Burned brightly but briefly...
There is no bigger competition at club level than the Champions League.
Making an impact on Europe’s premier tournament is an ambition shared by every footballer who plies his trade on the continent, and the following players certainly did that – albeit over a very brief period of time…
Tony Watt (Celtic, 2012/13)
A 2-1 victory over Barcelona in 2012 is arguably Celtic’s most memorable result of the 21st century. An 18-year-old Watt was the hero that night, entering the fray as a substitute and scoring the winning goal in a group stage clash with Lionel Messi & Co.
The teenager was unable to build on that incredible moment, though, and was soon sent out on loan to Belgian side Lierse by manager Neil Lennon. Watt then joined Standard Liege a year later; more recently he spent time on loan at Cardiff, Blackburn and Hearts, and is now in Bulgaria with CSKA Sofia after a stint with St Johnstone.
Diego Tristan (Deportivo La Coruna, 2001/02)
Tristan emerged from Roy Makaay’s shadow 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 a 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.
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 open the scoring 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 Jose Mourinho’s replacement, Victor Fernandez, the youngster headed back to Brazil in 2005 with Corinthians, where he soon fell out with manager Emerson Leao and was sold to Fluminense.
Francesco Coco (Milan, 2000/01)
In hindsight, it’s very obvious that Milan got the better deal when they agreed to send Coco to Inter in exchange for Clarence Seedorf in 2002. At the time it wasn’t so clear-cut, however, with Coco being tipped as the natural heir to Paolo Maldini after his fine displays in the Champions League.
The Nerazzurri did reach the semi-finals of the Champions League with Coco in 2002/03, but Seedorf enjoyed far greater success in the competition as Milan lifted the trophy that year and again in 2007. The Dutchman is still the only player to win the tournament with three different clubs.
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 when he equalled Cristiano Ronaldo’s record of nine goals in a group stage campaign in 2014/15.
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 the forward was soon heading back to colder climes with Spartak Moscow in January 2017.
Ryan Babel (Liverpool, 2007/08)
Champions League finalists in 2005 and 2007, Liverpool came close to reaching the showpiece event again in 2007/08, only to be denied by Chelsea in the last four. Babel was integral to their progression so far, though, scoring four goals in the group stage and another in the quarter-final clash with Arsenal.
The Dutchman also gave his side hope in the second leg of their defeat by Chelsea, scoring in the 117th minute to put the Reds within a goal of victory. He resurrected his career at Besiktas and has returned brilliantly for Holland, but Babel has never hit those Champions League heights again.
Maybe, just maybe, this is his his chance to finally do so at Galatasaray in 2019/20.
Mauro Bressan (Fiorentina, 1999/00)
A journeyman 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 an acrobatic bicycle kick from 25 yards.
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.
Javier Farinos (Valencia, 1999/00)
Hopes were high for Farinas after he played a starring role in Spain’s triumph at the Under-17 World Championship in 1997, and his first forays into the Valencia team only fuelled the excitement around a supremely talented prospect. The midfielder helped Los Che reach the Champions League final in 2000, and although they lost 3-0 to Real Madrid, Farinos had done enough to convince Inter that he was worth £14.5m.
The Spaniard was soon ruled out for 15 months through injury, though, and he struggled to recapture the old magic upon his return. He eventually departed San Siro in 2005, spending a season with Mallorca before spells at Hercules, Levante and Villarreal.
Hakan Yakin (Basel, 2002/03)
Yakin was Liverpool’s tormentor-in-chief during their crunch group stage clash with Basel in November 2002, setting up all three of the Swiss side’s goals in a 3-3 draw which 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, as the schemer failing to rekindle the magic of that one night at St Jakob-Park.
Simone Inzaghi (Lazio, 1999/00)
Pippo’s brother began his 19-year association with Lazio in 1999 and enjoyed an unforgettable debut campaign. Inzaghi struggled for goals in Serie A after being signed from Piacenza, scoring just seven times in 22 appearances that year, but he was prolific in Europe with nine goals in 11 games.
His standout performance came in March 2000, when he 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 – but it also proved to be the pinnacle of his Champions League career.
Milos Krasic (CSKA Moscow, 2009/10)
Comparisons with Pavel Nedved abounded when Juventus snapped up Krasic in 2010. The blond-haired Serbian winger had just helped CSKA Moscow reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League, scoring four goals – including a sublime effort against Manchester United – along the way.
Krasic hit the ground running in Turin, but his form soon fell off a cliff and he quickly found himself out of the starting XI. The Serb hasn’t yet been able to recover, struggling again at Fenerbahce before moving to Lechia Gdansk in 2015. He's been without a club since 2018.
Michalis Konstantinou (Panathinaikos, 2001/02)
Panathinaikos took a huge gamble in the summer of 2001 with their €11.3m signing of Konstantinou. A regular goalscorer for Iraklis Thessaloniki, the striker had bagged 61 goals in 119 appearances for the Cyprus club, but doubts 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, the striker 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.
That, however, was as good as it got in Europe for both Panathinaikos and Konstantinou.
Reynald Pedros (Nantes, 1995/96)
In 1996, Pedros (pictured playing for France) was the toast of French football, scoring three goals as Nantes upset the odds to reach the last four of the Champions League. The Ligue 1 outfit were only narrowly beaten by Juventus in a tight semi-final, and the attacking midfielder seemed to have a bright future ahead of him.
Things began to go downhill at Euro ’96, when Pedros missed a penalty in France’s semi-final shoot-out loss to the Czech Republic. With his confidence shot, the 24-year-old – manager of Lyon's women until stepping down in summer 2019 – never looked the same again in subsequent spells at the likes of Marseille, Parma, Napoli and Lyon.
Lars Ricken (Borussia Dortmund, 1996/97)
Ricken holds the honour of having scored the fastest ever goal by a substitute in a Champions League final. It took the Dortmund man just 16 seconds to find the net after he replaced Stephane Chapuisat in 1997, helping the German side to a 3-1 win against Juventus. It was a great goal too, Ricken spotting goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi off his line and firing the ball over him and into the net.
Injuries disrupted his career in the years that followed, and although he helped Dortmund win the Bundesliga in 2002, Ricken’s impact on the Champions League post-1997 was minimal.
Jurgen Rische (Kaiserslautern, 1998/99)
Kaiserslautern defied the odds to win the Bundesliga title in 1998, having only gained promotion back to the German top tier the previous campaign. 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.
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 important 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.
The winger’s choice was a costly one: 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 wonder what might have been.
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, before adding a second soon after half-time.
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, before retiring at 34.
Burak Yilmaz (Galatasaray, 2012/13)
Yilmaz has played for each of Turkey’s big four in the Champions League – Besiktas, Fenerbahce, Trabzonspor and Galatasaray – but it’s only his exploits with the latter that are remembered by a wider audience. The striker’s perfect hat-trick against Cluj in 2012/13 made him the first Turkish player since Tuncay Sanli to score a treble in the competition.
He then struck winning goals against Manchester United and Braga, ending the group stage as the tournament’s joint-top scorer with six strikes. Yilmaz also bagged home and away against Schalke in the last 16, but he’s been unable to replicate his prolific form in subsequent seasons.
Artem Dzyuba (Zenit, 2015/16)
Zenit’s bulldozer of a striker may have caught the eye for Russia at the World Cup last summer, but his success in European football’s premier club competition has been very much limited to one campaign.
The Russian top seeds flew through the group stage with five wins from six games, in no small part thanks to Dzyuba’s superb run of six goals in their final five group games which including a double away to Lyon.
His hot streak cooled in the new year, though, as the target man failed to net in either of his club’s last 16 clashes with Benfica. Zenit went out 3-1 on aggregate – and have only just returned to the Champions League.
For Dzyuba, finishing level with Lionel Messi in the scoring charts was no mean feat, particularly when you consider that the striker has mustered just three goals in 18 European appearances since.
Alan (Braga, 2012/13)
Manchester United fans might remember the name, even if they’d probably rather not. Although Braga’s 2012/13 Champions League campaign was nothing short of a disaster – they lost five games out of six to finish bottom of their group – it was one of the crowning moments of Alan’s career.
The Brazilian winger’s purple patch of five goals in the space of four group stage games included a brace at Old Trafford and one more against the Red Devils back in Portugal.
Sadly for the Braga captain, he couldn’t stop them from falling to defeats in both games, although he did score in their one victory at Galatasaray and finished joint-fourth in the tournament scoring charts, level with the likes of Karim Benzema and Ezequiel Lavezzi.
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