Loyalty. It’s a word often banded around in footballing circles, usually when there is a lack of it. However some players have it in spades, and stick with their club through the good times and the bad.
The Premier League era has seen several cases of top talents choosing to remain loyal to their sides, and whilst that can be commendable, there can be no denying their ability perhaps belonged on a greater stage.
Here are five of the best Premier League players who never played for a top club…
Matt Le Tissier
Few players – if any – possess a highlight reel as aesthetically pleasing to watch as Le Tissier, who seemed to be in an annual Goal of the Season competition with himself throughout much of his 16-year career on the South Coast.
The first midfielder in the competition’s history to score 100 goals, Le Tissier’s loyalty to the Saints would ultimately see his career pass without major honours.
A place in English football’s hall of fame is some form of consolation, though the man known as ‘Le God’ by Southampton fans had the talent deserving of a bigger stage.
The former England forward’s career path is well documented, having risen from non-league to establish himself as a star in the Premier League.
His journey, taking in spells at the likes of Stocksbridge Park Steels and Fleetwood Town, saw him eventually join Leicester City, being part of the club’s memorable journey from the second tier to footballing history.
The focal point behind the club’s miraculous title success in 2016, his goalscoring exploits were rewarded with the Football Writer’s Footballer of the Year award.
He would reject the opportunity to join Arsenal in a show of loyalty to the Foxes, where he will be remembered as one of Leicester’s greatest ever player as he closes in on 100 Premier League goals for the club.
Paolo Di Canio
After brief spells with Celtic and Sheffield Wednesday, it would be at West Ham where the eccentric Di Canio made a name for himself, his passionate persona and ability to produce jaw-dropping pieces of skill endearing him to the Iron’s supporters.
His brilliance attracted the interest of the division’s leading sides, with Sir Alex Ferguson failing in his attempt to take him to Manchester United in 2001, though the Italian opted to stay at Upton Park where he would cement his status as an iconic figure in East London.
Having rejected the chance to move to Old Trafford and missing out on a whole host of silverware under Ferguson’s guidance, Di Canio remained at West Ham for a further 18 months until the Hammers relegation in 2003, spending a season with Charlton before returning to his native Italy in 2004.
Regarded as one of the greatest players in Middlesbrough’s history following his three separate spells on Teesside, the diminutive Brazilian’s brought a touch of class to the North East during his time in the Premier League.
Standing just 5ft 5, many would presume English football to be ill-suited to the playmaker’s talents, though he thrived after being persuaded to join Bryan Robson’ ill-fated but ambitious project.
The only player in history to be named as the Premier League’s Player of the Year whilst featuring for a relegated side, Juninho’s dazzling displays made him a hugely popular figure at Middlesbrough, further enhancing his popularity by leading the club to a first-ever major trophy during his third spell in 2004.
See also – All-time Premier League Brazilian XI
The now waistcoat-wearing England manager may be most remembered for his penalty miss at the 1996 European Championships, though that is doing a disservice to a lengthy Premier League career in which he was a dependable defender at Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough.
An intelligent reader of the game, Southgate could play in a variety of roles in both defence and midfield, whilst his leadership skills were evident as he was named captain at both Palace and Middlesbrough.
Capped 57 times during an impressive career on the international stage, Southgate was linked with a move to Manchester United following Rio Ferdinand’s eight-month ban for missing a drug test in 2004.
He would see out his playing career on Teesside before stepping into management – two League Cups being the only major honours during his playing days.