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Coral’s one club players: modern era XI of superb stalwarts

La Liga outfit Athletic Bilbao are famous for only fielding Basque players so, with such a small pool to pick from, loyalty and longevity are crucial qualities for the Lions.

To honour this, the Basque Country club recently created a “One Club Man Award” for players who have spent their career with just one professional-level employer, which is often a rarity in modern football.

Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier, who spent 16 seasons with the Saints, is the first to have been recognised and told press: “It certainly was a big surprise and a very pleasant one too. I am incredibly proud.”

So, Bilbao’s sentimental crowning of Le Tissier got Coral writers thinking: which other fantastic talents from the modern era have spent their career toiling for one team?

Here’s our starting XI of the most superb stalwarts to fulfil the criteria…

Formation: 4-3-3

Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid)
It’s not easy for any player to force their way through Madrid’s Castilla and into a starting XI of superstars, but Los Blancos custodian Casillas did just that.

A terrific trophy haul of five La Liga titles and three Champions League trophies later, the Spain stopper’s future may now be in doubt, yet 16 seasons and over 500 appearances for ruthless Real is nothing to be sniffed at.

Take a peek at Casillas’ top saves:

Right back: Gary Neville (Manchester United)
Reliable right back Neville was a devoted Red Devil for 19 seasons, and the born-and-bred Mancunian’s consistency never gave Sir Alex Ferguson a reason to doubt him defensively. A prominent member of the lauded Class of ’92 and 1999 treble-winning team, the full back’s never-say-die attitude makes him a shoe-in for our XI.

Centre back: Carles Puyol (Barcelona)
La Masia graduate Puyol was tenacious and a born leader for boyhood club Barca (who are 7/4 with Coral to win the Champions League). The determined defender was apparently almost sold in 1998 but refused to leave. It was a decision that paid dividends, as Puyol went on to skipper the club and lift six La Liga crowns.

Centre back: Tony Adams (Arsenal)
Former Gunners great Adams made 504 appearances for Arsenal after signing on as a schoolboy, tasting success that included two league and cup doubles, with the erstwhile defender etching his name into Highbury history.

Left back: Paolo Maldini (AC Milan)
Milan man Maldini is one of the greatest defenders to have ever graced the game. The adaptable defender’s anticipation and intelligence ensured he enjoyed a long and fruitful career with the San Siro side.

For sticking by the Italian giants for 25 terms, Maldini was rewarded with seven Serie A medals plus five Champions League cups.

Defensive midfield: Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich)
Boyhood Bayern star Schweinsteiger is an excellent all-rounder. The midfield shield is equally capable of covering for the defence or driving forward, and his long stint with the German giants (11/4 to lift the Champions League) has yielded eight Bundesliga trophies.

Central midfield: Xavi Hernandez (Barcelona)
Another Barca boy, Xavi will prove immensely hard to replace once the crafty and calculating Catalan schemer hangs up his boots. The King of tika-taka has kept the Nou Camp club ticking over since 1998 and his silverware haul, including seven La Liga medals, is hard to beat.

Central midfield: Paul Scholes (Manchester United)
Quiet and studious Scholes was renowned for his peerless passing and vision plus the odd mis-timed tackle. A serial Champions League and Premier League winner, the playmaker is another Class of ’92 alumni to have also played a crucial part in the 1999 treble.

View a snapshot of Scholes’ genius here:

Right wing: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Saving the best until last, incredible Argentine Messi has been the catalyst behind most of Barca’s recent success. Four Ballon d’Or trophies plus three Champions League winners medals and six title triumphs in La Liga are the tangible results of this once in a generation talent’s 11 seasons at the Nou Camp, including over 400 goals.

Watch Messi’s great goal against Getafe:

Centre forward: Francesco Totti (Roma)
Giallorossi icon Totti is another rare breed of player in the modern era to have stood by his club, particularly when Roma were far behind traditional big boys Juventus and AC Milan.

The flexible forward, now 38, is the Italian capital club’s all-time top scorer with 298 across all competitions, but has lifted the Scudetto just once, finishing runner-up seven times.

Left wing: Ryan Giggs (Manchester United)
Despite a stint in Manchester City’s youth set-up, the Red Devils legend spent his entire senior career, spanning 24 seasons, at Old Trafford.

The Welsh wizard’s impressive 13 Premier League titles and two Champions League crowns make him the most decorated player in English club history, and also in our XI.

View the best of Giggs below:

Subs bench: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow); Gary Kelly (Leeds United); Ledley King (Tottenham); Daniele De Rossi (Roma); Andres Iniesta (Barcelona); Julen Guerrero (Athletic Bilbao); Matt Le Tissier (Southampton).