Champions League non-winners
The World Cup may still be the most popular event on the footballing calendar, but it has long since been surpassed in terms of quality and entertainment by the Champions League.
This, increasingly, is the competition that footballers want to win most – but plenty of top-class players have failed to fulfil that objective...
25. Michael Owen
Given the way in which his career fizzled out at Newcastle, Manchester United and Stoke, it's easy to forget just how good Owen was in his pomp - which came much earlier than most footballers. The former England international was at his devastating best between the ages of 18 and 25, winning the Ballon d'Or in 2001 after helping Liverpool to a treble of UEFA Cup, FA Cup and League Cup.
The Champions League proved elusive for the Reds during that period, though, and Owen was also unable to triumph on the biggest stage of all during a single-season stay at Real Madrid. He was part of United's matchday squad for the 2011 final against Barcelona - much to the dismay of Dimitar Berbatov, who missed out - but was an unused substitute in a 3-1 defeat.
24. Sol Campbell
Campbell was unfortunate to ply his trade in the same era as Rio Ferdinand and John Terry; had his career not coincided with that pair, he would surely have even more than 73 caps in his possession. At club level, too, the centre-back arguably deserved more than just two Premier League titles and a Champions League runners-up medal.
The closest Campbell came to continental glory was in 2006, when he gave 10-man Arsenal the lead in the final against Barcelona. The Catalans' superior quality and man advantage - Jens Lehmann was sent off in the 18th minute - ultimately told, though, and the former Tottenham stopper moved on to Portsmouth a few weeks later.
23. Laurent Blanc
A key part of the France side that triumphed at the 1998 World Cup on home soil and the European Championship two years later, Blanc won league titles with Auxerre and Manchester United, domestic cups with Montpellier and Barcelona, and the Cup Winners’ Cup with the Catalan giants.
He was, however, unable to claim the Champions League title with any of his nine employers – a set of clubs which also included Napoli, Marseille and Inter. Blanc was later sacked as Paris Saint-Germain manager because of his inability to take them to the next level in Europe.
22. Phillip Cocu
The current PSV manager made 79 appearances in the competition, initially with the Dutch side and then during his six-year spell with Barcelona.
Cocu left the Camp Nou just before Barça's recent European dominance, however, with the Blaugrana winning the first of their four trophies in the 21st century two years after his 2004 departure. The midfielder won five league titles during his playing days, but the Champions League eluded him.
21. Robert Pires
When Jens Lehmann was shown a red card just 18 minutes into the 2006 Champions League final between Arsenal and Barcelona, Pires was the unfortunate casualty forced to make way for substitute goalkeeper Manuel Almunia. Arsene Wenger’s side took the lead despite their numerical advantage, but two second-half goals turned the game on its head and sent the trophy back to the Camp Nou.
That was the closest Pires came to winning the tournament, with his four pre-Arsenal years at Villarreal yielding a single quarter-final appearance in 2008/09 – in which the Yellow Submarine were downed by the Gunners.
20. Alexis Sanchez
Sanchez’s decision to swap Arsenal for Manchester United in 2018 made sense at the time, but it's fair to say his move to Old Trafford has been rather disastrous. Still, the Chilean was a brilliant player in his peak, as he demonstrated after joining Arsenal in 2014 - a year before former club Barcelona lifted the trophy.
The Blaugrana suffered elimination in the semi-finals in two of his three seasons at the Camp Nou; at the Emirates, meanwhile, Sanchez never made it beyond the round of 16, while he and United were eliminated at the quarter-final stage by Valencia last season and Barcelona this.
19. George Weah
The top scorer in the 1994/95 Champions League with seven goals, Weah was unable to stop his Paris Saint-Germain team losing the semi-final 3-0 on aggregate to AC Milan. The Rossoneri were clearly impressed with what they saw, though, snapping up the Liberian that summer.
Unfortunately for the striker, his time in Milan came in the hiatus between their two main eras of European dominance: triumphing in 1989, 1990 and 1994, and then again in 2003 and 2007, the seven-time winners missed out on the continental crown during Weah’s five goal-strewn years at San Siro.
18. Alan Shearer
Manchester United twice failed to sign Shearer, who instead chose Blackburn in 1992 and boyhood club Newcastle four years later. Had he opted to join Alex Ferguson's side, there's a good chance the ex-England international would have helped United win more than one Champions League before his retirement in 2006.
Shearer was unable to prevent Blackburn crashing out in the group phase in 1995/96, his final season at the club. And while Newcastle fans would welcome any sort of appearance in the Champions League these days, they didn't make it into the knockout rounds while Shearer was still spearheading their attack.
17. Cesc Fabregas
Cesc Fabregas must have thought he was certain to win a Champions League when he returned to Barcelona. Having beaten his Arsenal team in the 2006 final, the Catalans won it again in 2009 and 2011, the summer in which Fabregas moved back to his boyhood club.
However, in his three seasons at the Camp Nou, Barcelona were beaten in two semi-finals and a quarter-final. Fabregas returned to London in summer 2014, after which Barcelona promptly won the Champions League again. He was also unable to triumph on the continent during his time at Chelsea, and Monaco? Well, the less said, the better right now.
16. Gabriel Batistuta
Batistuta would probably have had a better chance of winning the Champions League had he left Fiorentina earlier than the year 2000, by which time he was 31. But the Argentine remained loyal to La Viola despite the fact they only participated in Europe’s foremost competition once during his time at the club.
When he finally left Florence, Batigol spent three campaigns at Roma, winning the Scudetto alongside fellow forwards Francesco Totti and Vincenzo Montella in 2000/01. He played in the Champions League in each of the following two seasons, but the capital club failed to make it beyond the second group stage on either occasion.
15. Giorgio Chiellini
Only four players have made more appearances for Juventus than Chiellini, who could move above Giuseppe Furino and Gaetano Scirea and into third place next season. The veteran defender will also hope to get his hands on the Champions League in 2019/20, a piece of silverware which has eluded him throughout a 14-year stay in Turin.
The Italian has participated in two finals since joining Juve from Livorno, but the Italians were soundly beaten by Barcelona (3-1 in 2015) and Real Madrid (4-1 in 2017). Chiellini will hope that Cristiano Ronaldo can fire the Bianconeri to glory next term, although the Portuguese was powerless to prevent Ajax overcoming the Serie A champions in this season's quarter-final.
14. Hernan Crespo
Argentina’s third-highest goalscorer of all time, Crespo played for some of Europe's best clubs and even netted two goals in a Champions League final.
Unfortunately for the striker that brace came in 2005, when Liverpool famously came back from 3-0 down to beat Milan on penalties. The Rossoneri won it two years later, but by then luckless loanee Crespo was at city rivals Inter – who also clinched the Champions League... the year after the Argentine had departed. Right man, right places, wrong time.
13. Eric Cantona
The catalyst behind much of Manchester United's success in the 1990s, Cantona had hung up his boots by the time Alex Ferguson finally got his hands on the trophy in 1999. The Frenchman had only just turned 33 when United beat Bayern Munich at the Camp Nou, and it's curious to wonder whether the Red Devils would still have triumphed in Europe with Cantona in their squad.
Despite his brilliance in the Premier League, the engimatic attacker largely struggled to translate his domestic form to the continental stage. He scored twice in four games in 1993/94 but then failed to find the net the following campaign, before striking three times in 10 matches as United reached the semi-finals in 1996/97, his final season as a player.
12. Ruud van Nistelrooy
With 56 Champions League goals to his name, Van Nistelrooy is the highest-scoring player never to have won the tournament. To make matters worse, the Dutchman has been top scorer in the tournament on three different occasions.
The striker joined Manchester United two years after their historic 1999 treble and left two seasons before their next European win. He also failed to achieve any continental glory during his four years with Real Madrid; like Manchester United, they won it two summers after his departure.
A veritable goal machine at domestic level, Van Nistelrooy won five titles in nine seasons across three countries, but perhaps the continental stage demanded a striker with different abilities.
11. Pavel Nedved
Nedved was part of a team that reached the Champions League final, but Juventus were edged out by Milan in an all-Italian clash in 2003.
The Czech Republic international played no part in the dour Old Trafford showpiece, though, as suspension prevented him from appearing. That was the closest he ever came to winning the tournament, having also represented Sparta Prague and Lazio in Europe’s premier competition earlier in his career.
10. Patrick Vieira
Impressive from an early age, Vieira turned out 76 times in the Champions League, for three different clubs in Arsenal, Juventus and Inter.
The former France international failed to pick up a winner’s medal, though, leaving the Gunners 12 months before they reached the 2006 final and then departing the January before Inter won it in 2010.
9. Lilian Thuram
Like Nedved, Thuram was also a runner-up in 2003, although the Frenchman did actually play for Juve in that game. The right-back did his own job well, keeping Milan at bay for 120 minutes in a 0-0 draw, but the Old Lady lost on penalties thanks to shootout flubs from David Trezeguet, Marcelo Zalayeta and Paolo Montero.
Thuram was also a member of the Parma team which lifted the UEFA Cup in 1999, later joining Barcelona shortly after they won the Champions League in 2006.
8. Michael Ballack
Finishing runner-up with one team is bad enough, but to do it with two must be galling. That's exactly the fate which befell Ballack: first in 2002 with Bayer Leverkusen, then six years later with Chelsea.
The midfielder was on the wrong side of one of the competition's greatest ever goals in his first final defeat, as Zinedine Zidane converted with a magnificent volley; in 2008 he was forced to watch on as John Terry and Nicolas Anelka's fluffed spot-kicks handed the trophy to Manchester United. The German at least scored his own penalty that night.
7. Fabio Cannavaro
One of the all-time greats for Italy, Cannavaro won the 2006 Ballon d'Or and amassed a haul of 138 international caps, second only to another name on this list. At barely 5ft 10in, he's also a standard riposte to anyone who insists that a centre-back needs to be tall enough to threaten the average door-frame.
Yet despite playing for Parma during the peak of their European powers in the late 1990s, and subsequently Inter, Juventus and Real Madrid, a Champions League medal is missing from the World Cup winner's collection.
6. Roberto Baggio
For a player with so much talent, it's slightly surprising that Baggio won only four major trophies in his career: Serie A with both Juventus and Milan, as well as a UEFA Cup and Coppa Italia with the former.
The Italian, who also represented Vicenza, Bologna, Inter and Brescia in his career, made his Champions League debut for Milan in 1996/97, and reached the quarter-finals with their city rivals two years later.
5. Francesco Totti
A one-club man who made 786 appearances for his boyhood side, Totti made his Roma debut in March 1993, before Harry Kane was born. In October 2014, he became the oldest goalscorer in Champions League history when he bagged against CSKA Moscow at the age of 38 years and 59 days.
The World Cup winner made his debut in the competition in 2001/02 but didn’t take part in a knockout tie until 2006/07, the season in which Roma were thrashed 8-3 on aggregate by Manchester United in the quarter-finals. The Giallorossi also reached the last eight the following year, but Totti never made it beyond that stage in the Champions League.
4. Dennis Bergkamp
The final Arsenal game before Bergkamp’s retirement was the 2006 Champions League final, when the Dutchman was an unused substitute in the Gunners’ defeat by Barcelona. He was also part of the Arsenal side that reached the last eight in 2003/04, when Chelsea ran out 3-2 winners on aggregate in a London derby.
By that stage Bergkamp had already tasted success on the European stage at both Ajax and Inter, with whom he won the UEFA Cup in 1992 and 1994 respectively. Yet the continent’s biggest prize proved elusive for a player who frequently sat out Champions League away games due to his fear of flying.
3. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
The Swede holds the unwanted record of making the most Champions League appearances (124) without ever lifting the trophy. Now 37 years old and in MLS with LA Galaxy, Ibrahimovic has run out of time to get his hands on Europe’s biggest prize.
He's therefore another nearly man: he left Inter a year before they won it in 2010, before doing exactly the same thing at Barcelona the following summer. He also represented Ajax, Juventus, Milan and PSG to no avail.
2. Gianluigi Buffon
Signed from Parma for a world-record fee for a goalkeeper in 2001, Buffon is second only to Alessandro Del Piero in Juventus' all-time appearance list.
The goalkeeper was on the wrong end of three final defeats with the Turin-based giants, making two penalty shoot-out saves in 2003 and then watching Barcelona run out 3-1 winners in 2015 and Real Madrid triumph two years later. Now at PSG, next season could be his final chance to remove his name from this list.
His namesake Cristiano has five winner's medals to his name, but Brazilian great Ronaldo never won the Champions League despite playing for some of the most illustrious clubs in Europe.
PSV, Inter, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Milan are among the forward's former teams, but the man who was named the best player in the world in 1997 and 2002 was never able to scoop European club football's top prize. What’s more, he never even played in a Champions League final. But he's still Ronaldo.
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