In sport the definition of success varies greatly. If you listen to nonsense spouted by celebrity narcissist Piers Morgan, it's all about winning and nothing else matters, but in reality the world isn't so black and white. Success has to be quantified and context has to be taken into consideration. The same goes for football. This is why clubs promoted to the Premier League often define success as finishing at least 17th in the final standings. They may not be winning a trophy, but they have still won by meeting their own realistic expectations.
Unsurprisingly expectation is a common topic of sports conversation. And sometimes an unofficial consensus forms between critics, fans and ex-pros that a sports person has failed to 'meet their potential'. Classic examples focus on individual sports, such as the best golfer/tennis player to never win a major, but it can easily be applied to sports teams too, like the biggest football club to never win the Champions League etc. So I got to thinking, which top footballers have won no major silverware?
Matt Le Tissier
The one-club legend from Guernsey scored 209 goals for Southampton, and is rightly revered not just on the south coast, but also around the football world. Xavi famously remarked about watching his "sickening" Premier League goals on TV as a child. We all know that he was criminally underused by England, how he only received 8 caps should be a source of embarrassment to Graham Taylor, Terry Venables and Glenn Hoddle.
Le Tissier had the goals and technique to warrant a place at almost any club side in his era, but his devotion to Southampton saw him turn down moves to Tottenham and Chelsea. This meant that an iconic career had little chance of gaining any accolades in the form of silverware, although the Saints did reach the final of the often forgotten Full Members Cup in 1992. Sadly for 'Le God', even though he scored in the final, his team were overpowered by Nottingham Forrest 3-2 after extra-time.
Sir Tom Finney
Another one-club player, and still the all-time record goalscorer for Preston North End, with 210 to his name. He was a regular for England, accumulating 76 caps across 12 years, and was the joint record goalscorer for his country too (30 with Nat Lofthouse) until a certain Bobby Charlton broke it in 1963.
Unfortunately, when it came to major honours Finney's time at Preston North End was a case of several agonising near-misses. In the 1952-53 season they finished runners-up to Arsenal in the league, losing out due to goal average (goals scored divided by goals conceded)! The club was league runners-up again in 1957-58 (5 points behind Wolves), and lost the 1954 FA Cup final to West Bromwich Albion 3-2, with the winner coming in the 87th minute.
Antonio Di Natale
The Italian striker only retired last summer, and spent the bulk of his career firstly at Empoli and then predominantly at Udinese. For most of his 12 seasons with 'The Little Zebras' he was a consistent goal-scoring machine, with his final tally being 227 goals in 446 appearances. It's a surprise that no really big clubs ever tried hard to prise him away, although he admitted to nearly joining Liverpool in 2008.
When it came to team success, in his 1st season with Udinese (2004/05) he helped them to a 4th place finish in Serie A, and they repeated the feat in 2010/11. The following campaign they bettered this with 3rd place, equalling the 2nd best finish in the history of the club. As for cup competitions, Di Natalie and Udinese suffered 4 narrow semi-final defeats in the Coppa Italia (2004/05,2005/06,2009/10 and 2013/14), to Roma, Inter, Roma and Fiorentina respectively.
However, it was for Italy that Di Natalie had his most gut-wrenching near miss. Over 10 years he picked up 42 caps, and in his final year with the national team he was a key part of the Euro 2012 squad that impressed their way to the final, only to be ripped apart by a rampant Spain at their peak.
The AC Milan captain is 31 and still has a few years on his side to claim some silverware, but it's a surprise that he is yet to get his hands on a trophy when considering his career so far. After starting with Atalanta, he secured a move to Fiorentina in 2005 and stayed with Viola for the next 7 seasons. In that time Montolivo and his teammates could be described as nearly men, they were twice 4th in Serie A, lost a UEFA Cup semi-final to Rangers (on penalties), and also lost a Coppa Italia semi.
In fairness it's the ongoing barren period at Milan that's the real surprise. Since Montolivo moved there in 2012, the club have been going through a rough patch when compared to their illustrious history. In his 1st season Milan finished 3rd in Serie A, but in the past 3 campaigns they've been 8th, 10th and 7th. That being said they did reach the Coppa Italia final last season, only to lose out to an extra-time goal against Juventus.
To cap it all off, Riccardo Montolivo, like Antonio Di Natale, was also a part of the Italian squad that found the Euro 2012 final a step too far.
It's important to note that Macdonald had the misfortune of retiring at just 29 years old, due to a knee injury that never sufficiently recovered. In the career that he managed he was a prolific goalscorer, most famously at Newcastle United and then at Arsenal, but his efforts were not quite rewarded.
For the 5 seasons Macdonald was with the Magpies he was their top scorer for every campaign. The club made it to the 1974 FA Cup final and the 1976 League Cup final, but both times they were unable to secure the silverware that Newcastle United fans continue to crave to this day. Once at Arsenal, Macdonald carried on his remarkable record of being top scorer for his club for another 2 seasons, but this included yet another FA Cup final loss in 1978. However, in 1979 Arsenal ended their trophy drought by winning the FA Cup; sadly Macdonald was ineligible for a medal due to the aforementioned knee injury which kept him out for virtually the whole campaign.
The 3rd Italian in my list had a career that spanned more than 20 years and is most well known for his scoring exploits at Lazio and Bologna. Signori spent his peak years at Le Aquile, becoming the 2nd best goal-getter in their history, but trophies alluded him and the club. Their best efforts amounted to being Serie A runners-up in 1994/95, and then the season after Signori left for Sampdoria, his old club won the Coppa Italia!
Whilst Signori continued to score frequently at Bologna, opportunities for silverware were, on paper, less likely. Despite this they came tantalisingly close in the 1998/99 campaign, twice Bologna lost cup semi-finals that year, to Fiorentina in the Coppa Italia, and then by away goals to Marseille in the UEFA Cup. And as if Signori didn't have enough hard-luck, he was a member of the Italian squad that got all the way to the 1994 World Cup final, only to see their dreams famously evaporate in a penalty shootout versus Brazil.
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