Top 10 Players to Never Win the Champions League
Many people view winning the Champions League as the epitome of club football success. However, there have been some outstanding players over the years who have never managed to lift the coveted trophy. It is one of every players’ dreams, yet the following ten players have surprisingly never made that particular dream into a reality.
Nearly everyone will agree that Ronaldo is one of the greatest football players in history. However, surprisingly he has played in just 40 Champions League matches, having missed many due to bad luck and injury. He played in lesser European competitions for PSV and Barcelona and his one season with Inter Milan ended against Manchester United with Ronaldo, a two time World Player of the Year, missing the first leg of the match and then limping through an hour of the second leg.
He should have won it in 2003, after moving to Real Madrid, and his incredible hat trick against Manchester United at Old Trafford was medal worthy in its own right. The team went on to play Juventus in the semi-finals and Ronaldo opened the scoring in Madrid. However, once again, he was injured and he played just 38 minutes of the second leg. The next year the team faced Monaco in the quarterfinals and once again, it looked like being Ronaldo’s turn to win. However, the team failed to perform, partly due to the on-loan Real teammate Fernando Morientes. He was just 27 at the time and should have had more chances to win. However, at the age of 29 he played his final Champions League game. While he didn’t win, he did at least score two goals in that match.
Gianluigi Buffon is widely considered one of the world’s greatest goalkeepers. However, his Champions League career consisted of three finals and three defeats, in 2003, 2015 and 2017. Speaking in October 2017, he announced that he would be retiring at the end of the season unless he won the Champions League. “I want to end my career with a big victory. Twelve years ago, I won the World Cup, yet I’ve lost three Champions League finals.”
However, he did not retire as promised. Instead, he joined Paris Saint-Germain for a season to try to land the trophy. What followed was one of the biggest mistakes of his career, spilling Marcus Rashford’s shot and allowing Romelu Lukaku to score in a game that earned Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the permanent job as Manchester United’s manager. In the end, Buffon had to accept defeat.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has some truly impressive statistics in the Champions League. He has scored 38 goals in 120 games spread across fifteen Champions League seasons, yet he has never won a medal. He advanced to the quarterfinals with Ajax and then lost to Milan, he reached the same stage of the competition with Juventus before losing to Liverpool and Arsenal. He went further, to the semi-finals with Barcelona, and then lost to the Inter Milan team he had left a year before. He once again reached the quarterfinals, this time with AC Milan, and then lost to Barcelona. He also reached the quarterfinals with Paris Saint-Germain, but lost to Barcelona. The story repeated itself a few more times, with Chelsea, then Barcelona again, and then Manchester City.
Ibrahimovic seems to have struggled in the knockout stage of the competition, scoring just ten goals in forty knockout matches, and three of those goals came in his final season with PSG. While no one doubts that he was a fantastic player, the lack of Champions League medal is something that is sure to haunt him.
Many people are full of admiration for Gabriel Batistuta and consider him a true icon of the game. However, he never made it to the knockout stages of the Champions League despite scoring some amazing goals against English competition, such as against Arsenal in 1999 and against Manchester United in 2000.
Those two goals came in the season that Batistuta was third in the FIFA World Player of the Year voting despite him not actually winning anything of real importance. He finished third in Serie A with Fiorentina, but everyone recognised his talents.
It took Dennis Bergkamp eight attempts to reach a Champions League final with Arsenal. Speaking about it retrospectively he said, “It was somehow you’re building up and up and getting all the trophies and getting personal success and in the end you get to the Champions League final at last. Jeez! If only I’d been five years younger!” However, Arsene Wenger was prepared to give him a few minutes in what was going to be his final appearance in an Arsenal shirt but then Jens Lehmann was sent off and Wenger was limited in his tactical substitutions.
Despite this, Bergkamp did win two UEFA Cups, once with Ajax and once with Inter Milan. Arguably, it was partly his fault as he refused to fly to many European away games. However, he was still a fantastic player who deserves a mention.
Fabio Cannavaro is the last person to have won the Ballon d’Or without having won the Champions League. He is considered one of the best defenders of the modern age but he never got further in the competition than the semi-final he reached with Inter Milan. That game ended in a painful defeat on away goals and he never reached the same stage with either Juventus or Real Madrid.
He played together with Nedved in the Juventus team that lost consecutive quarterfinals to English teams and then he was part of the Real Madrid team during the era when they failed to make it beyond the last 16. He was then 35 years old when the team lost 5-0 on aggregate to a Liverpool team featuring Andrea Dossena and Jay Spearing.
It is likely that Pavel Nedved’s Champions League experience haunts him to this day. The semi-final match between Real Madrid and Juventus saw the brilliant midfielder score a fantastic goal to help his team reach the final before stupidly ruling himself out of the final with a poor tackle on Steve McManaman.
While he won the Ballon d’Or that year, he was utterly devastated and wrote about it in great detail in his autobiography. He did reach two more quarterfinals, the first of which he lost to Liverpool and the second to Arsenal, but he never made it close to the final again.
Robert Lewandowski has some truly impressive Champions League statistics. Since the 2012-13 season he has made 80 appearances, 77 starts, he scored a massive 63 goals, he provided 11 assists, and he has a 0.99 goal involvement per 90. Only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have made more contributions since then with 115 and 82 respectively.
However, he has never won it, despite scoring four goals in a semi-final against Real Madrid when playing for Borussia Dortmund, despite moving to Bayern, and despite scoring loads of goals. At 31 years old, there is a real chance that now he never will.
Patrick Vieira was a great of his time, but unlike his teammate Thierry Henry, he did not leave Arsenal and then win the Champions League elsewhere. Instead, he left for Juventus, faced Arsenal in the Champions League quarterfinals, and things did not go well.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph at the time, Alan Smith said, “This Champions League tussle had gone worse than Vieira could ever have anticipated. Humiliated by his old side, booed by his old fans, the Juventus player’s performance had gone some way to vindicating Arsene Wenger’s decision last summer to say a sad farewell.
You know you’ve been slow to react when Robert Pires, not exactly known for his tackling, pinches the ball from behind with a neat sliding challenge. That ignomy befell Vieira on the halfway line just before half-time and if that made him feel bad what happened next would only have made things much worse. The resulting move was both simple and devastating. Pires to Thierry Henry, Henry to Fabregas.”
To make things even worse, he was then booked, ensuring that he couldn’t play in the second leg. Later in his career, he left Inter Milan in January 2010, just four months before they won the Champions League.
Ruud van Nistelrooy
Ruud van Nistelrooy scored an impressive 56 goals in the Champions League without ever winning it. In fact, he never even reached the final; the closest he came was in 2002 when Manchester United lost on away goals to Bayer Leverkusen in the semi-finals. It must make it worse for him that Real Madrid won the trophy while he was at Manchester United and then United won the trophy while he was at Madid.