18 Champions League one-season wonders who dazzled – and then disappeared
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hakan Yakin (Basel, 2002/03)
Yakin was Liverpool’s tormentor-in-chief during their crunch group stage clash with Basel in November 2002, laying on all three goals for the Swiss side in a 3-3 draw that eliminated the Reds at the expense of their lesser-known opponents.
A playmaker by trade, Yakin later described that performance as the “match of his life”. It was certainly a downhill slope from there.
After Basel narrowly missed out on qualification from the second group stage, Yakin looked set for bigger things. But subsequent moves to PSG, Stuttgart and Galatasaray all proved short-lived, with Yakin failing to rekindle the magic of that one night at St Jakob-Park. He eventually finished his career back in Switzerland.
Simone Inzaghi (Lazio, 1999/00)
Pippo’s brother began his 19-year association with Lazio in 1999 during an unforgettable debut campaign. Inzaghi struggled for goals in Serie A after being signed from Piacenza – he scored just seven times in 22 appearances that year – but was prolific in Europe with nine goals in 11 games.
His standout performance came in March 2000, when Inzaghi equalled the then-record of Marco van Basten by scoring four goals in a single game against a hapless Marseille. That performance earned him an Italy call-up for a friendly with Spain, and sparked suggestions that he could partner his brother up front for the Azzurri at Euro 2000.
Yet despite celebrating a Scudetto and Italian cup double with Lazio that season, Simone failed to keep pace with Pippo on the goalscoring front in the years that followed. The younger Inzaghi reached double figures just once more in his career before eventually retiring in 2010.
He’s gone on to enjoy more success than his brother as a manager, though, and is currently in charge of Lazio.
Diego Tristan (Deportivo La Coruna, 2001/02)
Tristan emerged from the shadow of Roy Makaay at Deportivo in 2001/02 and quickly set about making life difficult for English teams in the Champions League. The Spaniard was instrumental in group stage victories over Manchester United and Arsenal, bagging his memorable brace against the Red Devils in a 3-2 win and finishing the campaign with six goals in Europe.
Tristan was selected to play for Spain at that summer’s World Cup, but suffered an ankle injury during the tournament and then tore a thigh muscle the following year. The striker’s love of the nightlife played an equally damaging role as his star began to fade.
He was on the periphery by the time Depor reached the semi-finals of the Champions League again in 2004, and soon headed off into the sunset with spells at Mallorca, Livorno, Cadiz and, most infamously, West Ham, where he scored just three times in 17 games.
Jurgen Rische (Kaiserslautern, 1998/99)
Kaiserslautern defied the odds to claim the Bundesliga title in 1998, having only gained promotion back to the German top flight the previous season. A year later, they looked on course to achieve an even bigger upset in Europe after topping a group that included Benfica, PSV Eindhoven and HJK Helsinki.
Much of that was down to the goals of Rische, an East German Jamie Vardy of sorts, who’d played a crucial role in Kaiserslautern’s Bundesliga success and was Johnny-on-the-spot in Europe a year later, scoring four crucial goals on their way to the quarter-finals.
The fairytale ended there, though, with emphatic defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich. The title-winning Kaiserslautern team began to break apart from there: Rische headed to Wolfsburg and, later, Eintracht Braunschweig, where he’s now assistant manager.
Francisco Farinos (Valencia, 1999/00)
A star in the making for Spain at the 1997 U17 World Championship, box-to-box midfielder Farinos came to the fore as part of the Valencia team that reached the 2000 Champions League Final. He may not have been able to prevent Real Madrid running out 3-0 winners that night, but Inter Milan liked what they saw and duly splashed out £14.5 million on the 22-year-old.
What should have been a dream move soon descended into a nightmare, though: Farinos picked up a serious injury sidelined him for 15 months. His return then coincided with a spectacular loss of form during which Inter threw away the Scudetto on the final day of the 2001/02 campaign.
Farinos played just under 50 league games for the Nerazzurri, and his most notable Champions League appearance came in 2003, when the dismissal of Francesco Toldo forced the Spaniard to tend goal for Inter. Against Valencia.
Reynald Pedros (Nantes, 1995/96)
In 1996, Pedros was the toast of French football and a key component of the Nantes team that made it to the semi-finals of the Champions League, scoring three goals en route. Though Les Canaris were eliminated 4-3 on aggregate by eventual winners Juventus, a bright future beckoned for the 24-year-old, who headed to Euro ‘96 with France having already sealed a move to Marseille despite interest from Barcelona.
The Euros were a personal disaster for Pedros, though, who came out the other end a national pariah after his tame penalty condemned Les Bleus to a semi-final shootout defeat against the Czech Republic.
Within just 16 months of joining Marseille, the confidence-shorn midfielder had played for l’OM, Parma, Napoli and Lyon. Pedros eventually retired in 2009 after a slide down the leagues and managed Lyon’s women’s team until summer 2019.
Milos Krasic (CSKA Moscow, 2009/10)
Juventus thought they’d uncovered the next Pavel Nedved when they brought Serbian midfielder Krasic to Turin in summer 2010. Not only did he look the part with his luscious blonde locks, the 25-year-old had the form to prove it, having just helped CSKA Moscow to the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Krasic scored four goals, including a stunner against Manchester United.
Looks can be deceiving, though, and despite a positive start to his Juve career that included three assists in his first two games and a hat-trick in his third, Krasic’s form suffered a dramatic collapse midway through that first campaign.
He never recovered either. Deployed sparingly during the 2011/12 season, he eventually moved on to Fenerbahce but failed to rekindle the spark that had made the winger one of the most sought-after youngsters in Europe. He was most recently playing in Poland with Lechia Gdansk – back in 2018.
Tony Watt (Celtic, 2012/13)
Watt announced himself with a Roy of the Rovers-style cameo in Celtic’s memorable 2-1 win over Barcelona at Parkhead in 2012. Coming off the bench with the game tied at 1-1, the 18-year-old displayed all the poise and nerve of a seasoned pro to score past Victor Valdes and put the Hoops on course for three crucial points.
Kenny Dalglish was said to be a keen admirer, and a move south of the border to Liverpool was mooted in the press. But then it all went downhill.
A lack of focus under Neil Lennon led to the teenager being shipped out on loan to Belgian side Lierse, and he joined Standard Liege in a surprise permanent transfer a year later. Watt returned to Britain with Charlton, playing 56 games for the Addicks before a series of unproductive loan moves at Cardiff, Blackburn and Hearts.
After another stint in Belgium and one with St Johnstone – his 10th club – he's been with CSKA Sofia since 2019. Watt is only 25.
Burak Yilmaz (Galatasaray, 2012/13)
Yilmaz was a late bloomer in the Champions League, finally hitting form after representing each of Turkey’s big four – Besiktas, Fenerbahce, Trabzonspor and Galatasaray – in the competition.
Originally a winger, it was during his stint with Galatasaray that he began netting with remarkable frequency. A perfect hat-trick against Cluj meant Yilmaz became the first Turkish player since Tuncay Sanli to score a Champions League treble. He followed that up with winning goals against Manchester United and Braga, ending the group stage as the competition’s top scorer with six in 501 minutes, just ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo, who bagged the same amount goals in 540 minutes.
The 27-year-old’s scoring run continued into the knockout rounds too, with goals home and away against Schalke in the last 16. Yilmaz eventually finished the season with eight goals in nine Champions League games and was tipped for a Premier League switch.
A transfer never materialised, however, which was probably for the best: Yilmaz scored just twice in his next 16 European outings. He’s since rediscovered his scoring touch though, albeit with Beijing Guoan in China, and then back at Trabzonspor.
Ryan Babel (Liverpool, 2007/08)
Given the myriad of far-flung clubs Babel has played for to date, it’s easy to forget that the Dutchman enjoyed an excellent debut season at Liverpool where he emerged as something of a Champions League super sub.
Babel bagged a brace from the bench against Besiktas in a memorable 8-0 win, and added another in a crucial group stage victory over Marseille. His most notable contribution came during the knockout phase, when Rafa Benitez introduced the Dutchman late in the second leg of their quarter-final against Arsenal.
Liverpool neededa goal to progress and Babel didn’t disappoint, winning a penalty that was duly converted by Steven Gerrard, before sealing progress with a goal of his own. Though the Reds were eventually beaten by Chelsea in the semis, Babel scored again to finish the campaign with five Champions League goals.
Although he never hit those heights again, the 32-year-old has enjoyed something of a career revival since joining Besiktas in January 2017. He returned to Netherlands contention that summer and has remained a key player ever since, and has the chance to make an impact in Europe's premier competition this year with Galatasaray.
Lars Ricken (Borussia Dortmund, 1996/97)
Possibly the most notable one-season wonder on this list, Ricken is best known for scoring the fastest goal by a substitute in a Champions League final – just 16 seconds after coming on for striker Stephane Chapuisat against Juventus in 1997.
It was a memorable long-distance strike that came after Ricken spotted Bianconeri goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi absent-mindedly off his line, and snuffed out any hopes of a Juventus comeback. Dortmund won 3-1 and Ricken was an overnight sensation.
Hero status already secured, he spent the next few years in and out of the treatment room. Though he enjoyed a renaissance of sorts during the 2001/02 campaign, helping Dortmund win the Bundesliga and earning a Germany call-up for the World Cup, the injury woes continued. He eventually retired in 2007, a one-club man with a career remembered for one goal.
Francesco Coco (Milan, 2000/01)
Say Coco’s name to a Milan fan and you’re likely to be greeted by a wry smile. After all, it was he who ended up being traded away to Inter Milan for Clarence Seedorf in a straight swap deal.
To comprehend Inter’s thinking, you’d have to go back to the 2000/01 season when Coco, a right-footed left-back, was being tipped as the natural successor to Paolo Maldini after impressing in the Champions League and earning an Italy call-up in the process.
He was out of favour a year later, but that didn’t stop Barcelona signing him on a season-long loan. That didn’t work out either and soon he was back at San Siro, albeit this time with Inter.
Coco went on to play 10 times for the Nerazzurri in the Champions League. Seedorf became the only player to win the Champions League with three different clubs.
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