Some players fit so snugly into a football club that they choose to play out their whole career there.
Typically coming through the youth ranks, they break into the first team, became a firm favourite with the fans and then decide to never leave – it always helps when you get the chance to live in a city as beautiful as Barcelona or Milan, of course.
It looked for all the world that Sergio Busquets was going to join the select band of ‘one-club men’ at football’s elite level. He joined Barcelona at 16 – the club his father, Carles, represented throughout the 1990s – and has stayed ever since, winning eight La Liga titles, three Champions Leagues and a host of other silverware.
Closing in on his 35th birthday, Busquets – who has made more than 700 appearances for the Catalan giants over the course of 18 years, has been told that he can leave the Nou Camp, ending his hopes of becoming a one-club man.
“It has been an honour, a dream, a source of pride, and it meant everything to defend and represent this badge for so many years,” the midfielder said.
“But everything has a beginning and an end. I want to thank all the people who made this possible, from the first day to the last.”
Busquets won’t get a Hollywood ending to his career in Spain, but he might well enjoy a lucrative one: it has been reported that he and Lionel Messi are set to sign mega-money deals to join Saudi Arabian outfit Al Hilal.
Although Busquets won’t swell their number, who’s in the club of the most famous one-club footballers?
Paolo Maldini (AC Milan)
Number of years: 25
Number of appearances: 647
Although there are other contenders for the honour of being the most loyal one-club man – Said Altinordu played for 27 years (847 appearances) at the club side in Turkey bearing his name, Altinordu, at the elite-level the badge should be pinned to the lapel of one Paolo Maldini.
From skinny rake to one of the best defenders the beautiful game has ever seen, Maldini spent a quarter of a century at AC Milan – winning 26 trophies along the way, including seven Serie A titles and five Champions Leagues, as well as finishing in third place in the Ballon d’Or twice; incredibly rare for a defender.
To offer some context of Maldini’s legacy in Milan, his famous number three shirt is permanently hung in the club’s museum – they officially retired the number three jersey once the defender had hung up his boots in 2009.
Honour’s don’t run any deeper than that….
Francesco Totti (Roma)
Number of years: 25
Number of appearances: 618
There must be something in the air in Italy – or perhaps it’s the slower pace of play and sumptuous sunshine – that seems to prolong the careers of outfield players.
Francesco Totti was an attacking schemer who ended up making more than 600 appearances for Roma over a 25-year career – an extraordinary achievement.
Although he didn’t win as much silverware as Maldini did, Totti is still the second-highest goalscorer in Italian football with a nicely-round 250 goals, holds the record for most goals scored for a single club and is, at the time of writing, the oldest goalscorer in Champions League history at a sprightly 38 years, 59 days.
But, unlike Maldini, Totti did win a major international title – assisting Italy to glory in the 2006 World Cup.
Ryan Giggs (Manchester United)
Number of years: 24
Number of appearances: 672
It seems almost impossible that English football will ever see a one-club player quite like Ryan Giggs ever again.
He crammed more first-team appearances in at Manchester United during 24 years than both Maldini and Totti managed at 25, which is made all the more remarkable by the fact that for much of that time he was a flying winger.
Giggs perhaps benefitted more than most from the tutelage of Sir Alex Ferguson – particularly as the Welshman was known for his penchant for partying after breaking through into the first team at United as a youngster in the 1990s. Without Ferguson’s watchful gaze, it seems doubtful that Giggs would have enjoyed such longevity in the sport.
Giggs also has Ferguson to partly thank for compiling a trophy cabinet that most clubs would be thankful for: 13 Premier League winners’ medals, two Champions Leagues, four FA Cups and plenty more besides.
Lars Hogh (OB)
Number of years: 23
Number of appearances: 817
Although he didn’t play at the absolute elite level, Lars Hogh’s extraordinary career at Danish side OB really does deserve major plaudits.
Over the course of 23 years, he played a jaw-dropping 817 games – making him, Altinordu aside, the one-club man with the most appearances for his team.
Hogh was a goalkeeper, which tends to help with longevity, and made his debut as an 18-year-old in 1977. He would stay for the next 23 years, making more than 600 league appearances and 817 in all before hanging up his gloves at the age of 41 in 2000.
He won eight caps for Denmark over a 12-year period, and was inducted into the Danish Hall of Fame before, tragically, he died just a week later from pancreatic cancer at the age of 62.