They came, they saw and they didn’t conquer.
Winning the UEFA Champions League remains a dream for any player in club football. The competition sees the best teams and players on the planet compete to be crowned the creme-de-la-creme of European football.
Some of these names may surprise you, given the continental giants that they represented in their careers, while others are famous for being at the right places at precisely the wrong times.
With that in mind, here’s a look at the best players to never win the Champions League.
Diego Maradona is the greatest footballer of all time so he has to come top of this list. That’s just the way it is.
Maradona won the World Cup virtually on his own in 1986 but he never got his hands on the European Cup. The only European trophy he won in his career was the 1989 UEFA Cup with Napoli.
In his days though there was no Champions League and the European Cup was a knockout competition for champions. You couldn’t qualify for it by finishing second, third or fourth.
Maradona played in it twice with Napoli. In 1987/88 they were knocked out by Real Madrid and in 1990/91 by Spartak Moscow.
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⬥ 7 more goals to break Cristiano Ronaldo's record of most #UCL goals in a single campaign 😲
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— FootTheBall FC (@FootTheBallFC) April 19, 2023
Considered by many as the greatest striker of all-time, Ronaldo Nazario had everything you needed from a striker and more. The Brazilian won everything in football, individually and collectively, except the UEFA Champions League.
Ronaldo’s trophy cabinet boasts 18 trophies for club and country. This tally includes two FIFA World Cup and Copa America trophies, a La Liga title with Real Madrid and a Copa del Rey with FC Barcelona among others. Not to mention, he won three FIFA World Player of the Year and two Ballons d’Or. Ronaldo is also the only player to represent the two Milan clubs along with Spanish giants Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.
El Fenomeno scored 352 goals in 518 games in his club career and 62 goals in just 98 games for Brazil, the third-highest in Selecao history. But despite all these records and his unbelievable quality, Ronaldo could never win the UEFA Champions League trophy in his career. Therefore, he is by far the most high-profile player who never won the competition.
The final Arsenal game before Dennis Bergkamp’s retirement was the 2006 Champions League final, when the Dutchman was an unused substitute in the Gunners’ defeat by Barcelona. He was also part of the Arsenal side that reached the last eight in 2003/04, when Chelsea ran out 3-2 winners on aggregate in a London derby.
By that stage, Bergkamp had already tasted success on the European stage at both Ajax and Inter, with whom he won the UEFA Cup in 1992 and 1994 respectively. Yet the continent’s biggest prize proved elusive for a player who frequently sat out Champions League away games due to his fear of flying.
Finishing runner-up with one team is bad enough, but to do it with two must be galling. That’s exactly the fate which befell Michael Ballack: first in 2002 with Bayer Leverkusen, then six years later with Chelsea.
The midfielder was on the wrong side of one of the competition’s greatest-ever goals in his first final defeat, as Zinedine Zidane converted with a magnificent volley; in 2008 he was forced to watch on as John Terry and Nicolas Anelka’s fluffed spot-kicks handed the trophy to Manchester United. The German at least scored his own penalty that night.
Signed from Parma for a world-record fee for a goalkeeper in 2001, Gianluigi Buffon is second only to Alessandro Del Piero in Juventus’ all-time appearance list.
The goalkeeper was on the wrong end of three final defeats with the Turin-based giants, making two penalty shoot-out saves in 2003 and then watching Barcelona run out 3-1 winners in 2015 and Real Madrid triumph two years later. He even moved to PSG in a bid to win the trophy – but returned home a year later. Now back at Parma, it seems his chance has passed him. Poor Gigi.
Another Juventus player – is Lilian Thuram, who was part of the Old Lady team that lost in the final against AC Milan in 2003. Despite making 69 Champions League appearances, he never won the competition.
Some of Thuram’s achievements in Italy were revoked due to the match-fixing scandal in the mid-2000s, but he is still a club legend having won two Serie A titles legitimately. He also won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 with France, cementing his reputation as one of the world’s leading defenders.
The legendary German is the highest-capped player for Die Mannschaft with 150 appearances. He also won everything in club football representing Bayern Munich and Inter Milan. But once again, he never won the UEFA Champions League. Similar to many players on this list, Matthaus came close to winning the title – on two occasions.
Matthaus was a losing finalist in 1986-87 when FC Porto defeated the record German champions and he was also on the receiving end of bitter defeat in the famous 1998-99 final when Manchester United scored two late goals to break the Bavarians’ hearts. But that takes away no merit from the 16 trophies he won in his career including the EURO 1980 and the 1990 World Cup.
785 games. 307 goals. One club. Francesco Totti loved Roma. Roma loved Franceso Totti.
In a career which spanned a quarter of a century, Totti won the Serie A title and two Italian Cups. The Champions League was out of reach though. Totti was successful in just two knockout ties in the competition and never got past the quarter-finals.
Manchester United knocked Roma out both times they got to that stage. He was easily good enough to play in a European Cup-winning side but he was a one-club man and there aren’t many of them around these days.
Anyway, he’s got a World Cup winner’s medal.
One of the all-time greats for Italy, Cannavaro won the 2006 Ballon d’Or and amassed a haul of 138 international caps, second only to another name on this list. At 5’9, he’s also a standard riposte to anyone who insists that a centre-back needs to be tall enough to threaten the average door frame.
Yet despite playing for Parma during the peak of their European powers in the late 1990s, and subsequently Inter, Juventus and Real Madrid, a Champions League medal is missing from the World Cup winner’s collection.
Patrick Vieira won the World Cup. He won the European Championship. He won three titles at Arsenal and four at Inter Milan. He was captain of the Invincibles, but he never played in a Champions League final.
His last kick as an Arsenal player won the 2005 FA Cup final in a penalty shootout against Manchester United. A year later, Arsenal reached the final – beating Vieira’s Juventus on the way to Paris.
After a season at Juventus, Vieira joined Inter Milan. He stayed for three and a half years. Less than five months after he left, Inter won the Champions League.
Surely George Weah can have anything he wants?
He is the only player in history who has gone on to become a president. And we’re not talking president of a football club.
Since January 2018, George Manneh Oppong Weah has been the President of Liberia. Very impressive but that doesn’t change the fact that he never won the European Cup. He won eight trophies at Monaco, Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan and Chelsea, but nothing in Europe.