The Death of the One-club Footballer

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.

Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton in near-impossible battle for Premier League top-four

The top Champions League spots in the Premier League are a foregone conclusion with Arsenal, Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs regularly occupying the top four spots. Will the other Premier League clubs ever get a chance to play in the Champions League?

Champions League football is quickly becoming the highest echelon of the global game, with an argument to suggest that Europe’s top club competition has even usurped the World Cup in the prestige stakes in the modern era.

While the likes of Diego Maradona and Pele will be remembered for their legendary exploits for their countries, the current superstars of the game such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo seemingly save their best performances for their clubs.

Champions League football brings a definite allure; the best players want to play in the competition, with a club that qualifies for it given a springboard to increase the quality in their squad as a result.

However, despite the prestige of playing in the competition on the pitch, away from the action the financial boost from participation has become staggering.

Last season, beaten finalists Juventus are said to have netted an estimated €86 million from their progression through the tournament, topping the monetary charts of earners through their performances.

As such, the battle to qualify for participation in the Champions League is a vicious one, with qualification being the ultimate goal for a host of clubs across the continent.

Looking at English football as an example, the race for the top four each year is just as eagerly contested as the one to win the title or to avoid relegation.

Club fans want their teams to be playing in the Champions League to see them progress on the pitch; club owners will be motivated by the windfall that comes with it.

However, looking at the Premier League in reality, qualification for Europe’s top tournament is more difficult than ever for teams that historically have not been in the top four.

The mega-wealth of Chelsea and Manchester City have dominated the Premier League title race in recent years and the duo seem perennially destined to command half of the available spots, even if the current English champions have started this season in underwhelming fashion.

Arsenal have qualified for the Champions League for a staggering 17 season in a row under Arsene Wenger, with no indication that the North London club are set for anything other than a top-four berth again this term.

Finally, Manchester United have splurged in recent transfer windows in an attempt to fill the void left by legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson, with their financial power eclipsing most other clubs on the planet.

Premier League race: Three teams, one spot

Looking at the other contenders, despite the strong starts to the current season of Crystal Palace, West Ham and Leicester, it will surely be one of another three clubs that breaks into the established order if it is to occur.

Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton have all finished in the top four in fleeting campaigns over the last decade or so, but face a more sizeable challenge in doing so now than at any time in the recent past.

The Reds even won the competition in 2005 and finished second in the Premier League under Brendan Rodgers in 2013-14, but this was initially before City’s newfound wealth and latterly in the same campaign as United’s fall from grace.

Spurs had their solitary Champions League season in 2010-11, beating the likes of Inter and AC Milan along the way, but have not qualified since; fifth place has become a familiar finish.

David Moyes led the Toffees to fourth place in 2004-05, but the Merseysiders were beaten by an impressive Villarreal outfit before they even made it to the group stages.

Looking at the current day, the challenge is huge.

All three clubs have smaller stadiums than the current elite, hence less gate revenue, while the calibre of player they can attract is not at the same level as the top four.

As a result of not regularly playing in the top tournament, the best players from these three clubs quite rightly have eyes on moves to a side that does, as Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez have all done.

However, probably the biggest obstacle to one of these clubs becoming a regular finisher in the top-four is the growing gap between the teams that play in the Champions League and those who do not.

Not only is the prize money significant, but extra gate receipts and television money make it a notable payday for any side in the group stages.

As such, while the rich effectively get richer, those not in the competition stagnate and as a result are being left behind.

Unfortunately money talks in the modern game and the richest teams are those that play in the Champions League – fact.

There is nothing stopping Liverpool, Everton or Tottenham from finishing in the top four this season if elements on the pitch correlate, but doing it consistently like Arsenal or Chelsea have becomes decidedly more difficult in the respective clubs’ current structure.