Far too often, players are judged merely by the trophies they won, but great talent doesn’t always guarantee great success.
The best players generally play for the best, most successful clubs, but that isn’t always the case. Think back as far as Tom Finney, for example – he’s regarded as one of England’s finest footballers of all time, yet a Second Division title was the only trophy he lifted during his career.
Here are some but certainly not every recent example of fantastic players who for one reason or another never won the silverware their talent warranted.
Antonio Di Natale
Wonderful Antonio Di Natale, proof that, while trophies are not meaningless when it comes to defining a player’s success, they are rendered second to cultural impact. And there’s no player quite like Di Natale for cultural impact.
Having not made his top-flight debut until the age of 25, Di Natale scored only 47 Serie A goals before turning 30. After that, things got a bit silly. In the five seasons between 2009 and 2014 (and the ages of 31 and 36), Di Natale scored 120 league goals.
“It was a choice of life for me,” is Di Natale’s explanation for his loyalty to Udinese. “I feel so good here in Udine, and the president’s family have always made me feel like I was one of them. Some things are worth more than money.”
He may have won no trophies, but it is more than a sugary cliche to say that Di Natale made thousands of friends for life.
Signori does actually have a trophy, but we’re not counting the Intertoto Cup given that it was effectively a pre-season qualification round for the UEFA Cup.
That means the Italian jumps into second place on this list. He may have scored 283 career league goals, scored 12 times for his country and played in six of Italy’s seven matches at the 1994 World Cup, but he never won a trophy.
Signori’s individual record was mightily impressive. He won the Capocannoniere award for top-scoring in Serie A for three seasons out of four in the early 1990s, and was also top scorer in the Coppa Italia twice.
But spending the majority of his career at Lazio and Bologna hampered his chance of domestic glory.
Lazio won the Coppa Italia, Cup Winners’ Cup, UEFA Super Cup and Serie A title in the three years after he left. Sure it was nothing personal.
He might not be the best player on this list, but Schneider certainly wins the award for the player who got closest to winning a trophy without ever managing it.
estimating guessing that no player has managed more caps internationally (he managed 81) without winning a trophy at domestic or international level.
Bundesliga: Runner-up 99–00, 01–02
DFB-Pokal: Runner-up 01–02, 08–09
Champions League: Runner-up 01–02
FIFA World Cup: Runner-up 02
What a sh*tter.
Matthew Le Tissier
The player around whom this list was designed, Le Tissier is not just a cult hero at Southampton but across the country for the loyalty he displayed through his career.
The closest he came to winning a trophy of any kind was in the Zenith Data Systems Cup against Nottingham Forest, when Southampton lost the final 3-2 at Wembley.
Some players may have post-retirement regrets about remaining at the same club, but Le Tissier? No.
“I played the game the way I wanted to play it, and had I gone on to a bigger club, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do that,” he says.
“I knew I probably wouldn’t win any honours, but when you’re at a club that size, staying in the Premier League for 16 years gave me as much pleasure as winning a medal if I’d gone somewhere else.”
Having left Bochum for Bayer Leverkusen in 2001, Basturk was part of one of the best ‘nearly teams’ of recent history.
Klaus Toppmoller’s team finished a point behind Borussia Dortmund and were pipped to the Bundesliga title despite leading by five points with three games remaining.
They then lost the DFB-Pokal final despite leading Schalke 1-0 after 45 minutes, and four days later would lose the Champions League final to Zinedine Zidane’s wonder volley at Hampden Park.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Basturk was then part of the Turkey team that finished third at the 2002 World Cup, having been beaten 1-0 by eventual champions Brazil. His ninth place in the 2002 Ballon d’Or was scant consolation.
While those outside the North East inevitably focus on Newcastle United’s strikers of years past when they talk of heroes, many Geordies have a special place in their heart reserved for Lee.
The notion of players at the biggest clubs being favoured by England is overplayed, but it is hard to wonder how Lee received only 21 caps. Had he been at a London Premier League club, Newcastle fans believe that number would have at least doubled.
Lee was a fabulous player to watch, skilful but with the passion and effort to impress every type of supporter.
He twice finished as runner-up in the Premier League and was twice a losing finalist in the FA Cup, all in the three-year period between 1996 and 1999.
The only honours he won were a second-tier title with Newcastle in 1993 and Le Tournoi in 1997. That doesn’t count, no matter what Roberto Carlos tries to tell you.
England’s nearly man. There are many supporters of Nottingham Forest and Liverpool who will talk long into the night about Collymore’s natural talent, but his three England caps and lack of any major career honours is testament to the problems that bubbled under the service.
Watching him at the City Ground was a dream, a striker who would collect the ball, turn and then run past defenders as if he were a different being from the opposition. The pace was extraordinary, but so too was the ball control and shooting accuracy.
A move to Liverpool and Spice Boys culture was the worst possible career move for Collymore’s personality, and it effectively cost him his career.
From then, promising 24-year-old became journeyman. A fantastically talented forward would retire at the age of 30.
Luigi Di Biagio
Runner-up in Serie A in 2002-03. Runner-up in the Coppa Italia in 1999-00. Runner-up in the Suppercoppa in 2000. Runner-up in the European Championship with Italy in 2000. Appearance maker in semi-finals of the Champions League and UEFA Cup.
Di Biagio was capped 31 times by Italy, played over three hundred matches for Inter and Roma at times when both were successful, yet somehow he managed never to win a trophy. It’s actually an impressive feat.
A staple of these type of countdowns, Bull’s place was secured by his 13 England caps, including four appearances at Italia ‘90, that behemoth of English sporting culture.
The last player to be capped outside of England’s top two tiers, that is a record that Bull can surely take into old age.
He scored 306 times in 561 matches for Wolves but only won titles in the fourth and third tier, adding the Football League Trophy in 1988.
They may be more talented trophyless players in other European countries, but none received more nominations in my unscientific survey.
Doni made the list at the last moment after a social media nomination, but I already felt a little uncomfortable for including Adrian Mutu, whose only two medals were revoked by the Calciopoli scandal of Italian football. Don’t worry Adrian, they still count.
Instead it’s Doni, an Atalanta legend who stayed around for too long to have a realistic chance of trinkets.
Having joined in 1998 from Brescia, the playmaker stayed for five years before leaving for Sampdoria and then Mallorca at the age of 30.
By 2006, at 33, he was back at Atalanta, and still managed another 150 league games (and 48 goals) before being banned for three and a half years for match-fixing, ending his career. Still, he did play seven times for Italy.