18 Champions League one-season wonders who dazzled – and then disappeared

Tony Watt Barcelona

There’s no better platform to shine on at club level, but these players’ exploits in Europe were all too brief...  

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1. Carlos Alberto (Porto, 2003/04)

Deployed by Jose Mourinho as a second striker behind either Derlei or Benni McCarthy, Alberto started every game of Porto’s run to the 2004 Champions League Final. He was only 19 at the time, and the Brazilian capped his stellar campaign in Europe with an expertly-taken goal to break the deadlock in the final against Monaco.  

It looked like a career in the big time beckoned for Alberto – but the youngster let his ego get the better of him. After clashing with Mourinho’s replacement, Victor Fernandez, the youngster headed back to Brazil in 2005 with Corinthians, where he soon fell out with manager Emerson Leao too and was shipped out to Fluminense.  

Another disastrous stint back in Europe with Werder Bremen followed, with Alberto struggling as a result of what he claimed was “insomnia”. He’s been in Brazil ever since, save for a bizarre turn of events in 2015 when the Brazilian signed for Al Dhafra in the United Arab Emirates – a move that last just 15 days.

2. Juan Sanchez (Valencia, 2000/01)

Generally a goal-shy striker during his time with Valencia (40 in 178 appearances over two spells), Sanchez’s most telling contribution for Los Che came during their Champions League semi-final second-leg clash with Leeds back in 2001. With the tie finely balanced after a 0-0 draw at Elland Road, Sanchez broke the deadlock after 16 minutes – and in controversial fashion.

The Spaniard appeared to turn Gaizka Mendieta’s cross past Nigel Martyn with his arm, but the good stood despite Leeds protests. Two minutes into the second half, Sanchez added a second with a superb left-foot shot from the edge of the box.  

Valencia eventually ran out 3-0 winners but Sanchez was dropped for the final despite his starring role in Yorkshire, and found himself increasingly edged to the periphery in the years that followed. He eventually moved to Celta Vigo in 2004, retiring at the age of 34.

3. Luiz Adriano (Shakhtar Donetsk, 2014/15)

Adriano is Shakhtar’s record goalscorer in the Ukrainian Premier League, but his standout season in the Champions League came during the 2014/15 campaign where he equalled Cristiano Ronaldo’s record of nine goals in a group stage campaign.

The Brazilian also matched Lionel Messi’s record for the most goals in a single Champions League match, scoring five in a 7-0 thrashing of BATE Borisov. Those two achievements were enough to see the striker named Most Valuable Player of that season’s group stage and earned him a move to Milan in July 2015.  

The goals didn’t flow so freely in Italy, though, and Adriano was soon heading back to colder climes with Spartak Moscow in January 2017.

4. Mauro Bressan (Fiorentina, 1999/00)

A journeyman Italian midfielder whose career took in no fewer than 13 different clubs, Bressan is best remembered for his three-year spell with Fiorentina and one unforgettable night in the Champions League. It was there, against a star-studded Barcelona, that Bressan scored one of the greatest goals in Champions League history with his acrobatic bicycle kick from all of 25 yards.

What’s often forgotten is that Bressan followed that wonder strike up with an equally sublime assist for Abel Balbo; a deft backheel that flummoxed the Barça defence in a thrilling 3-3 draw.  

Bressan went on to win the Coppa Italia with La Viola in 2001, but his Champions League masterclass was never repeated. He was back in the headlines in 2011 – only this time as one of 16 people arrested in connection with allegations of match-fixing.

5. Michalis Konstantinou (Panathinaikos, 2001/02)

Panathinaikos took a huge gamble in the summer of 2011 with their €11.3 million signing of Konstantinou. A regular goalscorer for Iraklis Thessaloniki, the striker had bagged 61 goals in 119 appearances for the Cyprus club – but suspicions remained about whether he could step up to the Greek Super League and Champions League.  

It proved to be a resounding yes on both fronts... initially, at least.  

Combining well with the Greek club’s experienced midfield trident of Paulo Sousa, Jan Michaelsen and Robert Jarni, Konstantinou bagged six goals in 14 matches, including a spectacular strike from all of 40 yards against Barcelona in a quarter-final clash at the Camp Nou.   

While that was as good as it got in Europe for Panathinaikos, Konstantinou went on to help the club to a Greek cup and league double in 2004, before joining bitter rivals Olympiakos in 2005. Though further European success evaded him, the Cypriot went on to win three more Super League titles and two Greek cups.

6. Jerome Rothen (Monaco, 2003/04)

Rothen and Ludovic Giuly ran the flanks for Monaco on their way to the 2004 Champions League Final, laying on big goals for Fernando Morientes and Dado Prso en route.  

Both found themselves in demand come the summer, but while Giuly was only too happy to join Barcelona, Rothen resisted the overtures of clubs like Manchester United and Chelsea to sign for hometown club PSG.  

But the left winger’s choice was a costly one. While Giuly went on to win La Liga and Champions League titles, Rothen and PSG – who were a far cry from the Qatari-backed club of today – regularly flirted with relegation. Rothen made just five more Champions League appearances, lastly during a short-lived loan spell at Rangers that ended acrimoniously. Though he played regularly for France, it’s hard not to look back on his career and think of what could have been.