The issue of a ‘one-man team’ is one that has been quite contentious recent years. The term is seen as somewhat derogatory, and managers, players and supporters alike are often unhappy with their team being labelled with the tag. Of course, no team can solely rely on one player, but there are certainly some teams in which one player’s contribution is often far greater than that of his teammates.
In club football, if a player stands out so clearly they will most often move on to a new club, but in international football, regardless of how much better you are than the rest of the team, you can’t challenge nationalities, so it should come as no surprise that there is a fair amount of international representation in this seven.
The degree in which the player stood or stands out in their team, how the team are affected in their absence and also the achievements of the side despite being so reliant on one player are all taken into account. Here are our top 7 one man teams:
7. Gareth Bale - Wales
Former Tottenham Hotspur star Gareth Bale may have come under fire at Real Madrid at times, but he is still absolutely crucial to the Welsh national team, and has been instrumental in their achievements over the last few years. Bale was directly involved in nine of Wales' 11 goals during qualifying for Euro 2016, and he scored in every group game as Wales reached the semi-finals in the first major tournament they had qualified for in almost 60 years. Aaron Ramsey, Ashley Williams and Joe Allen are all decent players, but Wales' attack really wouldn't frighten anyone without the exploits of Bale, who has scored 26 goals in 68 caps for his country to date.
6. Eusebio - Portugal
The Portugal sides that Eusebio played in weren't necessarily poor ones. The likes of Germano, Hilario and, in particular, Mario Coluna, were all very good players, but Eusebio was still such a talisman and their dependency on him was such that he deserves his place in this seven. When Portugal finished third at the 1966 World Cup, their best ever performance at a World Cup, Eusebio scored nine of the countries 17 goals in England, which saw him pick up the Golden Boot. In total, Eusebio scored 41 goals from 64 caps for Portugal.
5. Hristo Stoichkov - Bulgaria
Bulgaria’s greatest ever player, Hristo Stoichkov, unsurprisingly shone in the Bulgarian national team during his playing days. Although Bulgaria’s team of Stoichkov’s era was regarded as something of a golden generation for the country, the former Barcelona man was still head and shoulders above his teammates. Stoichkov guided them to their greatest ever World Cup showing in 1994, when they reached the semi-finals. Stoichkov won the Golden Shoe at the tournament as top scorer and also won the Ballon d’Or later that year.
4. Matt Le Tissier - Southampton
In terms of longevity, few can match how long Southampton relied upon the brilliance of Matt Le Tissier. Rarely seen running, Le Tissier still often dominated games due to his technical ability. Known for his superb touch and often majestic goals, Le Tissier scored 100 Premier League goals from attacking midfield and is Southampton’s second highest scorer of all time. A one-club man, many believe the Saints wouldn’t have been able to retain their Premier League status without him.
3. Zlatan Ibrahimovic - Sweden
The Swedish national team wasn't littered with world class players during Zlatan Ibrahimovic's international career. In general, they were a solid, hardworking and reliable bunch, but not the most gifted. The one exception to that for more than a decade, was Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Manchester United striker has long been considered one of the best players in the world, just outside the Ronaldo/Messi stronghold. Zlatan won 116 caps for Sweden, scoring 62 goals, and was voted Sweden’s second greatest sportsman of all-time, behind Bjorn Borg.
2. Diego Maradona - Napoli & Argentina 1986
Perhaps the greatest player of all time, Diego Maradona set a world record transfer fee when he moved from Barcelona to Naples, joining Napoli in 1984. The transfer was huge, and redefined Italian football. Napoli had just finished twelfth out of sixteen teams when the Argentine arrived, and no team from Southern Italy had ever won a Serie A title. Juventus, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Roma were all rocked by the arrival of Mardaona, who turned Napoli into a genuine force. When he arrived, Napoli had only ever won the Coppa Italia, when he left, they had won Serie A twice, the UEFA Cup, the Supercoppa Italiana and the Coppa Italia again.
With Argentina in 1986, Maradona reached new heights even for himself. The Argentina team of 1986 was not as poor as some suggest, but without their talisman El Diego, it seems unlikely they would have made waves in Mexico, let alone won their second World Cup.
1. Tom Finney - Preston North End
The greatest example of a one-man team in history is that of Sir Tom Finney at Preston North End. For 14 years the Lancashire club relied on Finney to make them a force within English football, and more often than not, he delivered. Preston’s team was, with the greatest respect, very average without Finney. At the 1950 World Cup, 1954 World Cup and 1958 World Cup, only one Preston player could be found in the England squad, and on every occasion this was Tom Finney. A tremendous winger, Finney scored 210 goals in 473 games for Preston. Inspired by his brilliance, the club finished as runners-up in the First Division twice and finished in third place once, as well as reaching an FA Cup final in 1954.
Sadly, Finney never won a trophy at Preston, where he spent his entire career. Such was the team’s dependance on Finney, one newspaper report commented, “Tom Finney should claim income tax relief … for his 10 dependents.” His importance to the club was finally drummed home when having challenged at the top of the First Division, Preston were relegated the season after Finney’s retirement, and didn’t return to the top flight for 39 years.