Top 25 Players Who Won't Be Playing in the Champions League This Season

Tom SunderlandFeatured ColumnistJuly 22, 2014

Top 25 Players Who Won't Be Playing in the Champions League This Season

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    The Champions League is a battleground in which, season after season, only the strongest and those most deserving of its splendour get to compete.

    That accounts for a team's involvement, however, and not necessarily the quality of some individuals—many of whom miss out on the continental competition even though they themselves are of a sufficient enough grade to feature.

    Some sides will have to settle for Europa League involvement in 2014-15, whereas others will go without European football altogether despite housing some of the sport's finest talents.

    The list is a long one, but here we take a look at 25 of the top players currently poised to miss out on Europe's elite tournament this coming season.


    All statistics are provided by Transfermarkt.

Selection Criteria

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    Between now and September 1, some squads will take on an almighty transformation, and there are those players who look highly likely to move before the transfer window closes.

    Save for a few exceptions, we've disregarded rumours and speculation for the large part, regardless of how rife it might be in some instances, including players as employees of their current outfits. 


    No Outsiders

    One would like to think this goes without saying, but we are of course only taking into account players on the books of clubs which come under the UEFA banner.

    If a player is loaned to a side outside Europe, they're still applicable for consideration, but this countdown is concerning European-based talent only. 

    What's more, those clubs still in Champions League playoff contention have been included as being in the competition, and so, their players are ineligible.


    Club Quota

    In order to give as wide an array of talent as possible, each club may have a maximum of three candidates feature in our list.

    Manchester United, Milan and Inter, for example, each boast a certain squad pedigree and may rightly dominate the reckoning, but then that wouldn't be a fair representation.


    Current Quality

    Lastly, players are considered on current standard and ability. Some of those comprised within our 25 may be past their best or have a long career ahead of them, but this isn't a list based on past achievements, nor future potential.

    As such, most of the players nominated are either in or coming upon their playing prime, though that is not to say the voting process is exclusive to those rules.

Notable Omissions

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    Many elite talents have been omitted from our top 25, and here are just a few of those who, for one reason or another, didn't make the cut.


    Yann M'Vila, Inter

    Signing a season-long loan from Rubin Kazan, Yann M'Vila will play his football at the San Siro this season, finally making his way to one of Europe's more storied clubs, as has been predicted for some years.

    The French international will strive to help Inter back into Serie A's hierarchy, and though his quality in Russia was known, it will be of some interest to see how that ability translates to Italian surroundings.


    Serge Aurier, Toulouse

    It may seem a tad premature to mention Serge Aurier here when there are so many more stars experienced in the ways of the Champions League.

    However, Toulouse's right-back, flavour of the month or not, has proven his talents in Ligue 1, and his blistering approach was a joy to watch down the Ivory Coast's flank at the 2014 World Cup.


    David De Gea, Manchester United

    Several years ago, it may have seemed ridiculous to associate David De Gea with being a big miss in European football, but United's No. 1 has swiftly evolved into one of the most revered stoppers in England.

    Aerial ability and strength may still be some of the Spaniard's weaker points, but his evolution was recognised last term with the Red Devils Players' Player of the Season award. 


    Ander Herrera, Manchester United

    Having just completed his big-money move to Manchester United, Ander Herrera will be looking forward to many years of title contention ahead.

    For now, though, the former Athletic Bilbao playmaker will have to settle for a year of domestic football in England, making the decision to come away from Basque surroundings, where he would have at least featured in the Champions League playoffs.


    Stephan El Shaarawy, Milan 

    His 2013-14 campaign was woefully stunted by injury, but Stephen El Shaarawy is undoubtedly one of those players whom Milan will be relying upon to take them back to the promised land.

    Unfortunately, that lack in recent playing time means our current estimations of his powers are skewed, but the attacker is nonetheless deserving of a small mention.

25. Seamus Coleman, Everton

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    Career Champions League Appearances: 0

    Roberto Martinez's arrival at Goodison Park has benefited those in some areas of the pitch more than others, with Seamus Coleman among those thriving on the tactical shifts employed.

    The former Sligo Rover was already impressing prior to the change in management, and while Ross Barkley, Kevin Mirallas and others all bring their own touch of class to the Toffees cause, Coleman is a star on a meteoric trajectory.

    The Republic of Ireland international's influence, like Baines, is especially impressive when one considers it comes from right-back, notching six Premier League goals last term.

24. Miroslav Klose, Lazio

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    Career Champions League Appearances: 41

    One might assume that Miroslav Klose is included on this countdown merely as a result of his 2014 World Cup exploits, during which he became the World Cup's all-time leading goalscorer. And it would be a fair assumption, at that.

    However, after telling German newspaper BILD (h/t Football Italia) that he intends to retire next year, the omission of arguably one of the best finishers of this past decade would be a horrid offence.

    As well as breaking the World Cup's record for goals scored at a finals, Klose also won his 17th World Cup match in the final against Argentina—also a new record.

    Lazio will cherish the 36-year-old's influence right up until his deal in Rome expires next summer, and while he hasn't been at his best for some time now, his positioning and poaching presence remains potent.

23. Jan Vertonghen, Tottenham

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    Career Champions League Appearances: 17

    Alongside Christian Eriksen, Jan Vertonghen is one of the Spurs players with a bit of Champions League experience from their time at Ajax together.

    Adapting quickly to his north London setting, the Belgian didn't quite live up to his 2012-13 standards last season, but those shortcomings aren't enough to refute the former Premier League Team of the Year member's talents.

    Similarly, Vertonghen won't suffer in the long term as a result of Belgium's somewhat lacklustre run to the quarter-finals at this summer's World Cup.

    Adept in the heart of defence or as an alternative option at left-back, the roaming figure of Vertonghen brings a maverick presence to Mauricio Pochettino's back line, which the Argentinian is bound to take advantage of.

22. Asmir Begovic, Stoke City

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    Career Champions League Appearances: 0

    Without doing a disservice to the Potters, it would be a shame for the peak of Asmir Begovic's career to consist of some extremely loyal years at Stoke City and a loan-laden spell with Portsmouth.

    For the goalkeeper's talents are of a standard far beyond that, and Mark Hughes is fortunate to have held onto the stopper for so long.

    A dismal World Cup group campaign for Bosnia-Herzegovina told a similar tale, where some lacklustre performances in front of him again let Begovic down, resulting in a first-stage exit.

    That being said, the No. 1 was unsurprisingly among the nation's brightest performers, and if Begovic is to ever play the Champions League football he's clearly capable of, a move away from the Britannia may be required.

21. Wilfried Bony, Swansea City

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    Career Champions League Appearances: 6

    Swansea City will be fortunate if they can reach the end of the 2014 summer transfer window with Wilfried Bony still on their books, and that, in itself, is a sign that the striker is capable of something more.

    The Daily Mail's Simon Jones says that Liverpool are still intrigued by the prospect of his £19 million release clause, and after Bony scored 17 goals in his first Premier League season last term, one can see why.

    His past as a prolific Eredivisie figure with Vitesse Arnhem left it somewhat open to interpretation as to what value the forward held at the very top level. Now, it's common knowledge that the Ivorian is the real deal.

20. Riccardo Montolivo, Milan

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    Career Champions League Appearances: 29

    Riccardo Montolivo will always ponder what could have been at the 2014 World Cup, breaking his leg just a month before the competition was set to kick off in Brazil.

    And Cesare Prandelli could have undoubtedly utilised the Milan man's talent in the core of his side, Montolivo having just finished another season in which he was again one of the Rossoneri's more consistent talents.

    According to, the playmaker was joint-third-highest in both key passes recorded per game and assists made last season, although it wasn't quite enough to thrust Milan into Champions League qualification.

    Montolivo was also Milan's most disruptive of enemy movement last season, making a team high of 2.7 tackles per game, a balanced, box-to-box figure capable of shining against hefty opposition.

19. Inigo Martinez, Real Sociedad

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    Career Champions League Appearances: 7

    No Real Sociedad player started more matches than Inigo Martinez last season (46), a sign of just how essential a part the 23-year-old has and will continue to play for the club.

    The one-time Spanish international is showing extreme indications of promise at what is only the start of his career, and the Spanish administration should be upbeat about what is to come from their rising centre-back.

    La Real's youth product is already a mature and sophisticated presence in central defence, possessing a treasure trove of experience with Spain's under-21 setup, for which he made 15 appearances.

    Sociedad will need to continue producing talent of Martinez's standard if they are to evolve and compete for La Liga's higher places, and securing the defender's commitment for the years to come will be one of their top priorities.

18. Samir Handanovic, Inter

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    Career Champions League Appearances: 2

    While getting the rest of the Nerazzurri squad back to its all-time best might be proving a task for president Erick Thohir, with Samir Handanovic at its base, Inter can at least rely upon a steady pair of mitts.

    The Slovenian No. 1 isn't likely to see a lot of international recognition in his career, but his talents have steered Inter through some tough times.

    And Tancredi Palmeri of beIN Sports quoted Thohir in placing a hands-off tag on his stopper earlier this month:

    Inter president Thohir: "Atletico are interested in (signing) Handanovic and Icardi, but we have no intention to sell"

    — Tancredi Palmeri (@tancredipalmeri) June 30, 2014

    A two-time Serie A Team of the Year inclusion, Handanovic has proven to be worth every bit of the €11 million investment forked out for his services in 2012, rising to be one of Italy's, and indeed Europe's most respected goalkeepers.

17. Mario Balotelli, Milan

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    Career Champions League Appearances: 31

    After what was at times a dour and depressing 2013-14 season for Milan, the Rossoneri have missed out on Champions League football for the first time since 2007-08, their finish of eighth being their lowest in almost two decades.

    However, in that quagmire, Mario Balotelli continued to show glimmers of himself at his purest and was by a large margin the club's top scorer with 14 goals in 30 Serie A appearances.

    His personal life and on-pitch attitude can sometimes make him toxic to morale, and the Italian is by no means in his brightest light at present following on from a dismal World Cup with the Azzurri.

    That being said, the fact remains that there's no denying the 23-year-old Balotelli is a power of untapped potential; it's just a shame we're not likely to ever see that potential fully realised.

16. Nemanja Vidic, Inter

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    Career Champions League Appearances: 52

    From one club that failed to clinch Champions League qualification to the next, Nemanja Vidic's move to Inter won't bring with it any benefits in competition—unfortunately for him.

    It will be interesting to see which of the two clubs fares better in the years to come, each seeking their own surges back to glory in their own ways. But one thing for certain is that the Nerazzurri have an extremely established figure at the heart of their defence as they go about doing so.

    For now at least. The fact of the matter is that while the Serbian veteran has been known as one of the world's finest central defenders in the past, he's now 32 years of age and on the road to decline.

    That being accounted for, Vidic has always possessed a sometimes underestimated gauge of pace, and time will tell if he can be the same defensive monolith in Serie A.

15. Roberto Firmino, Hoffenheim

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    Career Champions League Appearances: 0

    Roberto Firmino isn't a name that would necessarily roll off the tongue of every fan when quizzed on which players will be most missed in this season's Champions League, but it doesn't make his absence any less significant.

    In South American circles, many thought there might have been a place in Luiz Felipe Scolari's squad for the young Brazilian this summer and could go as far as to state that the hosts could well have used him.

    However, that's mere hypothesis. What's more concrete is the fact that Firmino finished the 2013-14 campaign as the joint-fourth-highest scorer in the German top flight with 16 goals, in addition to his 12 assists.

    Those figures would point to an incredibly rounded asset emerging at Hoffenheim who, at just 22 years of age, is fast becoming a sensation that may well make the jump up to the next level in the years to come.

14. Ricardo Rodriguez, Wolfsburg

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    Career Champions League Appearances: 4

    In an age in which the attacking full-back is highly valued and defending in that role sometimes goes malnourished, Ricardo Rodriguez is a multifaceted revelation.

    The Swiss international is adept in both rampaging down his flank when the opportunity arises, but he has also proven to be a capable defensive asset, with Wolfsburg the current benefactors.

    The German club's sporting director Klaus Allofs recently told German publication kicker (h/t the Daily Mail's David Kent) that Rodriguez is going nowhere, despite the substantial interest in his talents this summer, proclaiming: "Ricardo is not going anywhere."

    The Wolves are right to place such a level of importance on retaining the 21-year-old's services, with Rodriguez's steady development in becoming one of Europe's most promising left-backs coming along swimmingly.


13. Leighton Baines, Everton

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    Career Champions League Appearances: 0

    For years, Everton have hovered agonisingly over the threshold of Champions League football, and the 2013-14 campaign was another that saw Leighton Baines just miss out on his dreams of featuring in the competition.

    However, while the Toffees haven't been up to scratch in qualifying for the competition over the seasons, Baines has always given the sense that he could star if he had his chance.

    And one can believe he's passed on the opportunities to chase it, too, with Manchester United's interest in the left-back being well-chronicled in recent years. Baines' all-round contributions from defence are something of a consistency marvel.

    With Ashley Cole now out of the picture, Baines didn't quite encapsulate his talents as succinctly as he might have liked during a short-lived stay at the 2014 World Cup, but the free-kick specialist would dazzle if he ever made it to Europe's pinnacle.

12. Antoine Griezmann, Real Sociedad

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    Ian Walton/Getty Images

    Career Champions League Appearances: 8

    Antoine Griezmann is one of those who could well find himself with new headquarters come the end of this summer, but as things stand, he remains loyal to the Real Sociedad cause.

    Last season was something of a disappointment for La Real, but even their seventh-place finish in La Liga may not have been possible were it not for the input of their star attacker.

    Alongside Carlos Vela and Xabi Prieto, the Frenchman helped deliver on a consistent basis upfront, scoring 16 league goals, which was joint-highest alongside Vela. It is especially impressive considering his priorities lie out wide more often than not.

    Franck Ribery was a big absence for Les Bleus at the World Cup this summer, but Griezmann's blend of dogged work mixed with more elegant additions certainly eased the burden when he featured.

11. Luiz Gustavo, Wolfsburg

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    Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

    Career Champions League Appearances: 24

    His talents faded into a state of relative obscurity at the Allianz Arena, but since moving to Wolfsburg from Bayern Munich last year, Luiz Gustavo has come upon a new lease of life.

    As such, Scolari saw fit to entrust him as one of the most stable pieces in his midfield makeup this summer, as the anchor performed admirably within his own realms of influence.

    South American writer Rupert Fryer took note of the player's team-wide input during the World Cup, linking his own drop in standards with the Selecao's as a whole:

    Doubt it's a coincidence that Luiz Gustavo failed to impress in these last two games. Prior to that he was #BRA's player of the WC for me.

    — Rupert Fryer (@Rupert_Fryer) July 12, 2014

    Being handed a more prominent role in the Wolves' setup has shown Gustavo to be among Europe's most accomplished assets for his position, missing out on the Champions League this year by just a point.

10. Christian Eriksen, Tottenham

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    Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

    Career Champions League Appearances: 20

    With the money made from Gareth Bale's sale last summer, Tottenham overhauled their squad, some recruits failing to adapt as desired while others impressed in their new Premier League setting.

    Of all those purchases, Christian Eriksen is a player the club should go to almost any length to keep hold of, such was the promise shown in his maiden season at White Hart Lane.

    The north Londoners pulled off a major coup in acquiring the Dane for little more than £10 million, with Eriksen scoring seven goals and making nine assists in just 23 Premier League starts.

    In an age in which a truly reliable No. 10 is among the most sought-after commodities in the sport, Eriksen is an incredibly fashionable figure—one who some might argue is capable of bringing something to any European squad.

9. Keisuke Honda, Milan

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    Career Champions League Appearances: 11

    Football Manager fans everywhere may have been among those most anxious to see Keisuke Honda move to one of Europe's "elite five" divisions for years now, and it finally came to fruition last winter.

    With Kaka now departed from Milan, the former CSKA Moscow star may be handed the freedom to lead the Rossoneri in their journey back to the top, but only time will tell in that particular pursuit.

    His time in the Russian Premier League made him one of Asia's most revered technicians, and now, Italy is fortunate enough to have Honda delighting its people—or perhaps inflicting dread if you're with the opposition.

8. Hernanes, Inter

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    Career Champions League Appearances: 0

    Toward the end of Brazil's World Cup, when things were at their bleakest for the home side, the Selecao were crying out for a player of Hernanes' quality, and the midfielder perhaps deserved a greater opportunity.

    This time last year, it was Lazio that the 29-year-old was attempting to thrust into Europe's upper echelon, but following a January transfer, it's now Inter that he'll try and accomplish the same feat.

    Hernanes stands as one of the brightest playmakers in Italian football, possessing an eye for goal himself, where range presents no immediate danger to the dextrous individual.

    What's even more frustrating on Hernanes' part is that, at his age, there may not be too many opportunities left for the Champions League masses to see him at his very best.

7. Borja Valero, Fiorentina

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    Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

    Career Champions League Appearances: 6

    In the debate of strange career paths and the many twists and turns comprised within, Borja Valero's journey takes the cake, with stops along the way including Real Madrid, Mallorca, West Brom and Villarreal.

    However, at the age of 29, the Spaniard has come upon stability for the first time in his tale, and Fiorentina have offered the playmaker an Italian setting that suits his game terrifically.

    So convinced is the club of Valero's talents, in fact, that Eurosport recently revealed the player had signed a new five-year contract in Florence, surely to be the last long-term agreement of his playing days.

    Valero's rise is a rags-to-riches story of perseverance and a diehard attitude that's finally paying dividends, and for all the attacking talent La Viola posses, it's their chief midfield maestro that really makes everything tick.

6. Hugo Lloris, Tottenham

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    Career Champions League Appearances: 40

    Perhaps Hugo Lloris' greatest regret about moving to Tottenham from Lyon is that the quantity of English powers means his Champions League chances are that much slimmer in the Premier League.

    However, while Spurs may have failed to claim a top-four finish once again last term, the figure in between their posts will play a monumental role in any hopes they might have of doing so in the near future.

    Lloris showed what faith he has in the Tottenham cause by putting pen to paper on a new five-year contract with the club upon his return from Brazil, where he impressed as part of Les Bleus' run to the knockout stages.

    There aren't many significant areas to Lloris' game that stand as weaknesses, per se, but his speed off the line and blocking ability assuredly make him one of the brightest goalkeepers in the game today.

5. Mathieu Valbuena, Marseille

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Career Champions League Appearances: 37

    There are few players in the world with whom the old adage "big things come in small packages" rings more true than Marseille star Mathieu Valbuena.

    The Ligue 1 outfit's tiny talisman may stand at just 5'5", but he hasn't let that "handicap" prevent him from becoming one of France's brightest puppeteers, a trait that was on show at the 2014 World Cup.

    Les Bleus' run to the tournament's quarter-finals came with a significant portion of Valbuena's influence, and although Marseille will go without European involvement in 2014-15, his reputation hasn't diminished in the slightest.

4. Juan Mata, Manchester United

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    Ian Walton/Getty Images

    Career Champions League Appearances: 28

    David Moyes' tenure at Old Trafford placed a sense of positional doubt on more than a few Manchester United players, and for January signing Juan Mata, this was as difficult to endure as any other.

    When played in his preferred central attacking slot, we witnessed the kind of constructive brilliance that had long gone missing at Stamford Bridge, and it wasn't long before the impact on goal began to tell.

    Although he looks somewhat dazed when fielded out of position, the Spaniard can be a devastating power when utilised correctly, and Louis van Gaal will undoubtedly place some priority on figuring out where best to make use of Mata.

3. Wayne Rooney, Manchester United

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    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    Career Champions League Appearances: 82

    From stars of Goodison Park present to those of the past, Wayne Rooney will miss out on the Champions League this season for the first time since 2003.

    The forward's inclusion on this list is by no means related to his signing of a £300,000-a-week extension at Old Trafford, and regardless of how one might feel about Rooney as a man, his on-pitch impact is rivalled by few.

    Under the Van Gaal regime, one can guarantee that the versatile attacker will have a big part to play in whatever plans the Dutchman has for the Red Devils moving forward, and it's Rooney's malleability that makes him such an admirable asset at times.

    That's of course not to mention his knack for scoring goals, the Everton academy graduate having netted 30 in his Champions League career thus far.

2. Juan Cuadrado, Fiorentina

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    Career Champions League Appearances: 0

    Like many of the Colombian national team members, Juan Cuadrado has seen his star soar in the wake of some stellar displays at the 2014 World Cup, but the winger's renown traces back further than the global tournament.

    After all, this is a man whom Fiorentina have so far spent €21 million on acquiring his full rights, initially taking Cuadrado in co-ownership with Udinese for €6 million before paying for his full rights this summer.

    The 2013-14 campaign was a breakout period for the explosive talent, however, which saw him score 11 goals and make eight assists in 32 Serie A appearances for La Viola.

    Should he remain in Florence, Cuadrado will not feature in the Champions League this coming season, but Ben Jefferson of the Daily Express reports that could change with Bayern Munich and Barcelona in the hunt to sign him.

1. Robin van Persie, Manchester United

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    Career Champions League Appearances: 74

    So respected are the talents of Robin van Persie, that his native Holland has even taken to producing currency in homage to the magnificent headed goal he scored against Spain at the World Cup finals, as per John Drayton of the Daily Mail.

    At the end of the day, one would like to feel that the Champions League is a celebration of the best players available. And in that sense, Van Persie is one of those few players who everyone can agree will be missed as a result.

    Granted, his performances in Brazil this summer didn't always put the Dutchman in his best light, but over the course of an entire campaign, there are few finishers in the world more consistent.