In 1948, at the age of 17, he started his career with Leeds United, who were then in the Second Division. He played at Elland Road until 1957, scoring 150 goals in 297 league appearances, and helping the side earn promotion to the First Division in 1956.
In 1957, Charles moved to Juventus for the then-British record fee of £65,000. While in Italy, he won three Scudettos (1958, 1960, 1961) and two Coppa Italia titles (1959, 1960). His success with Juventus brought him several individual accolades, starting with the 1958 Italian Player of the Year award. He was later voted the greatest foreign player ever to play in Serie A and, in 2001, was the first non-Italian elected to the Azzurri Hall of Fame.
He returned to Leeds in 1962, but failed to recapture his former glory, making only 11 appearances. He then spent time with Roma (1962-63), Cardiff City (1963-66), Hereford United (1966-71), and Welsh side Merthyr Tydfil (1972-74) before retiring in 1974.
Charles was elected to the English Hall of Fame in 2002. Leeds have honored their former hero by naming both the West Stand and the reserve stadium in his honor. He died in 2004.