For me, loyalty means more than just staying put at the same team for a whole career. For loyalty to be true, it has to be tested. And I see similar lists with the likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, John Terry, Iker Casillas, Carles Puyol, Javier Zanetti, Paolo Maldini to name a few. Although they are/were great players, they played for some of the biggest teams on the planet and in turn won just about everything there is to win. They sacrificed very little at club level, it is difficult to see where each of them could’ve gone to have more stellar careers. And, as a result of this, I won’t be including these types of players in the list as their loyalty never seemed to be truly tested. The players I chose are the ones I believe stuck by their club despite knowing it would mean losing out on something bigger, whether that be silverware or just the chance to be seen and remembered by a wider audience.
Nicknamed the Great Captain by the Galatasaray faithful and earning 29 trophies during his his entire career spent at Galatasaray, only one player in the club’s history has played more matches than him and that is Turgay Şeren. Although he achieved glory during his playing days, he shunned big money moves to England, Germany and Italy to remain in Istanbul and as a result few remember him outside of his homeland. His most enduring image is undoubtedly in the 2000 UEFA Cup Final against Arsenal in which Bulent dislocated his shoulder but refused to to be subbed off. The medical staff instead had to bandage his arm and he heroically played on, with Galatasaray winning the match 4-1 on penalties. A fearsome leader who wanted to win at any cost.
When Newcastle paid £15 million to get Shearer from Blackburn, it was the world record transfer fee at that time, and the move in doing so fulfilled a lifelong dream of Shearer’s – to play for his the club he dreamt of playing for as a boy. Blackburn had also accepted Manchester United’s bid for Shearer at the same time and it was up to the man himself to decide where he wanted to spend the best years of his playing days. Shearer broke all sorts of goalscoring records with Newcastle United, eclipsing Jackie Milburn’s goal record that stood for 49 years and becoming (and still remaning to this day) the player to have scored the most goals in the history of the Premier League. Even when Newcastle’s title aspirations long faded and rumours were abound that Sir Alex Ferguson would launch another assault to lure Shearer from St. James’, everyone knew the greatest English striker of his generation wasn’t going anywhere.
Angelo Di Livio
Di Livio had carved out a very strong career for himself, becoming a cult figure at Juventus under Lippi, his willingness to work for the sake of the collective is something that perfectly embodied Lipppi’s Juventus during the 90s. Towards the later stage of his career he joined Fiorentina, despite still being an important part of the Juventus side. Even at the age of 36, Di Livio was selected for Trappatoni’s Italy squad for the 2002 World Cup and even played in that tournament in the still controversial match of the last 16 against South Korea, refereed by the infamous Byron Moreno. The reason for Di Livio’s inclusion on this list came shortly after that World Cup. Fiorentina had allowed the build-up of crippiling debts and as a result, went into administration and soon after the club was disbanded. Diego Della Valle re-established Fiorentina as a club in August 2002 and the team had to start all over again from Serie C2. Di Livio, despite being an Italian international only a couple of months prior to this, was the only player to remain in Florence that summer and helped guide the club back up through the lower divisions back into Serie A for the 2004-05 season at the age of 39. A tremendous sacrifice and one La Viola fans will never forget.
Widely considered to be the greatest Greek defender to ever play the game, and the best player ever to don the AEK shirt, Stelios Manolas led AEK Athens through the richest period of their existence. As a player he won 6 Greek championships, captaining AEK to four of them. Soon the rest of Europe came knocking and Manolas famously declined two offers from Porto (who would soon go on to win the Euopean Cup in 1987) and big spending Monaco. He famously said, “I will never leave the club I love and I want to retire at AEK Athens.” And Manolas remained true to his word. AEK was the only jersey he ever wore in his career (apart from the Greek national jersey) and he retired as a symbol of AEK and of Greek football. His nephew, Kostas Manolas, is currently a very promising defender for Olympiakos, having previously also played for AEK himself.
In the summer of 1997, Wim Jansen brought Henrik Larsson from Jansen’s former club Feyenoord to Celtic for a fee of £650,00, a deal which would prove to be one of the best deals in football history. Larsson arrived at a time when Rangers had just matched Celtic’s record of nine league titles in a row, a dark era for Celtic supporters. The 1997/98 season became a matter of pride for Celtic after several entertaining but ultimately unsuccessful seasons under the stewardship of club legend Tommy Burns. Larsson would go on to score a decisive goal in the final matchday of that season against St. Johnstone to secure the league title for Celtic and prevent bitter rivals Rangers from winning 10 in a row. Larsson’s time in the Green and White Hoops went from strength to strength, becoming the leading goalscorer in the club’s modern history, and winning the European Golden Boot in 2001, and earning the nickname ‘The King of Kings’. Larsson had found a home at Celtic, and held by the fans as one of the greatest ever players to wear the famous jersey, he remained in Glasgow for seven years, giving Celtic the best years of his career. As a result, some doubted Larsson’s ability to do it in a top league. Those doubts proved to be laughable when Larsson scored scored two goals in the 2003 UEFA Cup Final against Jose Mourinho’s Porto, an event in which Celtic took 80,000 fans all the way to Seville. A year later, Larsson gave an emotional farewell to the Celtic support and moved to Barcelona at the age of 33, winning two league titles there and proving to be pivotal in the 2006 Champions League Final, assisting two goals for Barcelona when he came to win the game 2-1 against Arsenal, leading to this memorable quote by Thierry Henry about him from that night:
“People always talk about Ronaldinho, Eto’o and Giuly and everything, but I didn’t see them today, I saw Henrik Larsson. He came on, he changed the game, that is what killed the game. Sometimes you talk about Ronaldinho and Eto’o and people like that; you need to talk about the proper footballer who made the difference, and that was Henrik Larsson tonight.”
In a day and age when loyalty dies by the minute, Larsson stayed in Scotland, a league that is viewed as unattractive when compared to the likes of Spain, Italy, Germany and England. In the modern age it is almost unheard of for such a world class talent to do this.
The greatest player in Hamburg’s history, scoring over 400 goals for the club, and still to this day one of the greatest players Germany has ever produced. Just to illiustrate just how great a player this guy was, Germany has nominated five honourary captains in its footballing history (four men and one woman). Seeler is one of the four men to receive this honour along with Franz Beckenbauer, Lothar Matthaus and Fritz Walter. Like many on this list he played his entire career with one club, Hamburg (aside from one guest performance for Cork Celtic six years after his retirement). Seeler also won German Football of the Year three times throughout his career in 1960. 1964 and 1970. Despite all of this, he only ever won two major trophies in his career – one German league championship and one DFB-Pokal (German Cup) in 1963. Due to Seeler’s will to stay, Hamburg rejected at the time what would’ve been a world record transfer fee from Helenio Herrera’s Inter Milan in 1960. Herrera in that decade led Inter to two European Cups. It is said the Hamburg faithful celebrated Hamburg’s rejection of Inter’s bid as though they had just won the league.
In 2003, UEFA approached its member associations asking them to each put forward one player to be held as their Golden Player, an award they wanted to attribute to their most outstanding player of the past 50 years. The German Football Association put forward Fritz Walter as that man, heralding his outstanding contribution to German football throughout and after his playing career. As a Golden Player, he rested beside elite company such as Bobby Moore, Hristo Stoichkov, Johan Cruyff, Michael Laudrup, Eusebio, George Best, di Stefano, Dragan Dzajic, Lev Yashin to name but a few. And just like Uwe Seeler mentioned above, Walter has also been nominated an honourary captain of the German national team along with Seeler, Lothar Matthaus and Franz Beckenbauer.
Fritz Walter’s football career was nearly over before it even began as the second World War broke out when he was only 19. Walter has said how he played the game of his life not in winning the 1954 World Cup for Germany in Switzerland, but instead in a POW camp on the Hungary-Ukraine border. As part of a group of German POWs waiting to be sent to a gulag in Siberia, some of the prisoners found a ball and started playing with it. Walter scored two overhead kicks and one of the Soviet guards, mesmerized by his talent, remembered Walter as he had seen him play in a match staged by the Germans in Budapest during the war, being equally enthralled when watching him that day, so much so that he still recognised the bearded Walter now. The Hungarian guard immediately went to the camp commander and told him who Walter was, this guard ended up saving the life of Fritz Walter and his brother Louis as the life expectancy for German POWs transported to Siberia averaged five years. Walter was handed over to the French and he was back home in Germany by October 1945. After the war Walter returned to playing for the only club of his career, Kaiserslauten, guiding them through the most successful period in their history, including two league titles. As mentioned, he was also pivotal in leading Germany to their first ever World Cup success in 1954. He scored 380 goals in 411 apperances for Kaiserslauten, an incredible return since he wore the number 8 and was primarily used to be a creator. Walter retired in 1959, but even after his retirement he is credited with being an important figure in attracting some world champions such as Youri Djorkaeff and Andreas Brehme to Kaiserslauten. He passed away on 17th June 2002, during the South Korea and Japan World Cup. In 1985, Kaiserslauten renamed their stadium to honor their greatest ever player, and to this day it remains Fritz-Walter-Stadion.
Arguably the greatest English player of his generation and it is very hard to argue against. A boyhood Liverpool fan who grew up to realise his dream, becoming one of the symbols of Liverpool, only King Kenny Dalglish has had a more oustanding career as a footballer at Anfield. He is the only player to score in the FA Cup Final, League Cup Final, UEFA Cup Final and Champions League Final. And his second half display in the 2005 Champions League Final in Istanbul will become something of folklore in years to come. And only a year later in the dying moments of the FA Cup Final against West Ham, having sustained an injury which severely restricted his mobility and clearly caused him pain, Gerrard found it in him to unleash a 30 yard volley to take the match to extra-time, having already dragged them back into it with another volley earlier in the second half. His personal accolades also make for some impressive reading – UEFA Club Footballer of the Year 2005, PFA Player’s Player of the Year 2006, PFA Fans’ Player of the Year twice, English Player of the Year twice, seven times in PFA Team of the Year, the list goes on and on. And although Gerrard has won several major trophies in his career, most notably a Champions League in 2005 and UEFA cup in 2001, he has never won a Premiership title, the one remaining medal he probably craves more than anything. Throughout his career, Liverpool have been topsy turvy. The only period of consistent Champions League participation was under Rafa Benitez from 2004-2010. And since the departure of Benitez, Liverpool have found themselves slip out of the Big Four as Manchester City muscled their way in there.
Gerrard is a player who could’ve walked into any line-up for the majority of his career and the most complete player of his generation. And he himself has said there were big money offers presented to Liverpool for his services but he never felt the temptation to leave. He was living his dream at Anfield.
McStay was born to play for Celtic, the club ran in his blood – two of his Great Uncles (Jimmy and Wille) were both Celtic greats and his brothers (Willie and Raymond) were also at the club. In his early career, McStay captained the Scotland Under 18s to win the U18 European Championship in 1982, still to this date the only major trophy the Scottish national team has won. By 1989, McStay, nicknamed the Maestro by Celtic fans, had earned a significant trophy haul – three Scottish League championships, three Scottish Cups and one League Cup. This was soon to end. As Rangers at the time started to spend some serious money, acquiring players such as England captain Terry Butcher and Liverpool legend Graeame Souness, they began to embark on a decade long domination of Scottish football, matching Celtic’s record of nine league titles in a row. At this same time, Celtic had found themselves in financial difficulties, to the point of near extinction. The club had to make do with severe budget cuts and restraints, spending minimal amounts compared to their Old Firm rival. During this period Paul McStay became one of the only shining lights for Celtic in one of the bleakest periods of their existence. In 1992, when strong rumours of growing interest from Italian powerhouses Inter Milan and Juventus refused to disappear along with numerous big English clubs courting McStay, it looked like his time at his boyhood club was coming to an end. And many Celtic fans were not angry to see him leave, they thought it was a waste of his talent to be bogged down playing with mediocrity and that a move would help to only showcase his undoubted talent. In what many deemed a farewell gesture, McStay threw his shirt into the fans at the Jungle (an area of Celtic Park were the atmosphere had a reputation of being ferocious). A strong showing at Euro 92 for Scotland served only to increase the likelyhood of his departure.
However, to almost everyone’s surprise, McStay stayed at Celtic. The next couple of seasons, like the previous three, remained trophyless. Then in 1995, Celtic reached the Scottish Cup Final against Airdrie and beat them 1-0 with a Pierre van Hooijdonk goal ending a six year trophy drought. van Hooijdonk later described that final:
“The moment when I really realised what it all meant was when the game finished and I saw Paul McStay and Peter Grant, two real Celtic men, crying on the pitch and hugging each other for 10 or 15 minutes, that´s when I realised what this meant.”
Celtic were the only club of McStay’s career and he retired in 1997 after succumbing to persistent long term injuries. Only a year later would Celtic go on to win the league title under Wim Jansen, preventing Rangers from achieving ten in a row. To illustrate just how highly Paul McStay was rated and adored by the Celtic fans, he was voted as one of the eleven to be named in their greatest ever Celtic XI, despite playing most of his career in one of the worst Celtic teams ever assembled.
The most loyal player of the modern era and one with the talent to match anyone of his generation. Born and bred in Rome, it is said the first real offer for Totti came from AC Milan when he was still a boy, his mother however could not live with her son playing for a northern team and the family held out until Roma came knocking. It wasn’t long before she was right. Totti was Roma captain by the age of 21 and led them to only their third ever Scudetto in 2001 under Fabio Capello. He was named Man of the Match in the Euro 2000 Final despite Italy losing to France, playing alongside some other great attackers at their peak – Zidane, Del Piero, Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet and Youri Djorkaeff. Soon, whilst assembling his dream team of Galacticos, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez put Totti in his sights. But for Perez, Totti became the impossible dream. In 2006 came another highlight of his career, he was decisive in Italy 2006 World Cup success in Germany. Totti had broken his ankle three months prior to the tournament and he was a major doubt for Italy. After going through a gruelling rehabilitation process, he was included in Lippi’s squad. Totti would end the tournament as joint top assister and scoring a vital penalty in the 94th minute against Australia in the last 16. He admitted after the tournament he felt only 60% fit but with so many of that generation peaking, he could not bare to miss it. Roma Director General Walter Sabatini put it beautifully when speaking about Totti a couple of years ago:
“Totti is timeless, he’s like the light over the rooftops of Rome. The light still goes on, spreads. He had been painted as tired and lame, but he goes on the pitch and weakens the opposition.”
The most lasting part of Totti’s career are his goals. He is currently second on the all-time Serie A goalscoring list. Think of all the legendary attackers Serie A has been home to over the years and you will find Totti has outscored them ALL! Only Roberto Baggio of the modern era comes remotely close (22 goals behind Totti). Only the legendary Silvio Piola (active from 1929-1954) has outscored him. This achievement becomes even more awe-worthy when you consider Totti has never played as an out and out centre forward, often deployed behind a number 9 for the first half of his career. Francesco has also aged beautifully as a player and remains the only forward of his generation still playing at such a high level – he was one of only five players in the Top 5 leagues to finish the 2012/13 season in double digits for both assists and goals (the other four were Theo Walcott, Lionel Messi, Marco Reus and Marek Hamsik). His personal accolades include five times Italian Player of the Year, two times Serie A Player of the Year and one Golden Boot. His trophy haul with Roma on the otherhand is lacking. He can only claim to be part of one Scudetto winning side and two Coppa Italias. The fact he won the World Cup goes a long way to appeasing this but it is still a dearth lack of silverware for such an incredible talent. With Totti as captain, Roma have finished Serie A runners up 6 times in the past decade.
Totti’s commitment to Roma is the greatest expression of love in the modern game. A player of his calibre remaining there is the equivalent of Wayne Rooney staying at Everton and spending his whole career at Goodison or Fernando Torres shunning Liverpool to remain at Atletico Madrid. And Totti’s devotion has helped to inspire the next generations of Roma stars such as Daniele De Rossi who looks as though he will follow in Totti’s footsteps. Even the limitless funds of Florentino Perez and his team of superstars could not lure Totti away from Rome, his loyalty could not be bought. Former Roma president Rosella Sensi spoke gracefully when she said “No player in the history of football has meant more to a club than Totti does to Roma.”
Little known outside of his homeland but often said to be one of the greatest outfield players Russia has ever produced by those who watched him. Streltsov made his Torpedo Moscow debut as a 16 year old and in his second season he finished as top goalscorer in the Soviet League. At 18 making his debut for the Soviet Union national team, Streltsov scored a first half hat-trick against Sweden (that same Sweden side would only a couple of years later get to the final of the 1958 World Cup). In the 1956 Olympics, in one of his most famous matches, Streltsov was key in helping the Soviet Union fight back against Bulgaria in extra time at 0-1 despite only having 9 fit men on the field, with Streltsov scoring the equaliser before assisting the winner. He received two votes for the Ballon d’Or that year.
Despite his on the field success, Streltsov was making enemies off it. His flamboyant hair made him stand-out in a country of men with short back and sides. He very bluntly turned down the advances of member of the Politburo Yekaterina Furtseva’s 16 year old daughter after Furtseva hinted at the idea of marriage between Streltsov and her daughter. The Communist Party were also revelead in later documents to have distaste for Streltsov as the interest of foreign clubs interested in him grew, sparking suspicion. Streltsov was also caught in the middle of a tug of war between KGB run side Dinamo Moscow and Army run team CSKA Moscow, both envious of Torpedo’s capture of this great Russian talent. Streltsov’s refusal to leave Torpedo for either of these teams was seen as an act against the state itself. Whilst on a pre-World Cup training camp in 1958, the Soviet team was given the day off from training and Streltsov and two other players decided to go to a party. After a night of heavy drinking, Streltsov and his two team-mates were arrested for the alleged rape of a 20 year woman called Marina. One commentator of the case against Streltsov described it as “confused and contradictory”. Streltsov later said he was told he could avoid all of the red tape and be permitted to play in the 1958 World Cup if he pled guilty, so he did. Instead of playing in the World Cup as he was told, Streltsov was sentenced to 12 years hard labour in a Siberian gulag. The Soviet Union national coach at the time of his conviction revealed when Streltsov was dying that a local policeman told him influence from high up in the Communist Party dictated the player’s future, clearly pointing at the involvement of Furtseva who took anger in the player’s rejection of her daughter as a possible wife. Streltsov would go on to serve 5 years hard labour in a gulag before being released. Notably, the Soviet squad lost out in the quarter finals 0-2 against Sweden of the 1958 World Cup, the Sweden side they had defeated 6-0 with Streltsov on the pitch.
After his release he played amateur football, waiting until Torpedo came knocking again. Inevitably, they did. The fans welcomed their hero back and he helped Torpedo win the Soviet league on his first season back and soon returning to play for the national side, although his time in the gulag had robbed him of some of his physical ability. Streltsov finished second in the award of Soviet Player of the Season that year. He retired two years later as one of the greats of Russian football, regardless of seven of his best footballing years being robbed from him. There is currently an active campaign underway in Russia to clear Streltsov’s name of the rape accusation, headed by Chess champion Anatoly Karpov and also heavily involved is the Mayor of Moscow. A sad but fascinating story, you can only wonder how great Streltsov (and Torpedo Moscow and the Soviet national team) could’ve been if his career had went smoothly.