by Panos Bletsos
Miraculous. Magnificent. Majestic. Or simply… Ryan Giggs. The list of adjectives is perhaps not long, not rich enough to describe what the Welsh prodigy means to his country, to Manchester United, to football itself. And at 38 he’s still going strong.
Last Sunday Giggs made the headlines for the umpteenth time in his unparalleled career when he featured in a Red Devils shirt for an unprecedented 900th time. And almost inevitably he was there, at the right place in the right time, to pounce on a Ashley Young cross and earn United an invaluable 2-1 win at Norwich City right at the death to all but maintain their hopes of a record-extending 20th Premiership title. Coincidentally or not – and I’d certainly go for the latter - Giggs has already played a key role in winning the previous 12.
Giggs signed his first professional contract on December 1, 1990, two days after his 17th birthday. Nearly 22 years on he’s still there plying his trade for United, the only club he’s ever known. Football has seen wholesale changes within this time and one-club men, especially footballers of that caliber, are a rarity. However, players such as Franco Baresi, Klaus Augenthaler, Beppe Bergomi, Trevor Brooking, José Antonio Camacho, Jan Ceulemans, Giacinto Facchetti, Eddie Gray, Sepp Maier, Sandro Mazzola, Wolfgang Overath, Uwe Seeler, Fritz Walter, Lev Yashin and more recently Tony Adams, Marco Bode, Dieter Eilts, Fran, Paolo Maldini and Gary Neville all spent their entire career at a single club.
And even today, with hard-line professionalism corroding football ethics day by day, a respected number of high-profile players continue to offer their services to the club they first kicked a ball for. And - guess what – the peak of them could forge a really competitive side. So, here’s my one-club men Dream Team:
Although hailing from FYROM, the 37-year-old goalkeeper was born and bred in Germany. He graduated from the Eintracht Frankfurt academy in 1994 and despite stiff competition from time to time – and no less than four relegations from the Bundesliga - he’s been Die Adler’s No 1 for the best part of the last 18 years. Strangely enough, he’s only featured in five games with his national side. CLUB TOTAL: 394.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but the 33-year-old Spaniard spent at least the first couple of years of his professional career with Barcelona playing on the right under Louis van Gaal – and he has done so on more than one occasions since, when needed. Among the La Masia alumni, he’s a part of the famous Barça squad for 13 years, conquering almost everything there is to conquer. And it doesn’t look like he’s going nowhere anytime soon. CLUB TOTAL: 543/12.
Although only 31, the England international is currently in his 14th season with Tottenham Hotspur as a professional. Besides their longest serving player he’s also their captain, even though he’s been forced to fight against chronic knee problems for years. However, he’s still managed to play more than 300 times with Spurs and feature in both Euro 2004 and the 2010 World Cup with the national side. CLUB TOTAL: 314/15.
Another English international here – and certainly someone worth checking out, especially if you thought Puyol was versatile. Having celebrated his 34th birthday last month, fittingly enough with a 2-1 FA Cup win over archenemies Manchester United, Carragher has racked up nearly 700 outings with Liverpool since October 1996, claiming 11 pieces of silverware along the way – including two UEFA Super Cups, the 2000-’01 UEFA Cup and the ’04-’05 European Champions League. Only the great Ian Callaghan beats him in the Reds all-time apps list. CLUB TOTAL: 688/4.
Eleven years is an eternity in terms of pro football, but that’s the time the Belgian international has been with his country’s biggest club. Not exactly the classiest of defenders around, but a committed and hard-working player, it’s no surprise that the 31-year-old Deschacht is the Paars-wit captain since 2007 and has lifted no less than nine major trophies since coming through the ranks, back in 2001. CLUB TOTAL: 379/3.
Daniele De Rossi
Three years younger than Deschacht, the Italian international made his club’s first team a year earlier, at the turn of the Millenium – and peculiarly enough he made his Roma debut against... Anderlecht. Now at 28 the Giallorossi’s longest serving player behind Francesco Totti, he’s gone on to amass nearly 400 appearances in club level and establish himself as one of the best in the world in his line of work. It looked like he was about to leave Roma before finally putting pen to paper to a new deal until mid-2017 last month. CLUB TOTAL: 376/46.
Selected for this Golden Eleven ahead of fellow Spain and Barcelona Dioscuri Andrés Iniesta mainly because he’s four years his senior at their club. Quite simply one of the most accomplished midfielders on the planet, 32-year-old Xavi Hernández i Creus, as his full name is, was promoted to the first team of the Blaugrana all the way back in 1998 and unexpectedly enough scored on his debut, in a 2-1 Supercopa final first-leg loss to Mallorca. Barcelona failed to win that particular trophy, but added another 17 to their cabinet with him in the heart of midfield. Just like Puyol, Xavi also has the 2008 European Championship and the 2010 World Cup under his belt. CLUB TOTAL: 611/69.
Just like Barça, Liverpool are also represented by two of their players in this unusual line-up – and Gerrard could simply not be omitted. Voted for as the club’s greatest player after Kenny Dalglish, coincidently his boss these days, the 31-year-old all-round midfielder is affectionately known as “Mr. Liverpool”. Eleven titles and goals scored in finals of four different competitions, domestic or European, tell the tale. CLUB TOTAL: 574/145.
The reason behind writing this article – and one of the reasons why we love football. The most decorated player in English football history would require a couple more pages just to enumerate his exploits. As a Welshman he was unlucky enough to never play in a World Cup or a European Championship final phase, but fate richly rewarded his talent with 33 titles and the admiration of millions of fans. CLUB TOTAL: 900/163.
He just couldn’t stay away, could he? Retired at the end of last season only to come back from the wilderness two months ago and lead United to a sensational 3-2 away victory against bitter foes Manchester City in the FA Cup. Not much to write about the 37-year-old Englishman that hasn’t already been written. Turned professional in July 1993 (!) and won it all, including the 2008 FIFA Club World Cup. CLUB TOTAL: 686/152.
Made his Roma debut at the tender age of 16, four months before Scholes signed his first professional contract. The definition of a trequartista, but equally capable of playing solo up front, Totti is the Gialorossi’s most capped player and their leading goalscorer. Now at 35, he’s under contract until mid-2014, but that’s merely a formality. Roma and Totti are the two sides of the same coin. CLUB TOTAL: 631/266.
So, here’s how it would look:
Giggs - Scholes
Xavi - De Rossi - Gerrard
Deschacht - Carragher - King - Puyol
Just to remind you, I’ve only included footballers who are still active. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one-club players’ All Star.
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