With the curtain closing on the 2021/22 domestic football season, the curtain came down on Mark Noble’s playing career after 18 years at West Ham.
Admittedly, for many outside of the West Ham bubble – pun intended – Noble’s retirement won’t mean all that much. A dependable midfielder who was arguably one of England’s best at his prime, although he never achieved full international honors without ever making a fuss.
However, Noble’s legacy is much more than that for West Ham fans and wider football. His retirement is the endorsement of yet another club footballer – a feat that is becoming increasingly rare in modern football.
Some people might find that controversial given Noble spent time on loan at Hull and Ipswich in early 2006, but for a man who joined the Hammers as a youngster in 2000 growing up supporting the club and has since has retired with most appearances for the club and the nickname “Mr. West Ham’, we think an exception can be made in relation to the loan spells.
One-club players are becoming increasingly rare, certainly at the highest level of football, so it is nothing short of incredible that Noble has picked up such an accolade with West Ham of late.
Even at the end of his career, he has opted to hang up his boots instead of spending a year or two abroad or in a lower league, which many do. That is genuine devotion to the club he loves.
That got us scratching our heads GIBMESPORT, who thinks of the greatest one-club players in men’s football. And in honor of Noble’s retirement after such a distinguished career, it feels so good now to take a look at the rare Hall of Fame he’s inducted.
Football’s Greatest One-Club Men
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Tony Adams – Arsenal
What would become of Adams when he signed from Arsenal on student terms in 1980 is nothing short of iconic. The Englishman developed into one of the club’s all-time greatest players during his 19-year first-team career, notably winning four Premier League titles and three FA Cups. Adams has also captained three of those titles in three different decades, which is a testament to his longevity.
Rogerio Ceni-Sao Paulo
Similar to Noble, there is an asterisk next to Ceni’s status as a one-club man considering he started at Sinop.
That didn’t last long though, and considering he’s made over 1,200 appearances for Sao Paulo in his incredible career as a prolific goalkeeper, we’ll let him slip through the net. Better yet, he now runs the club.
Liverpool’s second longest-serving player of all time, Carragher’s story from local hero to legend is immense. The defender made his debut for the Reds in 1996 and enjoyed an eventful career with the club until 2013, where he became an England international, swept silverware and forged a legacy as one of football’s greatest leaders.
Manolo Sanchis – Real Madrid
As well as being a one-club man with arguably the biggest club side in the world, Sanchis was also a second-generation footballer for Real Madrid, with his father also playing for Los Blancos. A veteran sweeper, Sanchis made over 700 appearances for Real between 1983 and 2001 and proved crucial in a period before the Galacticos really took over.
When we talk about serial winners, they don’t make them like Puyol anymore. He won 18 major club titles with La Blaugrana and played almost everywhere he had to for Barcelona during an extraordinary 15 years in the first team, 10 of which he served as perhaps the greatest captain of all time.
Ryan Giggs-Manchester United
Just ahead of his class of 1992 peers, Giggs broke into Manchester United’s senior setup, was first called up by Sir Alex Ferguson in 1990 and became United’s record holder. One of the most decorated players of all time, the Welshman also served the club as coach and interim manager.
Franco Baresi – AC Milan
It’s good that we’re not trying to put together a starting XI because this side would be far too defensive with the talent available in defence. 20 years as the backbone of AC Milan and 15 years as captain – Baresi’s legacy is hard to beat. As world champions, Baresi won six Scudetti with Milan and even held on to them as they won Serie B twice and were finally voted Player of the Century in 1999, two years after her retirement.
Paolo Maldini – AC Milan
After Baresi came Maldini, which is frankly absurd. A second generation footballer for Milan, Paolo followed in his father Cesare’s footsteps and became a club legend. He won 25 trophies in 25 seasons with the Rossoneri, played all over the back line and captained the team. He now acts as club director and was instrumental in helping them win the 2021/22 Serie A title.
Paul Scholes-Manchester United
Despite social media trying to tell us otherwise these days, there’s no denying that Scholes is one of the greatest midfielders in the game. He has built a 20-year career as United’s midfield maestro and won just about everything he could as a devoted man for the club. Inter reportedly tried to sign him in 2000 but after rebuffing it it was clear he only ever had eyes for United.
Ricardo Bochini – Independiente
Bochini was immensely talented as a world champion with Argentina, but he spent his entire career in his hometown with Independiente. An exciting attacking midfielder, ‘El Bocha’ won 13 titles with the club from 1972 to 1991 and can be considered one of the best not to have played in Europe.
Gary Neville-Manchester United
Spending an entire career for United under their greatest manager of all time is no easy feat, proving just how important Neville was. The right-back, another of Fergie’s offspring, took over as club captain from Roy Keane in 2005 and retired as one of the most successful footballers of all time.
Francesco Totti – Roma
As football’s golden boy, Totti had the world at his feet considering his playmaking skills, but he opted to remain at Roma his entire career. Unwavering loyalty. Totti remains Roma’s top scorer after 25 years in the first team from 1992 to 2017 and tops their appearances list. That one Serie A win in 2000/01 will forever feel incredible to him.
Giuseppe Bergomi – Inter
Regarded as one of Italy’s best defenders of all-time, Bergomi played for Milan’s blue side from 1979 to 1999 during a glittering 20-year career at Inter. ‘Lo Zio’ achieved national and European success with the Nerazzurri and remains second on their list of all appearances, even today.
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