As the UEFA Champions League season ends, we look at some of the greatest players to have played in the competition who failed to win the coveted trophy.
The only African player to ever win either the FIFA World Player of the Year or the Ballon d’Or. You would be forgiven to think it was for a blistering run in a major competition like the Champions League. Despite spending a good portion of his career playing for Italian giants AC Milan and being fundamental in their successes in the Serie A, he never managed to bag a Champions League medal.
“Collar turned up, back straight, chest stuck out, Eric glided into the arena as if he owned the place.” –
Roy Keane on Cantona.
Manchester United Legend Eric Cantona very often did win matches on his own and is adored by fans everywhere. Considered one of the best players to put on a Red Devils jersey, you could almost place him amongst the celebrations of that famous 98/99 Champions League win but he was not there. This is because he retired, somewhat prematurely, in 1997.
Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. He was a runner-up with Bayer Leverkusen in the 2002 losing thanks to THAT Zidane goal as well as with Chelsea in 2008. Add that to his 2002 World Cup runners-up medal and 2008 European Championship final loss, and it sums up to a career somewhat marred by too many second-place finishes.
Football legend, Diego Maradona can lay claim to being one of the best ever footballers. He was blessed with natural pace and an uncanny ability to beat his marker. Many goals and accolades later, he retired with a brimming trophy cabinet; World Cup medal, Spanish Championship, Italian Serie A Championship to name a few. One conspicuous absentee, however, is the UEFA Champions League. Despite trophy-laden spells in Barcelona and Napoli, he was unable to clinch Europe’s top prize.
Losing a Champion’s league final once must hurt, but imagine losing it twice. The first recipient of the FIFA World Player of the Year award suffered this indignity, losing a final in each of his two spells with Bayern Munich in very similar circumstances. The most heart wrenching would have been in the 98/99 season after coming off in the 80th minute to handshakes and smiles, feeling like the job was done. The night would end in tears with Matthäus removing his losers’ medal as soon as it touched his neck.
Another player who has gone through this agony is Italian legend, Gigi Buffon. Despite saving two penalties in the shoot-out in the 2002/2003 season along with many other telling saves, he still ended up on the losing side as Juventus succumbed to defeat at the hands of AC Milan. He was on the losing end again in the 2014/2015 season losing 3-1 in normal time to Barcelona.
He is one of football’s iconic players and commands respects wherever he goes, winning the league in every country he has played in. A serial goal scorer and journeyman, he has played in the competition with Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan, and PSG but has a weird history with the Champions League. Both Inter Milan and Barcelona won the competition the year after he left.
“Totti is immortal and he is a symbol of our sport. I only regret not having worked with him.“
Carlo Ancelotti on Totti.
Italy and Roma demi-god Francesco Totti’s decision to stick with his boyhood club may have been responsible for him being unable to lift Europe’s most prestigious trophy. Totti would have it no other way describing his time with Roma as a beautiful marriage.
RUUD VAN NISTELROOY
It is odd when you have been the competition’s top scorer on 3 separate occasions and are 4th on the all-time top scorers’ list but never won the competition. This comes despite playing for two of its powerhouses namely: Manchester United and Real Madrid. van Nistelrooy is the only player in the top 5 all-time top scorers to have never won the competition. Ibrahimovic is the only other person besides him in the top 16 to have never won the competition.
RONALDO LUIZ NAZÁRIO DE LIMA
The real Ronaldo. The UEFA Cup, 2 FIFA World Cup, Spanish la liga, the Intercontinental Cup to name a few have all been won by El Phenomeno. However, the Champions league is one competition that seems to have gotten the better of him. He arrived in Madrid after they had just won the competition but endured a torrid time with them in the Champions League including 3 round of 16 exits in 04/05, 05/06 and 06/07. The 3 time World Player of the Year is probably the greatest player never to win the tournament.
Article By: Ayoola Kelechi, @ayoola_kelechi