As Manchester City and Inter Milan prepare to battle for the 2022/23 Champions League title, we have prepared a throwback XI of players who have never won the iconic competition.
While some players have enjoyed multiple successes in the UCL, others have not been so lucky. Ballon d’Or winners, World champions, and numerous other legends from some of Europe’s biggest clubs have missed out on the greatest prize in club football.
So, today we make a list of Champions League nearly men. We have only included stars who have played in the tournament’s current guise of the Champions League – so from 1992 onwards. This, therefore, means that the likes of Diego Maradona and Bobby Moore will not be on the team sheet.
However, there are some legendary names to make up for their absence.
Goalkeeper & Defence
The first batch of players featuring in our “never won the Champions League” XI have a distinctly Juventus feel.
Firstly, the goalkeeper has to be Gianluigi Buffon. Despite playing across four decades, the iconic Italian has never lifted the European Cup. Stints at Parma, Juventus, and PSG brought silverware – but the Champions League is one that got away.
Joining him in our team is compatriot Fabio Cannavaro. He won the 2006 Ballon d’Or after lifting the World Cup for Italy alongside Buffon. Years at Real Madrid and the Bianconeri failed to bring him a UCL winners’ medal, though.
Their Juve teammate, Lilian Thuram, suffered a similar fate. The Frenchman joined Barcelona after their 2006 UCL win, following a decade in Italy without winning it himself. None of these players were helped by the Calciopoli scandal, which saw Juventus relegated to Serie B.
Finally, rounding out our three-man defence is Laurent Blanc. He won a World Cup for France, linking up with Thuram in defence. His spells at Man United, Barcelona, and Internazionale were sadly unsuccessful on the continent.
For this throwback XI, we have opted for an audacious 3-3-1-3 formation. Leading off our trio of midfielders is Lothar Matthaus. The 1990 Ballon d’Or winner, the versatile German is certainly one of the greatest players that never won a Champions League title.
Alongside him, compatriot Michael Ballack makes the XI. He had arguably the most unfortunate run in 2002. With Bayer Leverkusen, he finished runner-up in the Bundesliga, lost the DFB-Pokal Final, then lost the Champions League Final to Real Madrid.
Ballack followed this up by watching Germany lose the 2002 World Cup Final, for which he was suspended. Still, he was a top player and earns a spot in this team. We’re not sure if that is much of a consolation, though.
Rounding out our midfield is Pavel Nedved. Like other aforementioned Juventus players on this list, the Champions League always evaded the 2003 Ballon d’Or winner. The creative midfielder did not even get a chance to play in a UCL final; when Juve faced Milan in the 2003 showpiece, Nedved was suspended.
There is a wealth of unbelievable attacking players who have never won a Champions League medal, so narrowing it down to a front four is an incredibly difficult task.
One man who is undoubtedly picked in any side is Ronaldo. “R9” had an all-time career, albeit hampered by injuries. Despite stints with Inter, Real Madrid, and Milan, the Brazilian was never in the right place at the right time to lift the UCL. He did win a World Cup medal, though.
Joining Ronaldo in attack is the recently retired Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The enigmatic Swede also never seemed to align his time at top clubs with their European successes. In fact, with 48 strikes, Zlatan has scored the second-most UCL goals without ever winning the competition, behind Ruud van Nistelrooy on 56.
Rounding out this XI are two of the biggest stars from the 90s and Italian football. Firstly, Roberto Baggio slots in just behind the strike force in his typical No.10 role. The divine ponytail claimed the 1993 Ballon d’Or and won silverware with Milan and Juventus – just not the Champions League.
Fellow Ballon d’Or winner George Weah also makes this team. He joined AC Milan in 1995, one year after the Rossoneri’s 1994 triumph. Sadly, the Italian giants never reached the Final during the Liberian’s five-year stay.
So, there is our XI of legendary players that have never won the Champions League. But who else could have made it? The likes of Sergio Aguero, Cesc Fabregas, Dennis Bergkamp, Gabriel Batistuta, Francesco Totti, and Romario never lifted the European Cup.
The fact that icons such as those listed above do not have a UCL winners’ medal tells you just how hard it is to win this special competition.
Featured image credit: Getty