The 16 best players never to win a league title
The inspiration for this article, Lineker won more of football’s top individual awards than he did silverware. Players’ Player of the Year, Footballer of the Year (twice), runner-up in the Ballon d’Or, a Golden Boot winner three times in England and once at a World Cup – make no mistake, he was one of the all-time great strikers. And yet Lineker’s only major trophies were the FA Cup, the Copa del Rey and the Cup Winners’ Cup, while he ended up with as many league titles in his career as he did red and yellow cards: none.
OK, he did win the Second Division with Leicester as a teenager. But somehow a top-flight title eluded him, despite making a career of being in the right places at the right times. Everton finished 1st, 2nd and 1st from 1984 to 1987 – guess which season Lineker was there, scoring three hat-tricks among his 30 league goals?
When the Toffees reclaimed the title he was in Barcelona, finishing 2nd. Then 6th. Then 2nd again, followed by a third-place finish with Spurs just before Barça began a run of four Liga titles. He didn’t even come close in Japan.
Still, he’s done all right for himself, we suppose.
Sagan Tosu are currently fighting relegation to Japan’s second division, so their 34-year-old Spanish striker won’t be winning his first league title this season. Good things come to those who wait, right?
It seems so unlikely that a player whose neck is weighed down by winner’s medals for the Champions League, Europa League, World Cup and European Championship (two) would have no such trinket for finishing top of a domestic league, especially when he played for three big clubs in times of relative success and once came third in the Ballon d’Or voting behind only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – but that’s Torres.
Between two spells with Atletico Madrid, he joined Chelsea from Liverpool six months after the Blues’ Double triumph, and departed on loan the season they won the league in Jose Mourinho’s second spell. Some would say that isn’t a total coincidence.
The politically-active chain-smoking doctor and midfielder was never a title-winning politically-active chain-smoking doctor and midfielder. In fact, playing for a great team that famously won nothing – Brazil 1982 – means Socrates’ trophy cabinet was emptier than it should have been.
At club level, Socrates’ only appearances outside Brazil came for Fiorentina and, uh, Garforth Town – but even at home, his silverware consisted only of state-wide competitions, not national ones. However, the man himself said in concluding his book, Football Philosophy: “Beauty comes first. Victory is secondary. What matters is joy.”
Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher
The Kop buddies are elephants in the room here. Include them in our list of great players who never won the league and it could look as if we’re winding up Liverpool fans by reminding them of the fact; ignore them, and it could look as if we’re winding up Liverpool fans by suggesting they weren’t great players.
So, let’s just namecheck them both, mention Istanbul in passing and move on. Next?
It’s easy to romanticise English footballers when placing them in a global context, but Matthews did win the inaugural Ballon d’Or when he was 41. It wasn’t an all-English affair, either; votes came in from 16 countries and runner-up Alfredo Di Stefano probably played for half of them.
Nonetheless, the long-serving winger’s trophy haul was limited to the one earned through a certain FA Cup Final performance – you may have heard of it – and a couple of Second Division titles, won 30 years apart. Yes, 30.
Matthews died in 2000 at the age of 85, and was substituted shortly afterwards.