The UEFA Champions League reunites the best luminaries in football every single season, creating magical moments every time we get to see some of the best players in the world going head to head in order to win one of the most famous trophies in the world. Notwithstanding this big number of great players fighting to win the tournament, there have been some more successful than others.
Players like Lio Messi or Clarence Seedorf have been able to win several Champions League, while there are other footballers who even though have been very close to it, haven’t been able to live the maximum glory in European football.
It’s not crazy when people assure this tournament is the hardest one in football, even more complicated to win than the FIFA World Cup, as you face the best players in the world at the peak of their levels during the defining rounds, so it’s not a surprise when you see the huge names that retired without winning this cup.
Here are the 10 best players who didn’t win the Champions League.
Honorable Mention: Eric Cantona
10. Laurent Blanc
Throughout 20 years of career, French defender Laurent Blanc collected plenty of silverware with clubs and the national team, including the 1998 FIFA World Cup hosted by his country and the UEFA Euro 2000, but ‘Le President’ was never able to win the maximum European tournament during his stints with Inter Milan and Manchester United.
He did win the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup with Barcelona in 1997, but never the UCL. The closest he ever got to win it was the 2001/02 season, where his Manchester United was eliminated in the semi-finals by German side Bayer Leverkusen, which later lost the final against Real Madrid.
9. Ruud van Nistelrooy
Who doesn’t remember Ruud van Nistelrooy? One of the most lethal and prolific scorer we have seen in recent times. Ruud made his entrance in elite football with Dutch team PSV before taking his talents to Old Trafford and play under Sir Alex Ferguson’s order and then joined arguably the best team in the world, Real Madrid.
The thing these three teams have in common is that they never were able to win the Champions League while Ruud was a part of their ranks. Despite being the competition’s top scorer in three opportunities, he was never able to replicate his individual successes with his clubs. He never got any further than the semi-finals and he was part of that Man. Utd. who was eliminated by Bayer Leverkusen back in 2002.
To make things worse, he went to play for Real Madrid when the Spaniards were going through a streak of last-16 eliminations. Curiously, a year after his departure to Madrid, Manchester United won the Champions League in front of Chelsea.
8. Pavel Nedved
Nedved’s case was unfair in the eye of many as things could have been very different for him and his Juventus if he was able to play the final back in the 2002/03 edition of the UCL. Pavel was destroying everybody during that campaign and was a big factor for ‘La Vecchia Signora’ to get a spot in the final, but sadly for them, they had to play without their biggest future due to a yellow-card suspension.
That was the closest the Czech player was to win the Champions League, even though he never gave up trying to obtain that desired victory. He even stated “I’d love to finish my career with a Champions League victory”, but that never happened. In his last campaign as a pro, Juve was eliminated by eventual finalists, Chelsea in the round of 16. Nedved is another example of Ballon d’Or winner who never got the Ol’ Big Ears in their hands.
7. Gianluigi Buffon
Now, this is the biggest example of an incredible player who hasn’t won the Champions League. Gianluigi Buffon is one of the best goalkeepers ever, with an incredible career that’s only missing one thing, the Champions. He has had very good tenures no matter where or who he’s played with; he won the UEFA Cup with Parma, several Serie A titles with Juventus and even the 2006 World Cup with Italy.
However, Gigi appears to be incompatible with the Champions League trophy, as he has played for it on three occasions, losing every single one. Back in 2003, he lost the penalty shoot-out against Milan; then 12 years later, Barcelona defeated Juventus in Berlin by 3-1 and two years after that, Real Madrid demolished them 4-1 in Cardiff with a huge performance by Cristiano Ronaldo.
At this moment, Buffon is playing with French side Paris Saint-Germain as they have a common goal: win the Champions League once and for all. Nevertheless, both Gigi and his team will have to wait another season after they got relegated by Manchester United in this edition’s round of 16.
6. Michael Ballack
This former member of the German national team has lived some of the hardest defeats in the history of competition; Ballack was pretty close to winning the tournament in two occasions and things didn’t go well for his teams. He played the cup with four teams and got to the final with two of them, Bayer Leverkusen and Chelsea in 2002 and 2008, respectively, losing both games in a dramatic fashion.
He landed in the 2001/02 final against Real Madrid after defeating Manchester United; they were seen as a team that could give a hard fight to Los Blancos and actually defeat them, but Zinedine Zidane’s and his magical left foot said otherwise, as Madrid beat Leverkusen by 2-1. Six years later he played the game with Chelsea and was only a penalty away from winning the title if it wasn’t for John Terry’s slip that gave life to Man. Utd., which later capitalized and won the cup in Moscu.
5. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Zlatan Ibrahimovic was at some point of his career, one of the three best players in the world and the best footballer above 30 years on earth, getting recognition across the globe and being considered the best striker by many during the beginning of the decade. However, he didn’t have much luck in the maximum European tournament, even if he joined powerhouses in order to win the UCL.
For instance, he played for the biggest three clubs in Italy and couldn’t succeed with them. He left Internazionale to play for Barcelona and during his time at Camp Nou, it was Inter itself that eliminated Barcelona and Ibrahimovic in one of the most dramatic semi-finals of the competition. He left Barcelona to play with Milan and Barcelona made sure to eliminate his new team more than once.
Following that, he got to play for PSG and Manchester United, recording worse and worse seasons in those two squads. Right now he is in the MLS, giving up his dream to win the best tournament in the world.
4. Francesco Totti
Francesco Totti will always be remembered as that guy who had everything to succeed wherever he’d choose to go but instead decided to remain loyal to the team he loved. That’s the big factor to have in mind when you wonder why this guy wasn’t as praised and successful as others. Well, for Totti that wasn’t a problem and had a marvelous career with Roma anyway.
However, Totti had everything in his favor to achieve big things, including the Champions League, except from a true contender team to lead. He won the Serie A with the Romanians and the 2006 FIFA World Cup, but the Ol’ Big Ears was always elusive to ‘Il Capitano’ and company, who weren’t unable to pass through quarter-finals when they received some of the biggest defeats in the history of the competition.
3. Roberto Baggio
One of the most gifted players ever couldn’t win the longed-for trophy during his career, either, as he was unable to display all the best of his game in Europe, despite being destroying Italian and International football for years. Roberto Baggio was part of AC Milan in 1996/97 and couldn’t get any further than group stage; he had a better campaign with Inter a couple of years later (1998/99) but quarter-finals were the end for him
Baggio scored 27 goals in 57 matches for his national side, won a European title with Juventus in 1992/93 and took Italy to play the 1994 FIFA World Cup final where the Azzurri failed to defeat Brazil in the big game. He certainly had a wonderful career that couldn’t be improved with Champions League win.
2. Lothar Matthaus
This German talented midfielder was one of the best of his generation, winning everything he could with his national side, earning the right to collect more trophies, individually speaking. Matthaus was awarded the Ballon d’Or in 1990 and inscribed his name in the list of Ballon d’Or winners who weren’t able to lift up the Champions League cup.
Just like his fellow countryman Michael Ballack, Lothar lived a very hurtful lose when he was close to winning the UCL. It was back in 1999 when he was part of Bayern Munchen that was just a few minutes away from winning the competition for the first time in history until Manchester United pulled off the miracle and ended both Bayern and Matthaus’ illusion.
It looks like he just had to wait since Bayern won the elusive title just one year after Lothar decided to retire from professional football.
The biggest striker in football history also makes his appearances in this list despite the fact he had a terrific career, getting praised in every place he went to play, destroying rivals every week at a national and international level, but there was something he couldn’t achieve during his career: a Champions League title.
Ronnie only could reach the semi-finals once, when Nedved’s Juventus took on Real Madrid and qualified to the final. R9 was playing at a huge level that season, as he almost single-handedly took Real Madrid to semis after an outstanding quarter-final series in front of Manchester United.
After that, Madrid was unable to reach those instance again and got into a streak of last-16 eliminations from 2005 to 2011. Ronaldo decided to part ways with Los Blancos and couldn’t have any success in Champions after that.