Ranked: The 10 best players of the modern era to never win a league title

As a collective sport, sometimes in football outstanding individuals never quite enjoyed a level of success that might’ve correlated with their talent.

The likes of Socrates, Bobby Moore and Stanley Matthews never won a league title and nobody questions their greatness.

Nowadays, as things become more stratified, a few select clubs tend to monopolise silverware and hoard the very best talent – but in the modern era you still get the odd outlier of an exceptional player lacking in glory.

We’ve taken a look at 10 brilliant players from the modern era – 1992 onwards, we’re saying – that never won a league title. Note: we’re talking top-flight titles only here. Some of these names did win the league in the second or third tiers.

10. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink

You might not think of Hasselbaink as a world-class superstar, but he is 16th in the all-time Premier League goalscorers list, ahead of legendary names like Didier Drogba, Ian Wright and Cristiano Ronaldo, and he twice won the Golden Boot.

The former Netherlands international represented the likes of Leeds United (back when they were a nascent force), Atletico Madrid and most notably Chelsea. But the silverware he ever lifted was a Charity Shield with Chelsea and a Taca de Portugal with Boavista.

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9. Jamie Carragher

Like Gerrard, Carragher was one of the homegrown poster boys of Liverpool’s miraculous 2005 Champions League triumph. But like Gerrard, the Premier League famously eluded him.

“It’s well documented that we didn’t win a league title during my time at the club, so I think a lot of managers will look back at signings that didn’t quite get Liverpool over the line when I played,” he reminisced in an interview with Sky Sports.

He’s probably got a point there. Liverpool’s 2020 winners had assembled the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Alisson and Mohamed Salah. Carra cited the likes of missteps like Alberto Aquilani and El Hadji Diouf as reasons the Reds never won it during his 17 years at Anfield.

8. Giuseppe Signore

Having made his debut in 1984, the Italian forward arguably stretches the definition of “modern era” here. But his peak years for Italy and Lazio came in the mid-90s, which meets our threshold.

Beppe was astonishingly prolific for the Biancocelesti, notching 107 goals in 152 Serie A appearances for the club.

He won the Capocannoniere award for the league’s top scorer three times and in 1993 – a golden age for world-class players in Italy – was voted Serie A’s best player by the Italian magazine Guerin d’Oro.

But Signore’s trophy cabinet is conspicuously lacking. No silverware with Lazio. An Intertoto Cup with Bologna, and lower-league titles with Piacenza and Foggia.

7. Robbie Fowler

Of the five clubs that Fowler represented in English football, four of them have won a league title since 1990 – Leeds United, Liverpool, Blackburn Rovers and Manchester City.

But the stars never aligned for the striker – scorer of 163 Premier League goals – to be in the right place at the right time.

6. Jay-Jay Okocha

Okay, the Nigerian did all he could conceivably achieve in English football – bringing unadulterated joy to Big Sam’s Bolton Wanderers, who were never going to compete for any major silverware.

But before that unforgettable stint at the Reebok, Okocha did turn out for clubs in a position to compete for titles – Fenerbahce, PSG – but only ever lifted relatively minor cups.

Bolton's Jay Jay Okocha celebrates scoring against Charlton in the Premiership at the Reebok Stadium, Bolton, Saturday August 14, 2004.

READ: A tribute to the sensational Jay-Jay Okocha & that brilliant Bolton team

5. Marco Reus

Surely the best player that’s never won major silverware under Jurgen Klopp, Reus signed for hometown club Borussia Dortmund in 2012, back when they were the Bundesliga champions, and fresh from being named Kicker’s Bundesliga Player of the Season during his final season with Borussia Monchengladbach.

Reus was sensational for Klopp’s Dortmund, notching 53 goals and 44 assists in 121 appearances under his compatriot. But his arrival coincided with Bayern winning a treble and kicking off an imperial era of 11 league titles in a row.

The 34-year-old came closest to winning the Bundesliga last season, when Dortmund choked on the final day. A 2-2 draw at home to Mainz on the final day saw them pipped to the post by the most ordinary Bayern side in a decade.

He’ll never get another opportunity that good again. Agonising.

4. Fernando Torres

A World Cup. A Champions League. Exactly two hundred league goals in his career. A CV that includes Atletico Madrid, Liverpool, Chelsea and AC Milan. And yet no league title with any of them.

A league title even eluded Torres in his swansong, with Japanese J League outfit Sagan Tosu, who narrowly avoided relegation during his two seasons there.

3. Antoine Griezmann

Griezmann was France’s best player when they won the World Cup in 2018. That year, the French forward finished third in the Ballon d’Or rankings and there’s certainly an argument he should’ve won it ahead of Luka Modric.

He was once again superb in the run to the final in 2022. And he’s now Atletico Madrid’s all-time top goalscorer, having done some extraordinary things since returning to the club from Barcelona.

But his club career has been characterised by near-misses. He signed for Atleti when they were reigning La Liga champions in 2014. He was at Barcelona when they won a second title under Diego Simeone in 2020-21. Barca won titles immediately before and after his short-lived stint at the Camp Nou.

There’s still time for Griezmann to win a league title, aside from the Segunda Division with Real Sociedad when he was still a nipper. We can certainly see it happening in MLS, for instance.

But at the age of 33, and with Real Madrid building a terrifying superteam, it increasingly looks as though that ship has sailed in Spain.

TRY A QUIZ: Can you name the top 50 goalscorers across Europe’s major leagues since 2000?

2. Steven Gerrard

“The best there is, the best there was… and the best there ever will be,” Torres posted on social media after linking up with his old pal in a charity match at Anfield.

No wonder El Nino thought that. He enjoyed an otherworldly connection with the legendary Liverpool skipper on the pitch.

But, in general, it’s not a controversial shout – Gerrard is at least in the conversation as Liverpool’s best-ever player. To be that for the (joint-)most decorated club in English football, one with 19 titles, and not have one yourself must sting.

Particularly those 2008-09 and 2013-14 campaigns, when Liverpool got oh so close and Gerrard had peak Torres and Luis Suarez to supply. Could’ve. Would’ve. Should’ve?

1. Harry Kane

In fairness, unlike most of the players in this list Kane is still playing. And save for some unbelievable freak of fate, Kane will almost certainly end his career with at least one league title to his name.

But to reach the age of 30 as England and Tottenham’s all-time top goalscorers without a single piece of silverware is already quite something.

England (last won a trophy in 1966) and Tottenham (last won a league title in 1961) are the keywords there, though. With Kane spearheading their attacks, both his club and country have got closer to glory than they have in half a century.

The freaky thing is arriving at Bayern Munich just as their best challenger since Klopp’s Dortmund sprung out of nowhere. Maybe he really is cursed.

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