Francesco Totti, Ryan Giggs, Paolo Maldini and Carles Puyol have one thing in common -- they have always served one club throughout their illustrious career despite several transfer enquires coming their way. These are just a handful of names among that rare breed of footballers, which is getting to be increasingly unlikely in the lucrative current generation.
While there have been some notable one-club players in the last decade or so, we give you a list of those who have flown under the radar, mostly because of the fewer numbers in their trophy cabinet. Mind that the kind of impact they have had for their respective clubs is equally outs
Iker Muniain (Athletic Bilbao)
Once dubbed ‘The Spanish Messi’ due to his style and stature, Iker Muniain joined Athletic Bilbao at the tender age of 12. Progressing through the ranks, he was called by the reserve team to play in Spain’s second division in January 2009 before getting his senior team call-up in July 2009.
Aged 16 years, 7 months and 11 days old, the winger became the youngest player in the club’s history in 94 years. Three months later, he became the youngest player to ever score a goal in La Liga and his record stayed intact until 2012 when a certain Fabrice Olinga took over the mantle.
In his 11 years with the senior team, Muniain has notched more than 400 appearances, scoring 59 goals in all competitions. And like every other exciting Spanish winger, Muniain was indeed linked with a host of high-profile moves, but has always stayed put.
Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow)
It is very rare to see a goalkeeper hogging the limelight, and for a certain Igor Akinfeev, he has never got the mention he deserves.
Akinfeev was all but four when his father enrolled him in a sports school of CSKA, and he has been a keeper ever since. Having made his senior team debut for CSKA Moscow aged 16 in 2002, Akinfeev is in his 17th Russian Premier League season and has made more than 600 appearances in all competitions since, winning six league titles and one UEFA Cup.
The Russian stopper made an impact in his debut game for the club by saving a penalty and keeping a clean sheet in a 2–0 win over PFC Krylia Sovetov Samara. Throughout his CSKA career, the 34-year-old has been linked with a move to Europe’s top-five leagues, but he remains CSKA through and through.
Claudio Marchisio (Juventus)
Apart from his sheer resemblance to a Greek God, midfielder Claudio Marchisio is also known for decoding his oppositions' attacks through his sheer understanding of the game. Having played as a forward early in his career, Marchisio moved into a deeper role at the age of 16 and was promoted to Juventus’ senior team after the club was relegated to Serie B due to the Calciopoli scandal, making his debut in 2006.
In 2007, he was sent on loan to Empoli to earn some first-team experience and upon returning, he became one of the most integral members of the team. During his 11 years with Juventus, the midfield maestro made 389 appearances, scoring 37 goals in all competitions.
For someone who has played alongside Paul Pogba and Andrea Pirlo, it is natural to get branded as the ‘third wheel’. What most of us tend to forget though is the fact that Marchisio was an equally important player for the Juventus team who made it to the Champions League final twice in three years.
Daniele De Rossi (AS Roma)
For all we know about Daniele De Rossi’s no-nonsense approach, he actually started his career as a striker, much like Marchisio. The two, in fact, share another similarity as both were called into the first team of their respective clubs by a certain Fabio Capello.
Having made his senior team debut for Roma in 2001, it didn’t take long for him to wear the captain’s armband, which happened a UEFA Cup match against Middlesbrough in 2006. De Rossi has been a decisive player for Roma right since he made his debut for the capital club and has time and again been linked with a move away from Stadio Olimpico, exactly as his teammate Francesco Totti. Unlike the legendary forward though, De Rossi has never been in the limelight for a majority of his career.
In his 18 seasons with Roma, the veteran midfielder notched more than 600 appearances in all competitions, winning the Coppa Italia twice.
Mark Noble (West Ham United)
Nicknamed ‘Mr. West Ham’, midfielder Mark Noble played for Arsenal’s academy at the age of 11 but was soon signed by the Hammers as a youth player. By the time he was 17, he got himself in the senior team, making his debut in August 2004.
Two years after appearing for the first team, Noble spent a couple of short loan stints with the likes of Hull City and Ipswich Town, and upon returning, he became one of the key players of the West Ham team under Alan Curbishley.
Since the 2007/08 Premier League season, Noble has never played less than 25 league games and has been their most valuable asset since, making 494 appearances while scoring 60 goals in all competitions.
Contrary to his club career though, Noble has never been called up by the senior England national team despite captaining the U-18 side early in his career. And at 33, the dream looks much like a distant reality.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Glyn Kirk, Filippo Monteforte