Football is of course primarily about winning games and winning trophies, but despite this, winning the big prizes isn’t always easy. At the end of the day, only one team can win each competition, and league titles, in particular, are the trickiest as they take such consistency and form across an entire season to win.
Some of the greatest players in the history of the game have won countless tournaments – including World Cups and European Championships – but they never managed to get their hands on a league title throughout their careers.
Here are 10 great players who have never won a league title in their careers.
#1 Steven Gerrard
When it comes to Liverpool legends, they don’t come much bigger than Steven Gerrard. A product of Liverpool’s academy and a boyhood fan of the Reds, Gerrard broke into the first team at Anfield in the 1999/00 season at the age of just 19. He went on to captain Liverpool for well over a decade, from the beginning of 2003/04 all the way through to his final season at the club in 2014/15, and saw some huge successes during his time there.
Gerrard – an inspirational midfielder capable of dominating games and scoring spectacular goals – won the FA Cup twice, the EFL Cup 3 times, and both the UEFA Cup and Champions League while plying his trade at Anfield. It was his goal that inspired the Reds’ incredible comeback to win the 2005 Champions League, and he made such a mark on the 2006 FA Cup final – a dramatic 3-3 draw with West Ham that Liverpool won after a penalty shoot-out – that it is usually known as the Gerrard Final.
However, one thing Gerrard was never able to inspire Liverpool to during his time at Anfield was a Premier League title victory. They came close – finishing as runners-up in 2001/02, 2008/09 and 2013/14 – but were never able to cross the final hurdle.
The England international was linked with a move to Chelsea in both 2004 and 2005 – and likely would’ve won the league with the Blues had he moved – but instead, he chose to stay at Liverpool and became a club legend in the process, even if he never did win a league title in his career.
#2 Fernando Torres
Considering Spanish striker Fernando Torres played for four of Europe’s biggest and most successful clubs – Atletico Madrid, Liverpool, Chelsea and AC Milan – during his career, it’s more than a little surprising that he was never able to capture a major league title across his near-two decade career. It is true that he won a title with Atletico in 2001/02 – but that was the Spanish Segunda Division, rather than the Primera Division of La Liga.
In La Liga action, Torres never really came close to winning the title – the best finish Atletico managed with him at the helm was 7th on two occasions – but he came extremely close at Liverpool, as they finished as Premier League runners-up in 2008/09, with Torres scoring 14 league goals in 24 games. At Chelsea meanwhile, Torres played a major part in their 2012 Champions League triumph – but the best league position they finished in while he was at the club was 3rd.
Interestingly, Torres could’ve won a Premier League title at Stamford Bridge had he lasted just one more season; he was sent on loan to AC Milan and then back to Atletico for the 2014/15 season, and that marked the year in which Chelsea won their 4th Premier League. Still, despite missing out on a league title, Torres can have few complaints – to go along with his Champions League victory he also won the World Cup and two European Championships with Spain in a storied career.
#3 Gary Lineker
Younger fans might best recognise Gary Lineker as the host of BBC’s Match of the Day, but of course, he had quite the career as a top-level striker, scoring goals for Leicester, Everton, Barcelona and Tottenham over the course of 14 seasons at the top level. Lineker even won a World Cup Golden Boot with England in the 1986 tournament – but he was never able to capture a top league title.
Like Torres, Lineker did win a championship in the old Second Division (today’s Championship) with Leicester in 1980, but after that he won surprisingly few trophies across his career – the Copa del Rey and the UEFA Cup-Winners Cup with Barcelona, and the FA Cup with Tottenham in 1991, but those were his only high-level honours.
Instead, Lineker was a player who won plenty of individual honours instead; he was the English First Division’s top scorer on three occasions, won the PFA Player’s Player of the Year award in 1985/86, took the afore-mentioned World Cup Golden Boot, and even finished as runner-up in the 1986 Ballon d’Or. Unfortunately though, none of them were enough to win him a league title – the closest he came was a runners-up spot with both Everton and Barcelona.
#4 Gordon Banks
Recognized by many as one of the greatest goalkeepers in the history of the game, Gordon Banks – who passed away in February at the age of 81 – might’ve helped England to their famous victory in the 1966 World Cup, but despite a storied career at the top level from the 1958/59 season through to the end of 1972/73 – when he moved to the USA – he was never able to capture a league championship.
Surprisingly enough, at club level at least, Banks won just 1 trophy during his career – the EFL Cup, which he captured on two occasions, first with Leicester in 1964 and then with Stoke in 1972. Of course, it’s very much worth noting that during the era in which Banks played, players were far less likely to make a lot of moves across their careers – this was decades before big-money transfers – and tended to stay loyal to a smaller handful of clubs.
Banks could certainly have won plenty of trophies during his career, including a potential league title, had things gone slightly differently; legendary Liverpool boss Bill Shankly reportedly wanted to sign him at the end of 1966/67, but the Reds’ board of directors thought the £50,000 asking price for him was too much for a goalkeeper! Liverpool won the Division One title in 1965/66, but with Banks between the sticks, they could well have repeated the feat in the seasons that followed, too.
#5 Marco Reus
This one may well change at the end of 2018/19, as Borussia Dortmund currently lead the Bundesliga table by two points with seven games to go, but for now at least, their goalscoring forward Marco Reusremains one of the best players to never lift a league title. He should probably also classified as one of football’s unluckiest men – as an injury also prevented him from lifting the World Cup in 2014 with Germany.
Interestingly enough, Reus – who played for Borussia Dortmund as a youth player before moving on – re-joined the club from Borussia Monchengladbach in January 2012, but ended up completing the 2011/12 season at Monchengladbach, which meant he missed out on Dortmund’s second Bundesliga title victory in a row.
When he did move, at the start of 2012/13, he was able to inspire Dortmund to reach the Champions League final, but could only help them finish as Bundesliga runners-up – to the same team who beat them in the Champions League, Bayern Munich.
The five seasons since have seen Reus struggle with injuries, although when he has played, he’s generally been excellent. Thus far in 2018/19 he’s made 22 league appearances – putting him on course to at least come close to his personal record of 32 at Dortmund – and his 15 goals are certainly helping their title charge, meaning he could lose his spot on this list very soon!
#6 Jamie Carragher
Like his Liverpool teammate Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher probably could’ve won a league title had he decided to leave Anfield at any stage in his career – but instead he chose to stay with the Reds, and like Gerrard, he won plenty of trophies but always missed out on the Premier League championship.
Carragher debuted in Liverpool’s first team way back in 1997 under manager Roy Evans, and went on to spend 17 seasons at Anfield, making 737 appearances for the Reds – becoming the club’s second-longest ever serving player. Over that time he managed to win two FA Cups, three EFL Cups, two Community Shields, the UEFA Cup, two UEFA Super Cups and of course, the Champions League in 2005.
The Premier League title always remained out of his grasp, though; like Gerrard, the best position he ever saw with Liverpool was second in 2001/02 and 2008/09. Despite missing out on any league titles, though, Carragher is still extremely well-thought of at Liverpool – fellow former Reds star Emile Heskey recently stated that Virgil van Dijk is the “first leader” the club have had since Carragher’s retirement in 2013.
#7 Harry Kane
Like Marco Reus, Harry Kane may not belong on this list in the future; the Tottenham and England striker hasn’t won a league title just yet – in fact he hasn’t won any trophies thus far in his career – but he’s still got years left and could well manage the feat yet. Tottenham fans of course will be hoping he wins the Premier League with them and not with one of their rivals!
Based on his incredible statistics alone though, right now Kane certainly qualifies as one of the best players to never have won a league title. In five full seasons as Tottenham’s main striker, he has yet to fail to make the 20-goal mark, with his haul of 41 goals in 48 matches across all competitions in 2017/18 being his highest point to date. He’s already become Tottenham’s all-time top goalscorer in the Premier League, and he’s already gone way beyond the 100 goal mark in the league too.
While Kane has yet to win any trophies with his team, he has taken his fair share of individual honours already. The Spurs star won the World Cup’s Golden Boot in 2018, he’s been voted the Premier League’s Player of the Month on 6 occasions, has been named in the Premier League’s Team of the Year for the past 4 seasons, and he was even awarded an OBE recently. For a player this good, it seems only a matter of time before trophies – perhaps a Premier League title – follow.
#8 Daniele De Rossi
Another one-club man, Daniele De Rossi has spent a crazy amount of time in Roma’s first team. He’s currently in his 18th season at the club, but unfortunately the defensive midfielder made his debut in the 2001/02 season – missing their famous Scudetto triumph by one season. And while De Rossi has managed to win the Coppa Italia twice and the Supercoppa Italia once, the best league position he’s reached with Roma is 2nd – on a ridiculous 9 occasions, too.
That’s not to say De Rossi hasn’t seen huge success throughout his career; he won the World Cup with Italy in 2006 despite missing four of their matches in that tournament due to suspension and was then involved in the Italy side who finished as runners-up in Euro 2012. He was also heavily involved in Roma’s famous Champions League comeback against Barcelona in 2017/18.
Could De Rossi have won a league title had he left Roma? Potentially, but then like the legendary Francesco Totti before him – another one-club man at Roma – if he had left for more glory then he probably wouldn’t be recognised as such a legend at the Stadio Olimpico. And for a player as loyal as De Rossi, you get the feeling that becoming only the second player after Totti to make 600 appearances for Roma probably counted as much for him as any trophy could’ve done.
#9 Klaas-Jan Huntelaar
One of the most prolific strikers of recent years, Dutch hitman Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is perhaps the most surprising name on this list – not so much due to his talent, but more because it’s simply unbelievable that he’s never managed to lift a league title when you consider the clubs he’s played for over his career. Huntelaar – currently in the midst of his 17th professional season – has spent 6 years at Ajax over two stints, and even had a season apiece at Real Madrid and AC Milan. All 3 clubs have won a huge amount of titles – and yet they couldn’t manage it with Huntelaar in their side.
That’s not a slight on his skills, either. Admittedly, Huntelaar was not as prolific in La Liga or in Serie A as he has been in the Eredivisie or Bundesliga – his record of 8 goals in 20 appearances for Real doesn’t make for great reading – but any striker who was able to score 126 goals in 240 appearances for Schalke in Germany has to be pretty great.
2018/19 might be the season that changes things for Huntelaar, though. Ajax have finished as runners-up in the Eredivisie on 4 occasions with him in the side, but this season they may yet win the league title. They’re currently in 2nd place, two points behind leaders PSV Eindhoven, with 6 games to go. At the age of 35, it doesn’t look like Huntelaar will be around for much longer – so it’d be quite poetic if he finally won a league title this season.
#10 Juan Mata
Spanish midfielder Juan Mata is definitely one of the more successful players of the modern era. He was part of the famous Spain squad that won the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 European Championship – he scored in the final of the latter – and he’s also won the UEFA Champions League with Chelsea as well as the FA Cup and Europa League at both Chelsea and Manchester United. Thus far though, a league title has evaded him.
You could definitely make an argument that Mata has perhaps the worst timing in football; he moved to Chelsea for the beginning of the 2011/12 season, just two seasons after they won the Premier League under Carlo Ancelotti – but his best finish at Stamford Bridge was 3rd place in both 2012/13 and 2013/14. Next he moved to Manchester United, who were reigning champions, but since then the Red Devils have finished 2nd at best.
Whether Mata will ever capture a league title is a big question mark. Recent reports linked him with a move to Barcelona – which would obviously increase his chance of winning a title greatly – but that rumour was apparently false. Either way, it looks like he’ll be departing Old Trafford this summer – meaning he’ll have to choose his next destination wisely if he wants to remove himself from this list