SSN's Kaveh Solhekol and Aidan Magee wrap up their list of the greatest footballers who played in the English top flight but never won the title
Sunday 10 May 2020 07:08, UK
Liverpool were due to receive the Premier League trophy at Anfield on Saturday. They will get another chance but these players won't. They are the 50 best players who never won the title.
It is unlikely that Steve McManaman has ever lost a night's sleep worrying about the fact he never won a title in England.
Within 12 months of moving to Real Madrid from Liverpool he was lifting the Champions League trophy in Paris. That was after a man-of-the-match performance and a stunning goal in a 3-0 win against Valencia in the 2000 final at the Stade de France.
In four seasons at the Bernabeu he won two Champions Leagues and two La Liga titles. Of course he also played for Liverpool and Manchester City but in those days the most successful league clubs were Manchester United, Arsenal, Leeds, Blackburn and Chelsea.
Tottenham had passed their peak as a title-winning force when Pat Jennings arrived at White Hart Lane from Watford in 1964, three years after Spurs had won the double under Bill Nicholson. At Spurs he won the FA Cup, UEFA Cup and League Cup twice and he also won the FA Cup with Arsenal in 1979.
As well as a remarkable club career, he set records at international level for Northern Ireland playing in the 1982 and 1986 World Cups. When making his final appearance in Northern Ireland's World Cup group-stage defeat to Brazil in 1986, he became the oldest player to have played in the competition at the age of 41.
Jennings' tally of 119 caps is a record for his country. He made more than 1,000 senior appearances as a player - the first player in English football to do so - the vast majority of those for Tottenham and Arsenal. He is revered on both sides of the North London footballing divide.
Chris Waddle won three league titles and they were all at Marseille during a three-season spell from 1989 to 1992. He made such a big impression in the south of France that in 1998 he came second in a vote for Marseille's player of the century.
To win an English title he would have needed to have been playing for Liverpool or Everton in his prime.
When he returned from France in 1992, he signed for Sheffield Wednesday. He was part of the Wednesday side which reached both domestic cup finals in 1993 and was also voted that season's Football Writers' Player of the Year.
Gordon Banks was in goal when England won the World Cup in 1966 and he will also always be remembered for his "save of the century" against Pele four years later.
At club level, he began his career at Chesterfield before moving to Leicester in 1959, jumping two levels to the First Division. He started in the reserves with five goalkeepers ahead of him in the squad and gradually rose to first choice as Leicester reached two FA Cup Finals in 1961 and 1963.
He won the League Cup with Leicester in 1964 but despite his World Cup win in 1966, Banks was dropped as first choice at Filbert Street the following season in favour of a young Peter Shilton. That brought about his departure to Stoke where he won another League Cup in 1972 but a car accident later that year ended a glorious playing career.
He was named FIFA Goalkeeper of the Year six times.
It doesn't seem fair that in an era when Spain had midfielders as good as Xavi, Andres Iniesta, David Silva, Sergio Busquets and Cesc Fabregas, they also had Xabi Alonso. He could read and control the game and his long-range passing as a deep-lying midfielder was out of this world.
He spent five years at Anfield and was an integral part of the Liverpool side that won the Champions League in 2005. He only started winning league titles after he left Liverpool though - one at Real Madrid and three at Bayern Munich.
Sir Tom Finney was one of English football's all-time greats. Bill Shankly said he was the best player he had ever seen. He was so good they called Preston a one-man team and his loyalty to the club prevented him winning major honours elsewhere.
The closest he came to winning the title was when Preston finished second behind Arsenal in 1953, losing out on goal difference, and when they finished second behind Wolves in 1958.
He retired in 1960 after scoring 247 times in 566 games. Preston were relegated that year, finishing bottom of the table. Incredibly, they have never returned to the top flight since.
His 30 goals for England was a record at the time. He played for England in three World Cups.
Sir Alex Ferguson didn't make too many mistakes. One of the ones he did make though was deciding in 1989 that Paul McGrath's knee injuries and off-field problems meant he was surplus to requirements at Old Trafford.
McGrath went on to prove he was still one of the best defenders in the world during eight season at Aston Villa. He was also outstanding for Ireland at the 1990 and 1994 World Cups.
Along with the likes of Roy Keane and Liam Brady, he is one of Ireland's all-time great players. His talent and ability deserved much more than an FA Cup, two League Cups and the 1992/93 PFA Player of the Year award.
Ossie Ardiles arrived at Tottenham alongside Ricky Villa just weeks after both of them had won the World Cup with Argentina in 1978.
It was almost unheard of for English clubs to sign foreign players in those days and Ardiles was bemused to discover that most sides he faced preferred to bypass midfield and play long-ball football. That though was not the Tottenham way especially with Glenn Hoddle emerging as the most naturally talented midfielder of his generation.
Tottenham had recently returned from a spell in Division Two, with manager Keith Burkinshaw rebuilding the side which would become one of the most successful cup sides in English football in the following decade.
Ardiles twice won the FA Cup and helped Spurs win the UEFA Cup in a memorable two-legged final against Anderlecht. The closest he came to a league title was in 1985, when Spurs pushed Everton for most of the campaign before falling away late on and finishing third.
Ardiles left for QPR on a free transfer in 1988 before later embarking on a managerial career which brought him back to Tottenham in 1993.
David Ginola was ridiculously good looking and ridiculously good at football. Anyone who doubts how good he was just has to look at what happened in 1999. Manchester United won an incredible treble but it was Ginola who won both Player of the Year awards in England that season.
He was so good that United tried to sign him later that year. If they had he would probably have won at least two titles at Old Trafford.
As it was, he retired in 2002 having won just one title - the French one with Paris Saint-Germain in 1994.
Robbie Fowler scored on his Liverpool debut and never looked back, establishing himself as the best natural finisher of his generation. He was so good Liverpool fans called him God.
At Anfield he was part of Roy Evans' exciting young team which pushed Manchester United and Newcastle in the title race in 1996 - but that proved to be as good as it got as far as league titles were concerned.
He won four major honours at Anfield, including a cup treble in 2001. During two spells at Liverpool between 1993 and 2007 he scored 183 goals across 11 seasons.
Liam Brady was arguably the standout performer in an Arsenal side which probably should have won more than the 1979 FA Cup. He had arrived at Arsenal as a 15-year-old and took his place among a strong Irish contingent with Frank Stapleton and David O'Leary from the Republic and Pat Rice and manager Terry Neill from Northern Ireland.
Under Neill and the coaching expertise of Don Howe, Brady began to dictate play from midfield. His passing, dribbling and long-range shooting ability arguably made him a player ahead of his time, yet he is still regarded as one of Arsenal's greatest players.
Brady's performance in the 1980 European Cup Winners' Cup semi-final victory over Juventus impressed the Italian club so much they signed him for £500,000. He won two Serie A titles in Turin in 1981 and 1982.
It could have been very different for Paolo Di Canio as far as titles were concerned.
Manchester United tried to sign him in 2002. According to Sir Alex Ferguson, the deal collapsed when Di Canio asked for too much money. "The deal was all done," Ferguson said. "We had made an offer he had accepted, but then he came back saying he wanted more. We couldn't agree to the new demand."
Di Canio says it didn't happen because he couldn't walk out on West Ham. Whoever you believe it doesn't change the fact that Di Canio deserved to have more to show for his time in England than a goal-of-the-season award.
Sir Stanley Matthews was still playing when at 50 he was knighted at Buckingham Palace. His career was remarkable. He started playing for £1 a week in 1929 and when he retired in 1965 players such as Eusebio, Ferenc Puskas, Alfredo di Stefano, Bobby Moore and Bobby Charlton were lining up to play in his testimonial.
One of his opponents said defending against The Wizard of the Dribble was "like trying to mark a ghost".
In 29 seasons at Stoke and Blackpool, interrupted by the Second World War, he won only one major trophy. That was the FA Cup in 1953. Blackpool were losing 3-1 to Bolton in the second half when Matthews set up three goals to seal a famous 4-3 win. It will always be known as "The Matthews Final" even though his team-mate Stan Mortensen scored a hat-trick.
Matthews also played 54 times for England, scoring 11 times.
The best full-backs in the world cost at least £50m these days, which makes you think how much Stuart Pearce would be worth if he was still playing.
Apart from Liverpool, every team in the Premier League could do with a player like Pearce today. Modern full-backs tend to be better at attacking than defending. Pearce could do both. He was teak-tough, uncompromising and his ferocious free kicks were delivered with such pace and power that you feared for the safety of the goalkeepers he was taking on.
He started his career at Coventry and spent 12 seasons at Nottingham Forest before moving to West Ham and Manchester City.
When he retired in 2002 he had 78 England caps and two major honours - the 1989 and 1990 League Cups with Forest.
The career of the one-club Brooking could have taken a very different turn, with Chelsea and Tottenham both keen on him at youth level. He chose, though, a move to boyhood team West Ham at 15, where he became a mainstay in midfield for nearly 20 years.
While he perhaps lacked the physical presence or speed of a modern-day midfielder, Brooking dictated play from the central area with his controlled passing. His goals were also crucial for West Ham, 102 in 643 games, the fourth-highest appearance tally in the club's history, behind only Bobby Moore, Frank Lampard Sr and Billy Bonds.
He will always be remembered for scoring the winner in the 1980 FA Cup Final against Arsenal. On a hot Wembley afternoon, Brooking's headed goal - a rarity in itself - won his side their last major trophy.
Matthew Le Tissier was given the freedom to showcase his talent at Southampton by manager Chris Nichol, who built a team capable of beating anyone on their day. When Nichol left in 1991, he gave way to the more pragmatic Ian Branfoot as Southampton became perennial strugglers, whose prospects of survival rested on Le Tissier.
He still managed to shine, and did so even more brightly when Alan Ball took over from Branfoot during the 1993/94 season. Ball put his hand on Le Tissier's shoulders in the dressing room before his first game, and reminded the rest of the squad that their hopes of survival rested on his shoulders, and that they should give him the ball as often as they could.
His strength and close control allowed him to beat players in the spaces between midfield and attack. His deadly shooting accuracy from range often left opposition defences and goalkeepers dumbfounded. Free kicks and penalties were also a speciality for a player who scored 209 goals in 540 appearances for a side that struggled most seasons.
He always stayed loyal to Southampton despite offers of lucrative moves to Tottenham and Chelsea.
Gianfranco Zola was one of the first foreign players to come to the Premier League at the peak of his career. He had learned from the best at Napoli, training with Diego Maradona and he lit up Stamford Bridge when he moved to Chelsea in 1996.
He won four major trophies in seven seasons at Stamford Bridge but no league titles. The 1998/99 season is remembered because of the title race between Manchester United and Arsenal. United went on to win the treble but Chelsea were also in the race for the title and they lost just three league games that season.
Chelsea were never in contention for the title in the remaining four years of Zola's time in West London, although he played a key role in getting the club into the Champions League in 2003. That same year Zola was voted the best Chelsea player of all time.
There's no question that Jamie Carragher was good enough to play in a title-winning side. He just played for Liverpool in an era when the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea were dominating the Premier League.
The closest he came to winning the title was in 2009 when Liverpool finished second, four points behind Manchester United, and in 2002 when they finished second behind Arsenal.
Carragher was a legendary one club man who would be regarded by many as the best defender to have ever played for Liverpool. While he may be challenged by Virgil van Dijk for that honour in years to come, Carragher can always look back on an incredible career which saw him win seven major trophies including the Champions League in 2005.
If you were making a list of the most naturally-talented footballers England had produced, you could make a pretty good case for making Glenn Hoddle No 1. In the '70s and '80s he was the player every kid in the playground wanted to be. He had extraordinary vision and ability and he looked the part - stylish, elegant and supremely gifted.
He won two FA Cups at Spurs but it wasn't until he moved to Monaco that he got his hands on a league title in 1988.
It's remarkable that he played only 53 times for England. He was regarded by some as a luxury player. If he been any other nationality he would probably have played twice as many games for his country.
In September 1983 he scored one of the best goals you will ever see in a 3-2 win for Spurs at Watford. One touch, turn and an outrageous chip. All in under three seconds. Somehow it wasn't goal of the season, but those who have seen it will never forget it.
Jimmy Greaves was known to the football world even before he made his debut at Chelsea because he was breaking goalscoring records at youth level which still stand today. He carried his impressive form into his senior career, scoring 100 league goals before he was 20.
In 1961, he moved to AC Milan, but failed to settle and signed for Tottenham after just six months aborad. The fee was £99,999 - so he would not have the pressure of becoming the world's first £100,000 footballer.
Greaves found instant success by lifting the FA Cup in his first season at White Hart Lane, then the European Cup Winners' Cup the following year, scoring in both finals. He had joined Spurs just months after their historic Double success of 1961, but missed out on a league title in his nine years there - despite finishing runners-up to Everton in 1963.
His goalscoring records stand to this day - 266 for Spurs and 357 in top-flight football. He made his England debut in 1959 and famously missed out on a place in Alf Ramsey's starting line-up for the 1966 World Cup Final.
That personal disappointment means his England career is not celebrated as widely as his achievements at club level, although his 44 goals in 57 caps prove just how good he was.
Only Sir Bobby Charlton and Wayne Rooney have scored more goals for England than Gary Lineker. Charlton and Rooney won eight titles between them, Linkeker didn't win one - not even at Barcelona.
The closest he came was in his one season at Everton in 1985-86. Lineker scored 30 league goals but Everton finished second, two points behind Liverpool. Everton had won the title the season before Lineker arrived and they won it the season after he left.
Does he lose any sleep over not winning a league title? Unlikely. He had a glittering career, starred at World Cups and became an accomplished broadcaster and the face of the BBC's football coverage.
Who needs a title when you have scored a hat-trick for England in the World Cup final at Wembley? Sir Geoff Hurst will always be an England legend but at club level, he made his name at West Ham, where he won the FA Cup in 1964 and the European Cup Winners' Cup a year later.
After 13 years at Upton Park, he signed for Stoke in 1972, helping them retain their First Division status before before becoming a key player when they mounted title challenges in his last two seasons at the Victoria Ground.
For England he scored 24 goals in 49 appearances and he was knighted in 1998.
If he had moved to the right club, Paul Gascoigne would have been a multiple title winner. To be fair, he did win two titles in Scotland with Rangers but the only medal he won in England was the FA Cup in 1991 and that was bittersweet because he badly injured himself in the opening stages of the final against Nottingham Forest.
Of course, everybody knows Gascoigne turned down a move to Manchester United in 1988 and signed for Tottenham instead. Gascoigne says it's one of the biggest regrets of his career. To be fair to him, United hadn't won the title for 21 years when he moved to White Hart Lane instead of Old Trafford.
Nobody knows quite what would have happened if he had picked United, but it's fair to assume it would have involved at least one league title.
Liverpool had already gone nearly a decade without winning the title when Steven Gerrard made his debut in 1998. He was a key figure at Anfield as Gerard Houllier moved the club on from the unfulfilled promise of the Spice Boys era and turned them into an accomplished cup side.
Gerrard grew in stature under Rafa Benitez and his remarkable captain's display in Istanbul helped Liverpool win the Champions League final in 2005 despite having been 3-0 down at half time against AC Milan. He could have won the title elsewhere if he had not turned down two chances to sign for Chelsea.
The closest he came to winning the title at Liverpool was in 2009 and in 2014 when his infamous slip allowed Demba Ba to score for Chelsea in a 2-0 win at Anfield. Twelve months later, Gerrard moved to LA Galaxy after 17 seasons at Liverpool. He won seven major honours at Anfield, but no league title.
He is arguably Liverpool's greatest ever player, but Sir Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness might have something to say about that.
Bobby Moore could read the game as easily as you have read this article. In an era when centre-backs had to be tough as teak he was a pure footballer who was renowned for the timing of his tackles and his leadership qualities. He is a national icon who captained England to World Cup glory in 1966 and his statue stands proudly outside Wembley Stadium.
He played for England an incredible 108 times in an era when caps were hard to come by. He is unquestionably West Ham's greatest-ever player and he ended his career at Upton Park having won an FA Cup and a European Cup Winners' Cup.
Pele described him as the best defender the world has ever seen.
It's just a shame he didn't receive the knighthood he deserved. And it's a shame the FA never found a role for him in the game after he retired.
Additional research by James Magee