Liverpool were due to receive the Premier League trophy at Anfield on Saturday. They will get another chance, but these players won’t. They are the 50 best players who never won the title in England.
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50: Ruud Gullit
Ruud Gullit loved sexy football but he never played for a team sexy enough to win the title in England. Does he care? Probably not. After all, during his career he established himself as one of the best players the world had ever seen.
In 10 years between 1983 and 1993, he won six league titles with Feyenoord, PSV Eindhoven and AC Milan. He won back-to-back European Cups in an incredible Milan side which included the likes of Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and Franco Baresi.
His finest achievement with Holland was winning the 1988 European Championship in West Germany. Eyebrows were raised when Chelsea signed him on a free transfer in 1995 when he was 33. Ruud still had it, but it would be a few more years before Chelsea became genuine title challengers.
He played a part in that happening on and off the pitch. He became Chelsea player-manager in 1996 and led the team out at Wembley when they won the FA Cup the following summer.
49: Les Ferdinand
Les Ferdinand made his name at QPR where he was known for his pace, power and finishing.
He came closest to winning the title when his 25 goals helped Newcastle build a 12-point lead over Manchester United in 1996. An alarming spring slump though saw Kevin Keegan’s side lose out to United, their fate all but sealed by a 4-3 defeat at Liverpool.
Ferdinand was part of the Newcastle side that finished runners-up again to United the following season, although they were never really engaged in the title race. He left for Spurs that summer and won the League Cup there in 1999.
He would almost certainly have won multiple titles if a 1994 move from QPR to Manchester United had not fallen through.
48: Johnny Haynes
When Johnny Haynes started playing for Fulham in 1952 the singles chart had just been invented and Vera Lynn had three songs in the Top Ten. When he finished at Craven Cottage in 1970, everyone had long hair and Led Zeppelin had just released their third album.
In all, Haynes spent 18 years at Fulham and played for them through thick and thin in three divisions. He was famous for his passing, and according to veteran football writer Brian Glanville “he did not very often bother to beat his man, he let the ball do that”.
He captained England 22 times and won 56 caps. If it had not been for his loyalty to unfashionable Fulham he would have almost certainly won major honours. As it was, he had to wait until he was 37 before he won anything – a league title with Durban City in South Africa.
47: Fernando Torres
Rafa Benitez spent £24m on Fernando Torres in 2007 in order to turn Liverpool from one of Europe’s best cup sides into regular Premier League title challengers.
In his second season, Torres and Steven Gerrard went close to bringing the title back to Anfield. Liverpool lost just twice in the league all season and they beat Manchester United home and away, but they still finished four points behind Sir Alex Ferguson’s champions. It represented the peak of Torres’ club career as a combination of injuries and loss of form undermined his confidence.
A £50m move to Chelsea in 2011 didn’t work out even though he was part of the squad that won the Champions League in 2012. He didn’t win a title at any of his five clubs, but he won two European Championships and the World Cup with Spain.
46: Frank Worthington
Frank Worthington looked like Elvis and played like George Best. In 1978/79 he was playing for a struggling Bolton side who finished 17th. He somehow still scored 24 times to beat Kenny Dalglish and end the season as the leading scorer in the First Division.
Some of his best goals are on YouTube, including an incredible strike against Ipswich. If you have time on your hands there’s also a touching portrait online written by Daniel Taylor which sums Worthington up perfectly.
Worthington retired in 1992 with eight England caps and a Second Division winner’s medal. He would have won a lot more medals and England caps if a move to Liverpool had not fallen through in 1972.
45: Terry Butcher
When Terry Butcher left Ipswich in 1986 after eight seasons at Portman Road, he moved to a club where he was guaranteed to win the title – the Scottish title.
At Rangers, Butcher won three titles in five seasons before he moved back to become player-manager of Coventry in 1990.
Anyone who doubts his quality should look back at some of his performances for Ipswich, Rangers and England. He was a first-choice centre back for England for almost all of the 1980s and he played in three World Cups.
He almost moved to Manchester United in 1986. If he had, it is easy to imagine him forming a central defensive partnership with Paul McGrath which could have helped United win even more titles than they eventually did under Sir Alex Ferguson.
44: Youri Djorkaeff
Youri Djorkaeff was a Bolton galactico. There was a time not too long ago when you could go to the Reebok Stadium and watch world-class players like Jay-Jay Okocha, Ivan Campo, Fernando Hierro, Nicolas Anelka, Eidur Gudjohnsen and Djorkaeff.
Djorkaeff was a French World Cup and European Championship winner when he arrived at Bolton in February 2002. He had been the one of the key creative forces in those all-conquering France sides and Sam Allardyce described him as the biggest signing in Bolton’s history.
His impact was immediate and his quality and goals helped Bolton avoid relegation and go on to establish themselves as a Premier League side.
Djorkaeff was 33 when he moved to England. If he’d joined a bigger club when he was younger he would almost certainly have been a multiple title winner. That’s how good he was.
43: Rodney Marsh
Rodney Marsh joined QPR in 1966 and helped lift them from the Third Division to the top flight, becoming club captain and scoring 104 league goals in six years.
The standout moment of his career came in 1967, when QPR won the League Cup in the first final at Wembley, with Marsh scoring the winner from 25 yards in a 3-2 win against West Brom. QPR, who were a third-tier side playing against First Division opponents, had been losing 2-0 at half time.
During the 1970s, Marsh became famous as one of the game’s great entertainers and high-flying Manchester City bought him for a then club-record £200,000 in 1972.
It was seen as a peculiar signing, not least because his arrival appeared to upset the balance of Malcolm Allison’s side. They were were four points clear at the top of the table when Marsh arrived in March, but fell away alarmingly before finishing fourth.
Marsh’s England career was limited to nine caps because Sir Alf Ramsey was thought to be unimpressed by his work ethic.
42: Clive Allen
Part of a famous footballing family dynasty, Clive Allen’s England opportunities were limited by the emergence of Gary Lineker in the mid-1980s. At club level, his brilliant finishing both inside and outside the penalty area made him a £1.25m player in 1980 when he moved from QPR to Arsenal, where he never made an appearance.
Allen returned to QPR via Crystal Palace, and moved to Tottenham in 1984. He scored 10 goals in 18 games as his new club ran eventual title-winners Everton close before finishing third.
He hit his peak under David Pleat, scoring 49 goals in 1986/87 as Spurs again finished third in Division One and reached the League Cup semi-final. They also appeared in the FA Cup final that year, losing to Coventry despite Allen opening the scoring inside two minutes.
Allen is still remembered as one of the finest goalscorers of his generation.
41: Jay-Jay Okocha
Forget everything you think you know about Sam Allardyce. While he was Bolton manager, not only did he transform them into a Premier League club, but he also signed some of the most talented players in the world.
One of those was Jay-Jay Okocha. He was famously so good that they named him twice. He moved to Bolton from Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2002 and quickly established himself as one of the most talented players in the Premier League.
Allardyce described him as the best captain he ever had. Not bad for a player who was dismissed by some as a mercenary when he moved to England.
He never won the title at the seven clubs he played for, but he did win the African Cup of Nations with Nigeria in 1994.
40: Robbie Keane
Robbie Keane hit the headlines in 1997 when he was just 17 with two goals on his Wolves debut in a 2-0 win at Norwich. Two years later he moved to Coventry, then Inter Milan and Leeds.
It was at Tottenham though where he felt most at home, especially when he was playing up front with Dimitar Berbatov. A £20m move to Liverpool in 2008 didn’t work out and he returned to play for two more seasons at Spurs.
He retired in 2018. By then he had scored 325 times in 737 games for 11 clubs. He also played a record 146 times for Ireland, scoring a record 68 goals. He was such a good finisher, we’ll even forgive him his trademark cartwheel, forward roll, pistol-shooting celebration.
39: Edgar Davids
Edgar Davids played for some of the most famous clubs in the world – Juventus, Ajax, Barcelona, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Spurs – and Barnet. He made his name under Louis van Gaal at Ajax and was an integral part of the legendary side that won the Champions League final in 1995.
At Ajax he played alongside Clarence Seedorf and had Frank Rijkaard behind him. In front of him were Jari Litmanen and Ronald de Boer, and Marc Overmars to his left.
Van Gaal called him “The Pitbull” and he went on to become one of the best midfielders of his generation, winning three more titles with Juventus to add to the three he had won at Ajax.
He was 32 by the time he moved to Spurs on a free transfer in 2005. Spurs finished fifth in his two seasons at White Hart Lane. He was past his prime by that stage but he still impressed and became a firm fans’ favourite.
If he had moved to England when he was at the peak of his powers there’s no question he would have been good enough to be a key member of a title-winning side.
38: Tony Currie
Tony Currie was a Chelsea fan who became a Sheffield United legend. He may have looked laid-back on the pitch but he had a sublime first touch, breath-taking passing ability and an eye for a spectacular goal or two.
Manchester United tried to sign him in 1973 but he turned them down because he wanted to stay at Bramall Lane. Sheffield United eventually sold him to Leeds in 1976 and he stood out at Elland Road in a side on the decline after their successes under Don Revie.
At international level he deserved many more caps than the 17 he won playing for England. In 1974 Sir Alf Ramsey told Currie he was going to build a new England team around him but he was replaced by Revie soon after.
In 2018, 50 years after joining Sheffield United, the South Stand at Bramall Lane was named after Currie. He has also been voted the club’s greatest-ever player.
Juninho arrived in the Premier League in 1995 just as the competition was establishing itself as the richest and most glamorous in the world. Just months after shining for Brazil with an eye-catching display against England at Wembley, Juninho’s £4.75m move from Sao Paulo to newly-promoted Middlesbrough stunned just about everybody.
His club’s erratic form didn’t prevent Juninho becoming a hero at the Riverside Stadium. They reached both domestic cup finals in 1997 but a failure to fulfil a fixture at Blackburn Rovers in February of that year saw them deducted three points. That turned out to be the difference between staying up and going down at the end of Juninho’s second season.
The enduring image of Juninho’s brilliant 1996/97 campaign were his tears at Leeds, where a 1-1 draw confirmed Middlesbrough’s relegation. However, he returned for two more stints with Boro, and there was to be a happy ending in his third spell when he helped the club win the 2004 League Cup.
36: Norman Whiteside
It is safe to say that if it hadn’t been for injuries, Norman Whiteside would have gone on to become one of the greatest players ever to play in England. That’s not to take anything away from what he did achieve before he was forced to retire in 1991 when he was just 26.
He made his Manchester United debut when he was just 16 and will always be remembered for the remarkable extra-time winner he scored against Everton in the 1985 FA Cup final when United were down to 10 men.
At international level, he broke Pele’s record to become the youngest player to play at a World Cup when he was 17 in 1982.
If it hadn’t been for those knee injuries, he would surely have become an integral part of the United team that started winning titles again the 1990s. He didn’t win the title, but he did win two FA Cups – and in one final he scored one of United’s and Wembley’s all-time great goals.
35: Steve Perryman
Steve Perryman won six major trophies for Tottenham, making him the club’s most decorated player – but the league title was the one that got away.
He made a total of 854 appearances for Tottenham in all competitions – 550 as captain – over a 17-year spell at White Hart Lane. He maintained that while Glenn Hoddle conducted the orchestra at Spurs, he got the musicians there on time. He credits his consistency and his ability to avoid injury as the main reasons he stayed at the top for such a long time.
Perryman perhaps came closest to winning the title in 1984/85 when Spurs ran Everton close for most of the season before finishing third. There were plenty of highs though during a brilliant career including two UEFA Cups in 1972 and 1984, two League Cups as well as back-to-back FA Cups as captain in 1981 and 1982 – both after gruelling replays.
Incredibly, Perryman only played once for England – against Iceland in 1982.
34: Billy Bonds
For some reason Billy Bonds never played for England. It is one of football’s great mysteries. Bonds was named as a substitute in a World Cup qualifier against Italy in 1977 but never made it off the bench.
Bonds had moved to West Ham from Charlton in 1967 and over the next two decades he earned a fearsome reputation as a defender and midfielder with an uncompromising style and an incredible will to win.
He twice won the FA Cup and his 663 appearances for West Ham are a club record. His contribution to the club was recognised last year when a stand at the London Stadium was named after him.
33: Stan Bowles
Stan Bowles caught the eye of future employers QPR when he played at Loftus Road for Carlisle shortly after the departure of Rodney Marsh in 1972. One of the footballing icons of the 1970s, he eventually took on the No 10 mantle vacated by Marsh with effortless panache.
In 1976, he came within 14 minutes of winning QPR’s first league title after playing a starring role in the club’s greatest-ever side. Rangers were leading the table on completion of their fixtures and 10 days later needed relegation-threatened Wolves to beat Liverpool at Molineux on the final day. Wolves led until Kevin Keegan’s 76th minute equaliser for Liverpool, who ran out 3-1 winners to claim the title by one point.
Ernie Tagg, his manager at Crewe Alexandra, once joked that if Bowles could pass a betting shop as well as he passed a ball, he’d be rich man.
32: Marcel Desailly
What a player. What a CV. A World Cup, a European Championship, two Champions Leagues, two Serie A titles and the FA Cup. Desailly is arguably the greatest French defender of all time – and he could play in midfield as well.
He spent six years at Chelsea after moving to Stamford Bridge from AC Milan in 1998. In his six seasons in London Chelsea finished third, fifth, sixth, sixth, fourth and second. When he left, they won back-to-back titles under Jose Mourinho and Roman Abramovich.
31: Ledley King
Ledley King was once described as “the modern day Paul McGrath” by Harry Redknapp for his ability to produce high-level performances while nursing a chronic knee problem which restricted his training regime.
King showed promise early on for Tottenham under George Graham but began approaching his peak after Martin Jol took over in 2004. He went to Euro 2004 and the 2010 World Cup and can be considered unlucky that his generation of England centre backs included John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Jamie Carragher and one-time Spurs team-mates Jonathan Woodgate and Sol Campbell.
With his knee condition steadily debilitating him, King remained a key player as Tottenham unexpectedly qualified for the Champions League under Redknapp in 2010 ahead of big-spending Manchester City.
While never involved fully in a title race, he surely would have been if he had played for a so-called bigger club than Spurs.
30: Gianluca Vialli
Gianluca Vialli had just won the Champions League with Juventus when he arrived at Chelsea in 1996. Ruud Gullit had succeeded Glenn Hoddle as manager and he was determined to make Chelsea genuine title challengers.
Vialli could play anywhere across the front line and he had established his reputation in Italy linking up with forwards such as Roberto Mancini, Roberto Baggio, Alessandro Del Piero and Fabrizio Ravenelli. He had won nine major honours in Italy and was nearing the end of his playing days when he moved to London.
Despite an uneasy relationship with Gullit, he still won the FA Cup, the League Cup and the European Cup Winners’ Cup as a player and player-manager at Chelsea.
29: Des Walker
There aren’t enough superlatives to describe how good Des Walker was. On his day he was the best defender in the world. “You’ll Never Beat Des Walker” was one of the terrace chants of the Eighties and Nineties. He was so good for England at the World Cup in Italy in 1990 that he was compared to Bobby Moore.
He played for Nottingham Forest, Sampdoria and Sheffield Wednesday and retired in 2004 after playing for 20 seasons. He won two League Cups in his first spell at Forest. When you see world-class defenders like Virgil van Dijk and Harry Maguire moving clubs for more than £70m, you have to wonder how much Walker would be worth today.
As far as Forest and Wednesday fans were concerned, he was priceless.
28: Didier Deschamps
What’s a player who was in England for only one season doing on this list? Despite what many people may think, Didier Deschamps was no ordinary defensive midfielder. Only three men have won the World Cup as a player and a manager and Deschamps is in that exclusive club with Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer.
Deschamps started out at the same Nantes academy that produced players such as Marcel Desailly and Claude Makelele. By the time he arrived at Chelsea in 1999 he had already won five titles in France and Italy and the World Cup.
Eric Cantona famously described as Deschamps as a “water carrier” who was “nothing special”. Cantona said you could find players like Deschamps on every street corner.
Deschamps was bemused when he heard what his former team-mate had said about him: “How many players can you find on a street corner who have won two Champions Leagues?” he said. “Anyway, every team needs a water carrier.” And so does this list.
27: Ray Wilkins
Ray Wilkins captained Chelsea at the age of just 17 during a period of turmoil at the club where he made his name.
A move to Manchester United resulted in a memorable FA Cup replay win over Brighton in 1983, but the club’s accomplishments in cup competitions failed to compensate for their failure to hunt down Liverpool, who were at the heart of their period of dominance both domestically and in Europe.
Wilkins’ passing ability, eye for goal and ability to start and finish off moves made him an influential performer at Old Trafford. An established England international, he headed for AC Milan where he became known as the ‘crab’ for his apparent preference for sideways passing.
Spells at PSG, Rangers and QPR followed and in Scotland he won two league titles in 1989 and 1990. He also won a league title at Chelsea – as assistant manager in 2010.
26: Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse joined his hometown club Bolton in 1939 and he is still their record goalscorer 81 years later. He was a one-club man who scored 285 times for Bolton and an incredible 30 in 33 games for England.
He was “The Tank” and “The Lion of Vienna” and he played liked the Alan Shearer of his day. His one major honour came in the famous 1958 FA Cup victory against Manchester United. Lofthouse scored both goals in a 2-0 win. The second is one of the most famous and controversial goals in Wembley history.
As United goalkeeper Harry Gregg was catching the ball, he was barged over the line by Lofthouse. “If I had been in Nat’s place, I would have done the same,” Gregg said.
Football was a different game in those days.
Don’t forget to return to the Sky Sports website and app later for Part Two as we count down the top 25 players never to conquer the English league.
Additional research by James Magee
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