11 players who could have moved to bigger clubs but chose to stay

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Sometimes in football, it is better to be a hero at one club than risk being just another player somewhere else. And Tottenham, Newcastle United and Leeds United are among those to have benefitted from such players.

The likes of Paolo Maldini and Ryan Giggs will rightly be remembered as legends for spending their entire careers at a single club, but in all honesty it’s easy to stay loyal when you’re playing for one of the best teams in the world.

Here are some players who could have bettered themselves at least once during their career but chose to stay as the big fish at their existing club, earning themselves hero status in the process.

Wilfried Zaha

Zaha has already tasted life at one of the biggest clubs in the world with an unhappy two years at Manchester United which yielded just two Premier League appearances.

While the winger was still young and perhaps not ready for such a big move then, he is truly special now.

The 25-year-old is arguably the best player in the Premier League outside of the top six and would have had no shortage of suitors were he to agitate for a move.

Instead, he has decided to remain loyal to Crystal Palace, signing a new five-year contract at Selhurst Park.

READ: Wilfried Zaha: Not good enough for Man Utd then, but truly special now

Jamie Vardy

In the summer of 2016, fresh from winning the Premier League with Leicester City, Vardy had the release clause in his contract met by Arsenal.

Aged 29, it almost certainly represented his last chance to play for one of England’s biggest clubs and complete his remarkable rise from non-league, but Vardy chose to stay put, signing a new four-year contract.

N’Golo Kante went to Chelsea and won the title again, but Vardy continued to bang them in at the King Power Stadium and claims to have never once regretted the decision.

Lucas Radebe

A legendary figure at Leeds United and the man Nelson Mandela described as his “hero”, Radebe established himself as one of the best defenders in the country with the Whites.

And he only cemented his status as an Elland Road favourite by revealing he rejected a move to fierce rivals Manchester United.

“I wouldn’t wear red. Only the white rose, not the red rose,” he told SuperSport in 2015.

Rather than have Radebe on their side, the Red Devils were instead left frustrated as the South African became a makeshift goalkeeper one afternoon at Old Trafford – yet again explaining why he is so loved in West Yorkshire.

READ: A forensic analysis of Lucas Radebe playing in goal against Man Utd

Matt Le Tissier

A one-club man, Le Tissier was the subject of interest from Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester United throughout his career but instead chose to battle against relegation year after year with Southampton.

“I enjoyed being a big fish in a medium-sized pond, the person in the team that most fans were coming to watch, just to see if I could do something,” he said.

Scoring the last ever goal at The Dell was just reward for a career dedicated to the Saints.


He came, he conquered, he cried, he left, then he just kept coming back again.

Juninho was a World Cup winner with Brazil in 2002 yet just couldn’t resist the allure of Middlesbrough, spending three spells at the Teesiders.

And he secured his place in Boro folklore by helping the club win their first ever major trophy with the 2004 League Cup, qualifying for Europe for the first time in the process.

READ: A tribute to the fantastic but flawed Middlesbrough side of 96-97 

Francesco Totti

It’s hard to argue with Totti’s career: 25 years at his hometown club, Roma’s leading goalscorer, one Scudetto, one World Cup, thousands of adoring supporters.

And Totti’s legend is only enhanced by the fact he rejected Real Madrid in 2003-04. While he admits he would have won the Champions League and Ballon d’Or at the Bernabeu, he has no regrets.

“At the end of the day, I had everything I wanted: love and passion were more important to me than winning trophies elsewhere,” he told Sky Sports Italia.

“I gave 101 per cent for Roma, because I put Roma ahead of myself, personal issues and a private life. Roma was everything.”

Antonio Di Natale

“There’s no player quite like Di Natale for cultural impact,” wrote Daniel Storey on a player who did not make his top-flight debut until the age of 25, before becoming Udinese’s greatest ever goalscorer.

“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.”

READ: 10 of the best players who never won a major trophy: Bull, Signori, Le Tissier…

Paul Gascoigne

There is a line of thought that Gascoigne’s life could have turned out very differently had he chosen to join Manchester United instead of Tottenham in 1988.

That, though, would ignore Sir Alex Ferguson’s treatment of Paul McGrath, a similarly troubled character who was shipped off to Aston Villa amid his own battles with personal demons.

Anyway, as it turns out, White Hart Lane, rather than Old Trafford, beckoned for Gazza, largely because Spurs were willing to pay for a house for the midfielder’s mum and dad and a sunbed for his sister.

At Tottenham, Gascoigne became one of the most exciting players in Europe thanks to his performances at Italia 90 with England, but he will always remain as one of football’s great ‘what if?’ stories.

Jay-Jay Okocha

From Enugu to Istanbul to Paris to, erm, Bolton. Okocha’s career path is certainly varied.

An enigmatic attacking midfielder does not sound like a Sam Allardyce kind of player, and yet it worked – so, so well.

Okocha acted as a mentor to Ronaldinho at PSG, such was his flair, but he thrived under Allardyce, who labelled the Nigerian as the club’s greatest ever player.

He undoubtedly could have left for a bigger club during his time in Lancashire – but a legend among fans and with the freedom to do more or less what he wanted on the pitch, who can blame him for staying put?

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

Alan Shearer

Shearer famously rejected Manchester United twice as a player, once as a 21-year-old when he moved from Southampton to Blackburn and again when he rejected Sir Alex Ferguson’s side in favour of boyhood club Newcastle United.

The striker won the Premier League with Blackburn and became Newcastle’s top goalscorer in history, but he had to watch on as United beat the Magpies twice in FA Cup finals and won a host of honours under Ferguson.

Shearer, however, insists he made the right decision.

“Of course I was tempted to join Manchester United, but I do not regret either decision,” he told​ The Sun.

“I had a magical time at Blackburn, winning the league. And I completed my own dream of playing for my home town club of Newcastle.

“I have memories I will hold forever and a goalscoring record that makes me extremely proud.”

Diego Maradona

For a player of his status, Maradona did not spend long at any of Europe’s biggest clubs.

He moved to Barcelona for a world-record fee after the 1982 World Cup, but his time at the Nou Camp was marred by a broken ankle, a mass brawl and a bout of hepatitis.

After two injury-hit seasons, Maradona left for Napoli, where he produced the best form of his career for club and country.

Napoli had never won the Scudetto, only for Maradona to inspire them to the title twice, while he was also the catalyst for Argentina’s World Cup triumph in 1986.

READ: 16 of the best quotes on Diego Maradona: ‘The greatest of all time’


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