The best XI to never win the UEFA Champions League

Last Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final may not have lived up to the fans’ expectations, but it will matter little to the victorious Liverpool players who helped their club claim a sixth trophy.

For Tottenham Hotspurs’ players, there’ll be the nagging sense that this was an opportunity missed that may not come round again; however even if that proves to be the case they should remember that a Champions League medal is not the be all and end all of a successful career.

Here we pick the best players to never win the Champions League in the modern era (1992/93 onwards). We also chosen to omit players who are still active in the competition, which means that players such as Gianluigi Buffon cannot be picked.

GK: Jens Lehmann

The two time UEFA Club Goalkeeper of the Year will be remembered for his sending off in the 2006 Champions League final which Barcelona eventually won 2-1.

The German international undoubtedly enjoyed the greatest goalkeeping campaign in the Champions League in the 2005-06 season as Arsenal went a record ten games without conceding a goal. That saw him go 853 minutes without the ball ending up in his net, which is a record to this day.

He maintained that record in the final as Manuel Almunia was between the sticks when Barcelona struck twice. Lehmann never got as close to Champions League success again with many Arsenal fans wondering what could have been if he did not get sent off in that final.

RB: Lilian Thuram

One of the best defenders of his generation, Thuram missed out on Champions League glory with both Juventus and Barcelona.

A World Cup winner who is a record appearance holder for France, he surprisingly ended his career without lifting Europe’s biggest club trophy.

He was part of the Juventus side that lost the 2003 Champions League final to a star studded AC Milan side on penalties.

Thuram joined Barcelona in 2006 after the calciopoli scandal saw Juventus relegated to Serie B. He left the club and retired in 2008 before they won the Champions League the year after.

CB: Laurent Blanc

Le Président was never able to claim the Champions League during a 20 year career which saw him win the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Championships alongside the Premier League with Man United.

Despite playing for Barcelona, Inter Milan and United, he failed to claim victory in the tournament

The closest he came was when the Red Devils reached the semi finals in the 2001/2002 season when they were defeated by Bayer Leverkusen on away goals.

He retired the following season without lifting the ultimate honour in club football.

CB: Fabio Cannavaro

The great Italian defender surprisingly never claimed the Champions League despite playing with Parma, Inter Milan, Juventus and Real Madrid.

He captained Italy to World Cup glory in 2006 and helped his side concede only two goals during the whole tournament.

Cannavaro claimed the Ballon D’Or the same year but despite this he never reached the final of this competition.

He was part of the Inter Milan team that lost to bitter rivals AC Milan on away goals in the semi finals in 2003.

It is simply unbelievable that Djimi Traore has won a Champions League while Cannavaro has not.

LB: Gianluca Zambrotta

The 98 times Italian international failed to win the Champions League despite playing with clubs such as Barcelona, Juventus and AC Milan.

Zambrotta played over 200 games for Juventus but he was another member of the side which lost the final to AC Milan in 2003.

He reached the semi final with Barcelona in 2009 when they lost 1-0 to Manchester United on aggregate.

Zambrotta successfully kept Cristiano Ronaldo quiet during the second leg but it was his poor clearance which led to Paul Scholes’ goal.

A consistent player who is often overlooked for lists such as this, Zambrotta was an excellent defender but that did not translate to Champions League success.

CM: Patrick Vieira

The French international was one of the best midfielders of his generation, but that did not translate itself in to Champions League success.

He left Arsenal in 2005 but unlike Thierry Henry his move did not result in winning the competition.

In fact the Gunners reached the final the year after he left while he departed Inter Milan in January 2010 before they won the competition that season. He was not eligible for a medal.

Amazingly he never progressed beyond the quarter final stage of the competition for any team he played.

CM: Pavel Nedved

Nothing sums up the highs and lows of football better than Pavel Nedved in the 2003 Champions League semi-final between Juventus and Liverpool.

The Czech Republic player scored a wonderful goal to help send ‘The Old Lady’ in to the final but unfortunately for him a needless foul on Steve McManaman saw him receive a booking which ruled him out of the final.

Juventus ended up suffering an agonising defeat on penalties to AC Milan with many wondering would Nedved’s presence have helped Juventus beat their Italian rivals.

He did win the Ballon D’Or that season but the devastation remained for the rest of his career.

CM: Lothar Matthäus

This player came closer than anybody on this list to claim the Champions League crown.

Matthäus was part of the Bayern Munich side which came agonisingly close to winning the 1999 final before Manchester United scored twice in injury time to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Matthaus was an excellent box to box midfielder in his prime before he became a sweeper later in his career.

The World Cup winner with West Germany was one of the best players in his era.

He was 38 years old when he played in that final and it proved to be his final opportunity to claim a title that his talent deserved.

ST: Roberto Baggio

One of the most gifted players to grace the game, Baggio never claimed the Champions League title despite wreaking havoc in Italy and on the international stage.

He helped Inter Milan qualify for the Champions League in the 1998/1999 season before they were defeated by eventual champions Manchester United.

Baggio was in his prime before the introduction of the Champions League but for a player of his talent to never come close to winning the trophy is a shame.

ST: Gabriel Batistuta

A player whose trophy haul did not match his obvious talent.

Batistuta was among the most feared strikers in the world in the 1990s as he terrorised defences with Fiorentina and Argentina.

He was 30 before he made his debut in the competition while his goals against Arsenal and Manchester United will never be forgotten.

For those who had not seen him score hat tricks in the 1994 and 1998 World Cup he did not disappoint.

Batistuta was one of the most feared strikers of his generation but he did not finish his career with the medals that his talent deserved.

ST: Ronaldo

Quite simply one of the greatest players of all time.

The Brazilian failed to win the Champions League despite playing with PSV, Barcelona, Inter Milan and Real Madrid.

He famously scored a hat-trick for Real Madrid against Man United in the 2003 Champions League before he helped them beat Juventus 2-1 in the first leg of the semi final, scoring the first goal.

He limped off in the second leg as injuries began to take their toll. Juventus beat them to reach the final before the Galacticos were aiming for a treble the following season but lost to Monaco in the quarter finals with the Brazilian injured for the tie.

One of the all time great players who unfortunately finds himself without a Champions League winners medal.


Honourable mentions: Jose Francisco Molina, Roberto Ayala, Amadeo Carboni, Phillip Cocu, Michael Ballack, Denis Bergkamp, Eric Cantona, Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Francesco Totti.

The Author

Ivan Smyth

Sports writer and soccer follower. Twitter: @IvanSmythSport

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