After a career which seemingly lasted an eternity, Gianluigi Buffon finally hung up his gloves at the start of August 2023 at the grand old age of 45. The Italian goalkeeper played professional football across four decades and yet only represented three clubs – Juventus, PSG and Parma. He also won caps for his national team at every age group, with the highlight undoubtedly the World Cup win of 2006.
Of all the amazing stats that accompany Buffon’s career, the most incredible is surely the fact that he won eleven titles in the European ‘big five’ leagues – ten with Juventus plus a solitary Ligue 1 triumph with PSG.
That’s all folks!
You gave me everything.
I gave you everything.
We did it together. pic.twitter.com/bGvIDsoFsG
— Gianluigi Buffon (@gianluigibuffon) August 2, 2023
By our reckoning, only two players can match that record and just a trio can beat it – confirming Buffon’s legacy in the annals of European club football history. So, who has matched Buffon’s incredible achievement and who had bested it?
11 League Titles – Paul Scholes, Thiago Alcantara & Arjen Robben
Alongside Buffon sit Manchester United legend, Paul Scholes, and multi-club man, Thiago Alcantara. Scholes, you’ll recall, was a one-club man; making a frustratingly unrounded 499 appearances for Manchester United across a 20-year career. He contributed 107 goals and stacks of assists in an era of dominance for the Red Devils that saw them win eleven Premier Division titles, two Champions Leagues, a pair of League Cups and three FA Cups.
Scholes also boasts the distinction of being described as ‘the best central midfielder I’ve seen in the last 15, 20 years’ by no less a judge than Barcelona icon Xavi. In theory, Thiago has the power to add more titles to his haul – be it with Liverpool or another club. The 32-year-old is rather injury prone, however, and so even if the Reds do clinch the Premier League trophy he might not be able to collect a winner’s medal if he doesn’t make enough appearances.
Unquestionably talented, the Spanish midfielder won four La Liga titles with Barcelona before switching to Bayern Munich, where he added seven German Bundesliga winner’s medals to his trophy cabinet. Arjen Robben is unique to this list as he won three of Europe’s big five leagues – not many can match such a diverse collection of trophies. The Dutchman was a key figure in Jose Mourinho’s evolution of Chelsea in the 2000s, winning the Premier League twice under the tutelage of the Special One.
Robben would later up-sticks to Spain and win the La Liga title with Real Madrid in 2008, before a move to Bayern Munich – perhaps his spiritual football home – would yield eight Bundesliga titles and a Champions League for the tricky winger.
12 League Titles – Paco Gento
Perhaps less well known, certainly outside of Spain, are the exploits of Paco Gento, a slippery winger known as the ‘gale of the Cantabrian Sea’ thanks to his explosive pace. Gento was, by and large, a one-club man at Real Madrid, winning 12 La Liga titles with Los Blancos in just 18 years as they dominated Spanish and continental football – Gento also made nine appearances in European Cup finals, a joint record held with Paolo Maldini – in the 1950s and sixties. Named as one of the greatest European players of all time, the word ‘legend’ just about covers it when it comes to Paco Gento.
13 League Titles – Ryan Giggs
Will the incredible record of Ryan Giggs ever be matched? David Alaba and Thomas Muller, with ten titles each, are perhaps the best placed in the modern game to catch him, but at 31 and 33 years of age, respectively, time is not exactly on their side. Lionel Messi also has ten titles, but he is unlikely to add to his haul now that he has set sail for Inter Miami.
Giggs, of course, was part of the same Manchester United generation as Scholes, and so the duo shared the eleven Premier League titles that the Red Devils would win during that time. But Giggs made his breakthrough earlier, making his first-team debut at United during the 1990/91 season and playing on until the grand old age of 41 – almost unheard of for an outfield player in an attacking position.
With some 23 seasons under his belt – all played at United, remember – the left winger had ample opportunities to win silverware. A pivotal figure in the Sir Alex Ferguson years, Giggs won all of his 13 Premier League titles with the Old Trafford club, as well as two Champions Leagues, four FA Cups and the FIFA Club World Cup. It’s a CV that will probably go unmatched – certainly in European football’s big five leagues.