While loyalty is a disappearing world in today’s football world, there’s also a lot more matches to be played, mostly through the Champions League, helping more recent players for clubs with the buying power reach new heights and set new records when it comes to appearances, like Ryan Giggs for Manchester United, Alessandro Del Piero for Juventus and Javier Zanetti for Inter.
When you look at clubs from smaller leagues – Ajax, Porto and Benfica, it’s easy to understand why it’s been quite a while since anyone on those teams has come close to the number of appearances the record holders had. They simply can’t hang on to the best of ’em.
Real Madrid, Raul
Real Madrid’s all time leading goal scorer as well, Raul is currently playing his pre-retirement seasons with Al-Sadd in Qatar. He began his career with Real Madrid in 1992, joining their youth team after Atletico’s junior side got disbanded by Jesus Gil. Since then, Raul has appeared in 741 matches for Los Blancos, 550 in La Liga matches. Iker Casillas is only six matches away from tying his European record (135 appearances) and 94 away from the overall record.
Barcelona – Xavi
At 32, Xavi is just extending the record he owns, with Carles Puyol probably not being able to catch up with him. Maybe Andres Iniesta or Victor Valdes will. Xavi began his Barcelona career in 1998, although he has been part of the youth setup since 1991. He has appeared 651 times for the senior side, 429 of those appearances in the league. Carles Puyol is second on the all-time list with 568 caps. Valdes is fourth with 479, Iniesta is sixth with 424 appearances.
AC Milan – Paolo Maldini
A one-club player, and one of the greatest of all time. Maldini has been part of the AC Milan team since the age of 10, making his senior team debut at the age of 16, on January 20, 1985. He began playing as a regular starter for the team the next season, continuing until his retirement, coming after a match against Fiorentina on May 31, 2009. He has appeared 902 times for the team, nearly 200 more than the next in line, Franco Baresi. He has 647 appearances in the Serie A.
Juventus – Alessandro Del Piero
Currently playing for Sydney FC in Australia, Del Piero began his Juventus career in 1993 after leaving Padova. He stayed 19 seasons with Juve, playing in 705 matches, 478 in the Serie A. He stayed with them for the Serie B episode, the return, and eventually, claiming their spot on top of Italian football once again. There’s no one in the top 10 of Juve’s most capped players list who has an appearance after 1989 excluding Del Piero.
Inter Milan – Javier Zanetti
He turned 39 four months ago, but Javier Zanetti never stops, never tires. He has appeared 820 times for Inter since arriving from Banfield in 1995 at the age of 22. Of these matches, 585 were in the Serie A, already making 15 appearances in the league this season for the nerazzuri. It wasn’t too long ago when he went past Giuseppe Bergomi (756 appearances). Among active players, Esteban Cambiasso, with 371 caps, is the closest.
Bayern Munich – Sepp Maier
Sepp Maier, with a total of 623 appearances for Bayern Munich between 1962 and 1979, is still the most capped player in Germany’s premier club. He has appeared in 536 league matches for the team, including the days of before the Bundesliga, when the team player in the Oberliga Süd and the Regionalliga Süd.
Manchester United – Ryan Giggs
Giggs played his first match for Manchester United on March 2, 1991, coming in as a substitute for Dennis Irwin. On his first start, he scored a goal in the Manchester derby. Since then, he has appeared 920 times for United in all competitions, including 645 league matches. Bobby Charlton with 758 caps is at a distant second, and Paul Scholes is third with 709.
Liverpool – Ian Callaghan
Born in Liverpool Callaghan began playing for the team in 1960, and was part of the Shankly revolution that turned them into the biggest club in England and later in Europe, which last for a while. The winger turned central midfielder appeared 857 times for the club, 650 of them league matches. Of the current crop of players, Jamie Carragher is leading, second on the all-time list, with 716 appearances. Steven Gerrard is 10th with 606 appearances.
SL Benfica – Eusebio
Eusebio cost Benfica 350,000$ PTE back in 1960 to sign from his club in Mozambique, the equivalent of €136,000 in 2009. He played in a total of 614 matches for the club, although some of these numbers are debated, with certain records showing that Nene, another Portuguese striker, is actually the one holding the record for most appearances.
FC Porto – Joao Domingos Pinto
The international right back, who appeared 70 times for the Portuguese national team, played his entire career for Porto, from 1981 to 1997. He appeared 407 times for the club during their rise to prominence in Portuguese and European football, winning nine league titles and the European Cup in 1987.
Ajax – Sjaak Swart
The man nicknamed Mr. Ajax played his entire career, from 1956 to 1973, for the same club. He has 603 appearances for the club, including 461 in league matches, scoring a total of 228 goals for the team, third on the all-time list. His last three seasons were the famous Ajax three-peat in the European Cup (1971-1973).