Twice a year, the transfer window swings open to the sound of telephones ringing in club offices across the globe. Having penned their wish-lists, coaches are either desperate to fill a hole or find the next big thing, prompting a multitude of players to examine their options and pack their bags for pastures new. However, there are some footballers who remain supremely indifferent to the noise of the transfer market whirring into action.
With the curtain having just come down on the January trading period, FIFA.com turns the spotlight on to the players who continue their hard work in the shadow of the transfer headlines. Having committed themselves to one club for life, these men never seek to fuel media speculation about their future, fully intending to see out their careers with the only team they have ever served.
In Italy, high-profile deals are hardly a rare occurrence when opportunity permits, but Serie A sides have also shown a consistent desire to produce home-grown talent. As a result, while a team like AC Milan may have re-united some of the biggest stars of the 1980s and 1990s (including Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten, Jean-Pierre Papin, George Weah, Rui Costa and Zvonimir Boban), the Milanese giants never missed a chance to blood the promising young bucks already present at the club.
One of those locally-produced young talents took his first steps in the professional game at the age of 16 on 20 June 1985. Now, 21 years and 598 matches later, the evergreen Paolo Maldini remains fiercely proud to still be pulling on the AC Milan shirt, the only one he has ever worn. Lending his skills to the Rossoneri must seem like the family business, in fact, with Paolo's father Cesare having turned out for the side for 12 seasons between 1954 and 1966, before going on to become coach. Likewise, Paolo can turn his thoughts to retirement safe in the knowledge he has left his mark at the club: his ten-year-old son Christian is already playing in the Milan youth team.
Captain and soul of the club
A little further south, Francesco Totti has taken on the role of idol at AS Roma, having inherited the crown left vacant by Bruno Conti's retirement in 1990. A product of the local academy, the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ winner is enjoying his 15th campaign with the Giallorossi. Indeed, more than just the captain, he is the very soul of the club he led to the Scudetto in 2001. Neither Roma's financial difficulties, nor attractive offers from several of Europe's top outfits, have looked like luring Il Bimbo d'Oro (The Golden Child) away from the team he loves.
Next up for Roma in this year's UEFA Champions League are French side Lyon, a fixture that could well bring Totti face-to-face with Sidney Govou. A graduate of Les Gones' youth programme at their Tola Vologe facility, the French international made his top-flight debut in 1999/2000. The fleet-footed forward exploded on to the continental scene a short while later, hitting a memorable double past iconic Bayern Munich goalkeeper Oliver Kahn. A key member of Lyon's five-time championship-winning side, Govou's constant progress led him to an appearance at the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals.
Close by at neighbouring Saint-Etienne, Les Verts boast an ultra-loyal servant of their own in Julien Sable. Although born in Marseille, the defensive midfielder has defended the club's colours for ten years now, including five seasons spent struggling in Ligue 2. His hometown side went to great lengths to bring Sable back to his roots last summer, but the 26-year-old kicked off the campaign wearing the captain's armband at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard.
Red Devils through and through
On the other side of the English Channel, Manchester United have a long tradition of relying on youth, as the success enjoyed by Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo attests. At the heart of the current line-up are a number of club stalwarts Sir Alex Ferguson has been able to call upon throughout their entire careers. Having been at Old Trafford himself for 20 years , the legendary coach has enjoyed sterling service from 32-year-olds Gary Neville and Paul Scholes, as well as 33-year-old wing-wizard Ryan Giggs, all of whom have played a full role in the Red Devils' trophy-laden achievements of the last decade.
The two most recent Premiership titles went to Chelsea, of course, where some of the most expensive footballers on the planet ply their trade. That said, the club's brightest and bluest symbol cost nothing, captain John Terry having risen through the Stamford Bridge ranks. "He's quite simply the best player in the world in his position," explained trainer Jose Mourinho last year. "He has no weaknesses. A defender usually reaches his peak at around 30 and John is 25, so just imagine how much better he could get." That assessment must be music to every supporter's ears, as they picture their captain leading them to glory for many years to come.
Still, none of those players encapsulate a club - and a whole city - as much as Liverpool's Steven Gerrard . "When I was young, I only had one dream: to captain Liverpool," he told FIFA.com. "Everyone in my family is a Reds fan, so I know exactly what the club represents to people." Often linked with the heavyweights of the Spanish league, it is difficult to imagine Gerrard storming through midfield in another team's uniform.
'It's not a question of money'
At Real Madrid, great players seem to come and go with every passing year. However, one man has never looked like moving on, even if he did start life as an Atletico Madrid supporter. Long since established as the heartbeat of the Merengues, Raul has won four La Liga titles, three UEFA Champions League trophies and two Intercontinental (Toyota) Cups during his time at the Santiago Bernabeu, but not even that success seems to have quenched his thirst for victory.
If Raul is inseparable from Real Madrid, then the same must be said of Fernando Torres at city rivals Atletico. Still only 23, El Niño has already contested 151 games, notching an impressive 80 goals in the process. His emotional attachment to the Colchoneros, his skills in front of goal and his boyish good looks have all made him the darling of the Vicente Calderon faithful.
In fact, many supporters all over the world have been lucky enough to identify with a footballer who shares their adoration for a club. In Mexico, for example, Oscar Perez and Daniel Osorno have stuck by Cruz Azul and Atlas respectively since their playing days began, while Lars Ricken has never strayed from Borussia Dortmund.
Elsewhere, Argentinian Guillermo Barros Schelotto spent six years with Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata before his present nine-year stint at Boca Juniors. The toast of the Bombonera, the popular winger has repeatedly turned down offers from heavyweight teams in Europe. "I've had lots of chances to go to Europe, but I'm staying here at Boca," he said. "It's not a question of money; there are plenty of things which are more important."