT LE TISSIER (SOUTHAMPTON)
They called him ‘Mister Southampton’ and for a while in the 1990s it seemed as though the Saints only held on to their Premier League place thanks to the extraordinary but laid-back efforts of their talisman. Let’s turn a blind eye to his 17 post-Southampton appearances for Eastleigh and a solitary one for Guernsey though, eh?
PAUL SCHOLES (MANCHESTER UNITED)
PAUL SCHOLES (MANCHESTER UNITED)
With 718 matches and third in all-time United list, Scholes’ achievements are even more admirable when you take into account that fact that he was barely able to function unless in the shade. One of the most down-to-earth pros you could imagine, Scholes tried to retire in May 2011 but it didn’t take and he was back eight months later for another season and a half.
FRANCESCO TOTTI (ROMA)
Equalling Giggs’ ridiculous 24-year career is the man who became the second-highest goalscorer in Italian history, picking up a Scudetto, two Coppa Italia and two Coppa SuperItaliana titles along the way. Oh, and a World Cup winner’s medal two. A life lived.
NAT LOFTHOUSE (BOLTON WANDERERS)
Yes, you need to imagine Totti playing up front with Bolton’s greatest son. Born in the town and scoring 255 times in 452 appearances for the Trotters, Lofthouse also bagged 30 goals in just 33 appearances for England. Post-playing roles as Bolton’s assistant trainer, chief coach, caretaker manager, manager, chief scout, executive manager and president also adorned his CV.
BILL NICHOLSON (TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR)
Like Nat Lofthouse at Bolton, Nicholson started as a Spurs player and took on a variety of roles after retirement, leading the club to the first 20th century double in 1961 as manager, also becoming the first manager to manage an English club to a European trophy (the Cup Winners Cup) in 1963.
RUNNING ON THE PITCH AT THE END OF THE MATCH
Sorry John – your Chelsea stint is hugely impressive but your move to Aston Villa in the summer of 2017 means that you’re on the sidelines again.