AC Milan and Italy legend Paolo Maldini will be blowing out 54 candles today, giving us the perfect chance to look back at some of the sport’s greatest one-club men of all time.
Between his first stint in the Rossoneri’s youth academy in 1978 to hanging up his boots at the age of 40 in 2009, Maldini only ever knew the red and black of AC Milan, and his loyalty to Milan has not stopped there either.
The 54-year-old now acts upstairs at San Siro as the club’s technical director, but the Italian will forever be heralded for his heroics on the field, either as a left-back on in the heart of a famed Rossoneri defence.
Hailed as the greatest defender of all time by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, loyalty similar to Maldini’s is often hard to find in the top level nowadays, but plenty of other players have reaped the rewards of donning just the one shirt throughout their senior careers.
Here, Sports Mole picks out some of the greatest loyal players to ever grace the football pitch, using only those who have spent their entire professional career with one club.
Where else to start than with the record man himself? Former Turkey international Said Altinordu played professionally for a whopping 27 years and spent all 27 with Altinordu S.K before retiring in his mid-40s in 1956.
Altinordu’s lengthy spell in his homeland led to him making a total of 847 appearances for Altinordu and scoring 29 goals from the rearguard, and he even finished as top scorer in the first-ever National Division in 1930.
Altinordu would earn four caps for the Turkey national team and also represented his nation at the 1936 Olympics, and finding another player who can replicate the defender’s steadfast loyalty and longevity may be a fruitless endeavour.
Rome was not built in a day, but 25 years for Francesco Totti, who would briefly ply his trade with Fortitudo, Trastevere and Lodigiani as a youngster before joining Roma in 1989.
The aptly-nicknamed Golden Boy would grace the Stadio Olimpico with his elegance, technical gift and magnificent finishing ability for a quarter of a century, and he appropriately racked up 250 goals for the legendary Serie A side, winning the Capocannoniere in 2007.
One Serie A title and two Coppa Italias would come the way of Totti during his time in Rome, and while he may have departed from his upstairs role in acrimonious circumstances back in 2019, Totti should forever be heralded as Roma’s greatest-ever player.
Whether a teammate or an opponent of Carles Puyol’s, getting on the wrong side of the tough-tackling Spaniard would always spell danger, but such an attitude typified his magnificent leadership in Catalonia.
An ever-present of the Blaugrana defence for 15 years, Puyol first stepped foot into the La Masia academy in 1995 and would continue to sport the iconic jersey until 2014, winning plenty of silverware along the way.
Puyol collected six La Liga titles and three Champions League crowns with Barcelona, scored 18 goals in 593 senior appearances at club level, and that iconic hairstyle will always be recognised from miles away.
When one typically thinks of a one-club Liverpool legend, Steven Gerrard ought to be the first name that springs to mind, but the Aston Villa boss is controversially left out of this section due to his brief stint at LA Galaxy.
However, his fellow Scouser Jamie Carragher would only wear the red of Liverpool in his senior career and spent no fewer than 17 years on the books at Anfield, albeit without winning that coveted Premier League title.
Nevertheless, a Champions League medal would come Carragher’s way in 2005, and he made a total of 737 appearances for the club in all competitions – second only to Ian Callaghan’s 857 – but only four goals at the correct end of the pitch came his way. To put that into greater context, he scored seven own goals in the Premier League.
Leaving out the only goalkeeper in the history of the sport to win the Ballon d’Or would have been a crime, especially seeing as the heroic Lev Yashin spent no fewer than 22 years on the books at Dynamo Moscow.
The 6ft 2in ‘Black Spider’ was forever a reliable and acrobatic figure in between the sticks for the Moscow club or the Soviet Union, and he was bestowed with the honour of being the world’s best player in 1963.
Yashin racked up 326 appearances at club level, stopped a record 151 penalties, and needed countless shelves to hold all the individual accolades he won during a remarkable professional career.
Would you believe it?
The joyful crowd in Highbury certainly did when one-club man Tony Adams put the cherry on the icing on the cake against Everton in 1998, scoring the fourth and final goal of the victory that would hand Arsenal their first-ever Premier League title.
Adams formed a part of the fabled back four in North London and spent over two decades at the club – 19 as a senior professional – during which time he would score 49 goals in 672 games across all tournaments.
The tough-tackling centre-back’s off-field addiction problems would plague a portion of his Arsenal career, but the arrival of Wenger helped Adams prolong his career and win no fewer than 12 trophies with the Gunners.
For all of his qualities as Manchester United’s infamous left-winger, Ryan Giggs has been making headlines off the pitch for all the wrong reasons, but the Welshman’s success as a player will be challenging to replicate.
Still Man United’s record-appearance maker with 963 matches, Giggs spent 24 years as a senior player at Old Trafford after crossing the divide from Manchester City in his youth career and collected a whopping 13 Premier League titles with the club.
Two Champions League titles would also come the way of Giggs during his Red Devils career, and to date, the Welshman is the only player to have appeared in 24 consecutive Premier League seasons, scoring in 21 of them.
The birthday boy himself, Paolo Maldini remained an iconic figure of the Milan defence well into his 40s and is one of the first names that springs to mind when thinking of the famed Rossoneri XI of the early 2000s.
Maldini would win seven Scudettos and five European Cup/Champions League titles during his 25 years as a senior AC Milan player, but his long-time record of 647 Serie A appearances was recently surpassed by Gianluigi Buffon.
Nevertheless, Maldini should always be in the debate for the greatest defender to ever play the game, and the 54-year-old’s attacking prowess would simply elevate his standing with the San Siro faithful.