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Nov 8, 2011

Trophy winners and appearance holders

Norman Hubbard is ESPNsoccernet's resident anorak. If you have any questions on football facts, statistics or trivia, please send them to asknorman@hotmail.com and he'll try to answer as many as possible.

I read about how Xavi has become the most decorated player on Barcelona's team after winning the European Super Cup. This brings his total to 18. Who is the most decorated player in top-flight football? Obviously players like Ryan Giggs and Paolo Maldini come to mind due to their longevity, but are there any hidden giants in some of Europe or South America's leagues?

Also, my definition of titles would consist of league titles, sanctioned official league cups (not the Barclays Asia trophy, the Emirates Cup, Joan Gamper Trophy etc), and both continental and world club and international competitions, Andy Blair asked.

Andy has provided the answer to his own question. With a total of 33 winners' medals (12 in the Premier League, four FA Cup, four League Cup, eight Community Shield, two Champions League and one each in the European Super Cup, the Intercontinental Cup and the World Club Cup), Giggs is the most decorated footballer I am aware of.

Maldini, with 26 (seven Serie A, one Coppa Italia, five Italian Supercoppas, five European Cups or Champions Leagues, five European Super Cups, two Intercontinental Cups and one World Club Cup) is also high up the leaderboard, behind Kenny Dalglish (four Scottish titles and six English, four Scottish FA Cups and one English, one Scottish League Cup and four English, five Charity Shields, three European Cups and one Super Cup) who is Giggs' closest rival on 29.

Besides the extraordinary durability of all three players and the fact they spent their entire careers at very successful clubs (in Giggs' and Maldini's case, the same clubs), one reason why comparatively modern players are on top is simply that there are more medals on offer. Francisco Gento, the only man to win the European Cup six times, played in an era when there was no Spanish Super Cup or European Super Cup, for instance. Had there been, his total of 21 (12 Spanish league titles, two Spanish cups, six European Cups and one Intercontinental Cup) could have been greater than Giggs' haul.

The same applies to Eusebio's total of 17 major medals with Benfica while Johan Cruyff's 23 includes two European Super Cups, but no such domestic equivalents and the former Celtic captain Billy McNeill won 23 honours without a single Super Cup.

A Real Madrid team-mate of Gento also ended with 21 club honours, to use Andy's criteria. Alfredo di Stefano won two titles in Argentina, three in Colombia and eight in Spain, plus one domestic cup in Spain and Colombia apiece, one Intercontinental Cup and five European Cups.

However, he also picked up two winners' medals apiece in the Pequeña Copa del Mundo de Clubes and the Latin Cup, two club competitions that only existed for a few years. There is a case to be made for arguing that each was a greater achievement than, say, Giggs' victories in the Community Shield. Plus, if you factor in Di Stefano's one international honour, from the Copa America with Argentina, that gives him 26 trophies to Giggs' 25. As with much else, it depends upon which achievements you value higher.

The most complicated of all the contenders, by the way, is Pele, whose 29 honours ranged from the World Cup (three times) to various competitions that no longer exist, in the Taca Brazil, the Torneio Roberto Gomes Pedrosa and the Torneio Rio-São Paulo, as well as 10 Sao Paulo titles. How highly they are valued is, again, a question of interpretation.

Xavi, incidentally, has 20 major medals if we include the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2008, both won with Spain, so it is just about feasible he could overhaul Giggs. However, his 24-year-old team-mate Lionel Messi, winner of 17 trophies with Barcelona plus an Olympic gold medal with Argentina, probably has a better chance of emerging on top in the long term.

In Major League Baseball a great deal is made of the "ironman" - the player to have played the most consecutive league games. Failure to play in a game, for reason of illness, injury, suspension, or even just not being selected, ends that player's consecutive appearances streak. However, a player can keep their streak alive simply by appearing in a game; they don't need to play for the entire game. My question is this: Who is the all-time "ironman" in England? And amongst active players, who is the Premier League's current "ironman"? Dennis Crawford from Toronto asked

Perhaps fittingly, the winner is a North American. Brad Friedel has made 285 consecutive Premier League appearances, not missing a league game since the end of the 2003-04 season. The previous record holder, and the man with the most successive Premier League games among outfield players, is Frank Lampard, who played in 164 matches in a row until December 2005.

Go back to the years before the Premier League and the greatest ever-present was the man who is the only player to appear in four European Cup final wins for an English team: Phil Neal, who also played 365 successive league games for Liverpool between 1974 and 1983. Elsewhere on Merseyside, but outside the top flight, the overall record resides with Harold Bell, who played 401 league games in a row for Tranmere between 1946 and 1955.

Has any Premier League referee performed so bad that he had to be replaced at some point during a match? Douglas from Singapore asked.

In a word, no. Referees are only replaced during a game in the event of an injury or illness that means they can't continue. Some are demoted to the lower divisions, normally only temporarily, if they are deemed to have made mistakes, but such judgments are taken subsequently, rather than in the middle of a match.

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