Lionel Messi will have the option to bring his long-standing association with Barcelona to an end in a matter of hours.

The 34-year-old's Camp Nou contract is set to expire on July 1, leaving him free to move on from the club where he has spent the entirety of his 17-year professional career thus far.

Fortunately for Barca, that outcome looks unlikely, with recent reports suggesting that the Argentina great is on the verge of agreeing fresh terms.

Should Messi put pen to paper on that extension, it will increase the possibility of him joining the ranks of players who spent their whole careers at just one club. 

Here, we take a look at five of football's most celebrated one-club men.


Paolo Maldini (AC Milan)

Indisputably one of the greatest defenders of all-time, Maldini made his Milan debut as a 16-year-old in 1985 and spent the next quarter of a century at San Siro, winning seven Serie A titles and five Champions Leagues.

Ryan Giggs (Manchester United)

Like Maldini, Giggs progressed from prodigious young talent to distinguished elder statesman as he represented United from 1990 to 2014. Two Champions Leagues and 13 Premier League titles sit among an astonishing 34 honours amassed by Giggs across 963 senior United appearances.

Francesco Totti (Roma)

Totti bid an emotional farewell to Roma at the end of the 2016-17 campaign after 786 competitive appearances and 307 goals – matching Maldini's record of appearing in 25 Serie A seasons.

Carles Puyol (Barcelona)

A long-time team-mate of Messi's and the captain of Pep Guardiola's mesmeric treble winners of 2008-09, Puyol won six LaLiga titles and three Champions Leagues. With 593 appearances for Barcelona to his name, the defender sits fifth on the club's all-time list behind Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, and the outright leader Messi on 778.

Matthew Le Tissier (Southampton)

A mercurial forward with a knack for scoring improbably audacious goals, Le Tissier was regularly linked with the leading lights of English football during his 1990s heyday. He remained loyal to boyhood club Southampton to cement icon status on the south coast, although a mere eight appearances for England provides a talking point about what might have been possible had he not resisted offers from bigger clubs. 

Wales manager Ryan Giggs will face trial on January 24 after being charged with assaulting two women.

Giggs appeared at a hearing at Manchester Crown Court on Friday, just over a month after the former Manchester United winger was charged with causing actual bodily harm to a woman in her 30s and common assault of a woman in her 20s.

The 47-year-old is alleged to have assaulted the two women in Worsley, Greater Manchester, on November 1 last year.

He was also charged with one count of coercive and controlling behaviour.

Giggs, who denies the allegations, will return to Manchester Crown Court early next year for the trial.

The Football Association of Wales (FAW) last month confirmed Giggs will not be in charge of the team for the upcoming Euro 2020 finals, with Robert Page at the helm instead.

Giggs won 13 Premier League titles and the Champions League twice during a hugely successful career with United before hanging up his boots in May 2014.

He was named Wales manager in January 2018, taking over the job following the departure of Chris Coleman.

Gianluigi Buffon has confirmed he will leave Juventus but the Italy great says he might not be ready to retire.

The 43-year-old returned to Juve in 2019 following a season away at Paris Saint-Germain and has been second choice to Wojciech Szczesny since.

Buffon's announcement on Tuesday arguably did not come as a surprise; however, the fact he is still contemplating playing on may have raised some eyebrows.

If he does continue his playing career, whoever his next employers are will certainly be able to count on plenty of experience and knowhow.

Buffon is one of the sport's few stars who have played top-level football into their fifth decade.

Here are seven other legends who set an example for Buffon to follow with their remarkably long careers in the game.

 

RYAN GIGGS

The ultimate one-club man, Ryan Giggs stayed at Manchester United for the entirety of his glittering career. He managed to slowly transform himself from a rapid, tricky winger into a cultured central midfielder in the latter years of his playing days, helping to extend his time on the pitch beyond the age of 40. Giggs won an extraordinary haul of medals at Old Trafford, including 13 Premier League titles, four FA Cups and a pair of Champions League crowns. He played in 632 Premier League games, scoring 109 goals, with only Gareth Barry topping his appearance tally. Giggs worked as Louis van Gaal's assistant at United, having taken charge on an interim basis following the sacking of David Moyes, before going on to take charge of his country in 2018. He has been temporarily replaced as Wales boss after he was charged with assaulting two women last year, allegations that Giggs denies.

PAOLO MALDINI

Paolo Maldini was still going strong for Milan beyond his 40th birthday and, like Giggs, he only ever played for one club. Seven league titles and an incredible five European Cup/Champions League wins headline a litany of honours that Maldini helped marshal at San Siro, playing across their near impenetrable back four for almost 25 years. Maldini, son of another Milan legend, Cesare, is one of a select group of players who made over 1,000 appearances in all competitions during their career. Today, the former Italy man is back at Milan, acting as their technical director.

KAZUYOSHI MIURA

Kazuyoshi Miura is still playing, at the age of 54. That the Japanese striker made his debut almost 10 years before Buffon begins to tell part of his incredible tale. Known as King Kazu, Miura plays for Yokohama FC in Japan's top flight, becoming the club's oldest ever player at 53 in September last year. The oldest player and goalscorer in the history of global professional football, Miura is regarded as one of the finest Asian players never to have featured at a World Cup, although he made 89 appearances for his country.

 

STANLEY MATTHEWS

Before Miura snatched them off him, Stanley Matthews held the records for being both the oldest professional footballer and the oldest goalscorer in the game. Matthews - the Wizard of Dribble - made nearly 700 league appearances for Stoke City and Blackpool in a career that spanned three decades. The 1953 FA Cup final is regarded as the Matthews Final, even though Blackpool's Stan Mortensen scored a hat-trick. Matthews won the first European Footballer of the Year award, while he was officially capped for England 54 times, although he also played a host of unofficial wartime games for his country.

DINO ZOFF

Goalkeepers often play deep into their thirties, but not many captain their country to World Cup glory at the age of 40. But that is exactly what Dino Zoff did at the World Cup in 1982. He made 40 appearances in World Cup finals and qualifiers in total, while as a coach he led Italy to the final of Euro 2000. It must be something about Juventus, as Buffon's current club is also where Zoff spent the best years of his career, winning six Serie A titles.

RIVALDO

Best known for his spell at Barcelona in club football, Brazil great Rivaldo was still playing beyond his 40th birthday, albeit only briefly. Rivaldo came out of retirement to sign for Mogi Mirim, the club where his son Rivaldinho was also on the books. Rivaldo picked up two LaLiga titles at Barcelona before continuing his European adventure with Milan, winning the 2002–03 Champions League with the Rossoneri. But it is as a Brazil international that Rivaldo is best remembered, having been a key part of the side that won the World Cup in 2002.

 

ROGER MILLA

Roger Milla became the World Cup's oldest scorer when he hit the net for Cameroon in 1994 at the age of 42, having announced himself at the same tournament four years previously with his famous corner-flag dance. Milla's four goals at the 1990 World Cup helped Cameroon to reach the quarter-finals of the tournament and he is fondly regarded as one of Africa's greatest ever players. Remarkably, Milla regained the African Footballer of the Year title 14 years after he first won the award.

Wales manager Ryan Giggs has been charged with assaulting two women, Greater Manchester Police said.

The 47-year-old former Manchester United footballer has also been charged with one count of coercive and controlling behaviour.

A statement from Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said: "A man from Salford has been charged with three offences after police were called to reports of a disturbance in the Worsley area in November 2020.

"Ryan Giggs has been charged with causing actual bodily harm to a woman in her 30s and common assault of a woman in her 20s. Both counts relate to an incident on the evening of Sunday 1 November 2020."

The GMP statement said the coercive and controlling behaviour charge against Giggs concerned the period from December 2017 to November 2020.

"He has been bailed and is due to appear at Manchester and Salford Magistrates' Court on Wednesday 28 April 2021," the force said.

"Police were called at 10.05pm on Sunday 1 November 2020 to reports of a disturbance at an address on Chatsworth Road, Worsley.

"A woman in her 30s was treated for injuries at the scene."

Giggs has denied the allegations against him.

He won 13 Premier League titles and the Champions League twice during a hugely successful career with United before announcing his playing retirement in May 2014.

He was named Wales manager in January 2018, taking over the job following the departure of Chris Coleman.

The Football Association of Wales (FAW) said Giggs would not be in charge of the team for the upcoming Euro 2020 finals, following the charges.

Robert Page will serve as manager, the FAW said.

"An FAW board meeting will be convened to discuss these developments and its impact on the association and the national team," the FAW said in a statement.

Chris Gunter has been lauded as "a manager's dream" by Wales caretaker boss Robert Page ahead of the full-back winning his 100th international cap.

Charlton Athletic defender Gunter will bring up the landmark when Wales take on Mexico in a friendly at Cardiff City Stadium on Saturday.

Gunter is the first Welshman to achieve the feat, and will be six clear of goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey, who is next on the list of Wales' most-capped players, ahead of Neville Southall (92) and Gareth Bale (87).

The 31-year-old made his debut in 2007, and Page, who is standing in as Wales boss due to Ryan Giggs' suspension, was full of praise for Gunter.

"I keep saying that every time I work with him, I'm more impressed," said Page.

"He's a model professional, he is a manager's dream. He just gets on with his work, he trains as he plays and he's thoroughly deserved his 100 caps and all the credit he's going to get from having achieved that.

"Good people in the game, you want to see them do well and he's certainly one of them."

For his part, Gunter said it was difficult to describe the emotion of his achievement.

"It's tough to put into words. If you asked me potentially afterwards then there might be something a bit more emotional," he said.

"I'm very proud, it means the world to me to represent the country and do what I know so many people would love to do.

"It's something you never take for granted. You've given your life to hopefully performing for your country."

The omens for Gunter marking the milestone with a win are not great, however. This will be the fifth meeting between the teams, with Wales yet to register a victory.

Indeed, Wales have not scored in either of their last two matches against Mexico, with the last Welshman to net against them John Charles in a May 1962 friendly.

Wales lost to Belgium in their opening World Cup qualifier on Wednesday, with the Czech Republic next up on Tuesday.

Asked if he had discussed the performance with Giggs, Page said: "Absolutely, I spoke with Ryan, of course.

"He was pleased with the second half. We made the change at half-time to be a little bit more positive in our press, get a little bit higher up the pitch and we just didn't want to camp on the edge of our box and allow attack after attack and he absolutely agreed with that.

"There's aspects that he's pleased with and things we can do better on but overall he was pleased."

It remains unclear as to whether Giggs will be in charge when the Euros roll around, though Page insists he is not focusing on taking the role for the tournament.

"No. I'm not interested in that," he added. "It's for other people to make those decisions, we're not worrying about that."

Wales captain Gareth Bale insists he is not distracted by uncertainty over his future and expects to return to Real Madrid at the end of the season as planned.

The 31-year-old rejoined Tottenham on a season-long loan from Madrid last September after falling out of favour at the Santiago Bernabeu under Zinedine Zidane.

Bale has had a mixed time of things since returning to north London, the forward having scored 10 goals and assisted three more in 25 appearances.

There had recently been talk of Bale staying on at Spurs after hitting form, but he was criticised by Jose Mourinho last week and played no part in Sunday's win at Aston Villa.

And with a year still to run on his Madrid contract, the forward believes he will be back in the Spanish capital after representing Wales at the rescheduled Euro 2020 tournament.

"It's no distraction," he said at a news conference on Tuesday previewing Wales' opening World Cup 2022 qualifier against Belgium.

"The main reason I obviously came to Spurs was I wanted to play football, I wanted to be match fit. The original plan was only to do a season.

"After the Euros, I have a year left at Real Madrid. My plan is to go back."

Wales' preparations for Wednesday's clash with Belgium, the world's number one ranked nation, have been disrupted by a number of injury withdrawals.

Having already lost Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey from their initial 31-man squad, Tottenham's Ben Davies and fellow defender Tom Lockyer pulled out on Tuesday.

It is a big blow for Rob Page as he once again takes caretaker charge of Wales in the absence of Ryan Giggs, who remains under investigation due to an allegation of assault, which he denies.

"It's not great news for us, two defenders getting injured prior to camp," Page said. "We've assessed them and they're no good. It's not ideal preparation. We’ve got to react to that and pick a team that we think will win us the game.

"I think they're quite significant injuries. It's a shame. But we have to deal with it."

Page also took charge of Wales' three fixtures in November – a friendly draw against the United States, followed by Nations League wins against the Republic of Ireland and Finland.

Skipper Bale has been impressed by Page's work in the last two camps but is eager for the situation regarding Giggs to be resolved before the Euro 2020 finals.

"Pagey has done an incredible job. He's addressed the situation amazingly well and kept the consistency," Bale said.  "There are no excuses. We've had another good couple of days and we're fully focused. We're ready to go.

"I think my influence has been the same. We're just trying to keep it the same. Nothing has changed. Going into the Euros, ideally things are sorted, but we understand the situation. The FAW [Football Association of Wales] will be in charge of that, not the players."

Asked about his fitness, having been benched against Dinamo Zagreb and not used at all versus Villa three days later, Bale said: "I didn't play Sunday but I've had a couple of days' training. 

"It's been a quick turnaround. Same for every country. Everyone is in the same boat – we're ready to go.

"It's probably the most match fitness I've had. I'm feeling fresh and ready to go."

Wales have won their opening group match in just five of their 18 World Cup qualifying campaigns, although they have done so in two of the previous three.

The Dragons are unbeaten in four games against Belgium, famously beating their next opponents 3-1 in the Euro 2016 quarter-finals.

But Belgium enter the match in Leuven in great form, winning 23 of their past 24 qualifying matches since going down 1-0 to Wales in June 2015, and Bale is predicting a tough opening Group E test.

"We know Belgium is a great team and we know we're going to be the underdogs," he said. "But you don't need to be the best team to win a game.

"This is why football is so great. What we showed that night [at Euro 2016] was more heart, desire, belief. When we pull on the Welsh shirt, we believe we have more passion than anyone.

"I think beating a big nation in a qualifier gives us confidence to grow. When you enjoy winning, it breeds more."

Ryan Giggs' absence from the Wales dugout will continue at the start of their 2022 World Cup qualification campaign following his November arrest for an alleged assault.

Giggs, who denies any wrongdoing, stepped aside temporarily for Wales' previous fixtures in late 2020 but the legal matter is yet to be resolved, with his bail extended in February to May 1.

The Football Association of Wales (FAW) confirmed on Wednesday that it and Giggs "mutually agreed" he should stay away for their three matches later this month.

As he did for the November internationals, Giggs' assistant Robert Page will take charge of fixtures with Belgium, Mexico and Czech Republic.

Therefore, Giggs will miss the start of Wales' qualification campaign for the 2022 World Cup, with the Belgium and Czech Republic games falling into that category.

An FAW statement read: "The Football Association of Wales (FAW) and Ryan Giggs have mutually agreed that he will not be involved in the upcoming international camp.

"Robert Page will take charge for the next three matches against Belgium, Mexico and the Czech Republic and will be supported by Albert Stuivenberg as was the case during the last international window in November.

"The squad for these upcoming matches will be announced on Monday March 15."

Giggs, who was appointed as Chris Coleman's successor in January 2018, was arrested on November 1, 2020 after police were called following reports of a disturbance. A woman in her thirties had sustained "minor injuries", a Greater Manchester Police spokesperson said at the time.

The former Manchester United player denied the allegations and was released on bail, which has since been extended twice.

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