The Greatest Players Who Haven't Won the Champions League
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Lately, it seems as though not a day goes by without being bombarded by friends, co-workers and acquaintances asking you if you've seen Zlatan Ibrahimovic's latest goal.
This is never a problem. Either you have seen it and you are delighted to have the opportunity to talk about his brilliance at length, or you haven't seen it and you now have to opportunity and excuse to indulge in his brilliance at length.
On Wednesday night in the Champions League he was sublime once again. Whilst his third goal was clearly the best, as it was so casual in its audacity, my favourite was probably the second.
I like to imagine that he was so sickened by the prospect of scoring a goal virtually identical to his first that he decided to flick it in with the back of his right foot instead. Such is the brilliance of Zlatan.
He hasn't had a bad old career. He's played for some of the biggest clubs in Europe and managed to rack up no fewer than 10 league titles in six different countries.
But he's never won the Champions League. And that will hurt him. International success has eluded him, as it does for so many great players who represent lesser footballing nations. But to have played for Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona and AC Milan and never have won the European football's top prize seems just a little bit like bad luck.
At 32 years of age and showing no sign of slowing down, he still has time. But be warned Zlatan, Champions League glory has eluded great players before...
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Okay, this is a little bit of a cheat to start with as Diego Maradona never actually played in the Champions League.
But to think that a player who is widely considered to be the greatest of all time never won the European Cup is fairly incredible. Maybe it's because he spent his peak years at Napoli. Maybe it's because he only really cared about Argentina.
At least he's got a World Cup win under his belt though, I'm sure that's some consolation...
Then there were Michael Owen and Fabio Cannavaro, both winners of the Ballon D'or in 2001 and 2006, respectively, fully entitling them to consideration for this list.
Cannavaro unluckily just misses out, but Michael Owen was never realistically going to make it. Great player though he was, it is a bit of a wonder how he was ever actually voted the very best in Europe.
So let's get on with it then.
1. Roberto Baggio
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It is always a bit of a shame when such a fantastic player is invariably remembered for one slightly unfortunate incident.
But when you are arguably the greatest footballer on Earth, and you miss the decisive penalty in the first ever penalty shootout in a World Cup Final, the chances are that people are going to remember.
Considering his lengthy career at the very top of Italian football, Baggio's lack of silverware is somewhat surprising. Even with spells at Fiorentina, Juventus and both Milan clubs, he managed just two Serie A titles and one Coppa Italia.
He also managed one UEFA Cup in 1993 with Juventus but, despite such a heralded career as an individual, failed to leave any genuine mark on the European Cup or Champions League.
Closest he came
He never really got close, in all honesty.
2. Gabriel Batistuta
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The greatest goal scorer of the 90s? Possibly. Ronaldo, Raul and Alan Shearer may think differently, but still, possibly.
Another player remembered more for his exploits for country than club; Gabriel Batistuta deserved far more silverware for his talent and predatory prowess.
But whilst he mercilessly banged them in for Argentina, Batistuta was playing for a Fiorentina side that were rarely challenging near the top of Serie A, let alone in the Champions League.
It took a move to Roma in 2000 for him to finally win a league title. But Champions League success unfortunately evaded him.
Closest he came
Once again, nowhere near.
3. Dennis Bergkamp
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Whenever I think of Dennis Bergkamp, I am reminded of the 1998 World Cup. England had just been knocked out on penalties by Argentina, and I was a young boy in pieces.
There was nothing, I repeat, nothing I wanted more than for Argentina to be knocked out as cruelly as my precious Three Lions had been. Dennis Bergkamp, the legend that he is, duly delivered this for me.
For Arsenal, he is also a legend. He is the man every knowledgeable Gunner believes to be the greatest in their history.
Throughout his career he won three Premier League Titles, four FA Cups, one Eredivisie and two Dutch Cups. In Europe he managed two UEFA Cups and a Cup Winners Cup. Unfortunately, the Champions League always just eluded him.
Closest he came
It is a pity that a great player such as Dennis Bergkamp spent the final game of his career as an unused substitute in the 2006 Champions League Final.
After Jens Lehmann was sent off early, the Dutchman was never likely to be used as Arsenal tried gallantly to hold onto a 1-0 lead. A massive shame.
4. Gianluigi Buffon
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Still the most expensive goalkeeper in history, Italian legend Gianluigi Buffon also has every right to lay claim to being the greatest player between the sticks of all time.
Fresh from becoming a World Cup winner in 2006, Buffon chose to stay with Juventus even after they were relegated following the match-fixing scandal. Little wonder he is such an icon in Turin.
Despite a healthy domestic honours list, which includes four League titles and five Coppa Italias, Buffon has never managed to attain the Champions League success that his consistent brilliance has deserved.
Closest he came
2002/03 final. Despite saving the penalties of Clarence Seedorf and Kakha Kaladze, he was unable to prevent his side going down 3-2 in the shootout. Unfortunately, due to extenuating circumstances, they haven't really got close since.
5. Eric Cantona
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Manchester United would not be the club they are today if it wasn't for the influential Eric Cantona.
He was the vital piece in the Sir Alex Ferguson jigsaw as United won four league titles in the five seasons that the Frenchman blessed the club. The only year they didn't win he was suspended following a slight incident with a Crystal Palace fan.
Unfortunately, in an unexpected fashion that is typical of the Frenchman, Cantona retired at the age of 30, just at a time that the Red Devils were building towards their first European Cup triumph since 1968.
Two years later, in 1999, Manchester United won the Champions League. Perhaps they wouldn't have done so had Cantona stayed on at the club. After all, it was the lauded attacking quartet of Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham that fired them towards the treble.
But it is hard to imagine that the Old Trafford club would have been weakened with Cantona in the side.
Closest he came
1996/97 semi-finalist. Unfortunately Manchester United were simply outplayed over two legs by an excellent Borussia Dortmund side and deserved to go out. Cantona decided afterwards not even to give himself another chance at European glory.
6. Lothar Matthaus
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In his autobiography, Diego Maradona described Lothar Matthaus as "The best rival I've ever had."
Such words from arguably the greatest player of all time should tell you all you need to know about the German legend.
In a glittering domestic and international career, Matthaus won seven Bundesliga's, one Serie A and a World Cup. Not bad going.
In Europe however, despite spending 12 seasons playing in two separate stints at Bayern Munich, he was unable to win a single European Cup or Champions League. He managed two UEFA Cups though, which I'm sure will be some consolation to him.
Closest he came
Literally minutes. Remember Manchester United's dramatic last gasp victory at the Nou Camp in 1999? Lothar Matthaus probably does.
John Brewin for ESPN described it fantastically:
"With 86 minutes gone, man-of-the-match Matthäus, the cup surely destined to be in his hands after the horror of Vienna 12 years before, departed the field with typical strutting confidence, shaking the hands of his colleagues as he went. Of course, he was famously denied triumph by Manchester United's Sheringham and Solskjaer and the image most remembered of him that night is of his tearing off of his loser's medal as soon as it was presented to him. European football's premier trophy would forever remain as the one that got away."
In 1987, Lothar Matthaus was denied the European Cup by two late goals from Porto after his Bayern Munich side took a 1-0 lead.
In the words of the great John McClane: "How can the same 'stuff' happen to the same guy twice?" (He didn't say stuff).
7. Pavel Nedved
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I'd go as far to say that Pavel Nedved is the most under-appreciated midfielder of the last 20 years.
Okay, he did win the Ballon D'or in 2003 but compared to the plaudits afforded to the other greats of his era such as Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo and Rivaldo (amongst many, many others) he seems almost like the forgotten man.
Maybe it's because he never head-butted someone in a World Cup Final, had a pig's head flung at him or got a player sent off by feigning a head injury when the ball hit him on the leg. The things you have to do for attention these days, I mean honestly.
He managed three Serie A titles and a Cup Winners' Cup in his time with Lazio and Juventus, but the super, major honours at European and international level always just eluded him.
His Czech Republic side were on the wrong end of the first ever golden goal against Germany in the final of Euro '96. In 2004, they were the best team in the tournament but somehow (like everyone else) came unstuck against Greece in the semi-final.
Closest he came
2002/03 confirmed his status as somewhat of a nearly man of European football. In the second leg of their semi-final victory over Real Madrid he absolutely ran the show, scoring the crucial late third that assured Juventus of their place in the final.
Unfortunately he was then booked for a challenge on Steve McManaman, ruling him out of the final. Juventus went on to lose 3-2 on penalties to AC Milan following a dour 0-0 draw. Nedved undoubtedly could have made a difference.
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If it weren't for a series of regular, lengthy and unfortunate injuries, Ronaldo would easily be up for debate as the greatest striker of all time.
That is not to say he still isn't in amongst the best ever, but he could have been so much more.
His goal scoring record at every single one of his clubs makes for quite outrageous reading, but despite playing for Barcelona, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and AC Milan he was unable to ever win the Champions League.
Incredibly, he also only managed to win one European league title throughout his entire career.
Much like many of the great Brazilians, he will be remembered in years to come for his exploits in the World Cup instead. He is out on his own as the most successful World Cup striker of all time with 15 goals and won the thing in 1994 and 2002.
Closest he came
Made the semi-finals of the 2002/03 Champions League with Real Madrid but came unstuck against a fabulous Juventus side.
Perhaps even more unluckily though, in 2006/07 he was at AC Milan when they won the trophy for a seventh time, but as he had played for Real Madrid earlier in the campaign, he was cup-tied and unable to play any part in the victory.
9. Francesco Totti
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The perennial one-club man.
Paolo Maldini and Ryan Giggs may have played more games for AC Milan and Manchester United, respectively. But neither were their club's most talented, important and influential player for almost 20 years.
They both also gained far more silverware to keep themselves happy. Francesco Totti has won just one Serie A and two Coppa Italia's in over two decades at the club. Scant reward for such an exceptional player.
Even at the age of 37, he is still their talisman. They currently sit top of the Italian league with eight wins from as many games, with Totti pivotal so far.
Hopefully they will maintain their form and Totti will get one more crack at the big time that his talent and loyalty truly warrants.
Closest he came
Quarter-finalist 2006/07. Roma took a 2-1 lead to Old Trafford in the hopes of holding out for the semi-final, but were taken apart by arguably Manchester United's finest attacking display in recent history, losing 7-1.
Also made the quarter-final the following year, but were done 2-0 at home by the same opponents and were out of the tie by the second leg.
10. Patrick Vieira
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Even when Arsenal dominated the Premier League, they were unable to ever make too much of an impact in Europe during the days of Patrick Vieira. But he was an exceptional player, and it can be argued that Arsene Wenger has never been able to truly replace him.
In 2005, he finally decided to move away from North London in the hope of finding European success elsewhere but made the unfortunate decision of heading to Juventus right in the middle of the infamous Italian match-fixing scandal.
To add insult to injury, Arsenal chose that season to make it all the way to the Champions League final.
By the time he moved to Inter in 2006 his legs had gone and his best years were firmly behind him.
Closest he came
He made two appearances for Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan side that went on to win the Champions League in 2010, but decided to pack up and leave for Manchester City in January.
It is unlikely he would have played that much of a role in the closing stages of the tournament anyway.