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Top 10: Players to have never won the Champions League

Save for the fortunate few who are lucky enough to win international honours, the Champions League is the pinnacle of any footballer’s career.

But throughout the game’s history, there have been a handful of elite players who’ve played for elite clubs, only to see the ultimate prize in club football escape their grasp.

Kevin De Bruyne has the chance on Saturday to ensure he never ends up in such company when Manchester City take on Inter. 

With that in mind, we’re looking at the top 10 players to have never won the Champions League.

10 - Francesco Totti

Winning one league title at Roma, to me, is worth winning 10 at Juventus or Real Madrid.

An admirable, and wholehearted, sentiment that cost Francesco Totti a crack at winning the Champions League. 

While Totti did have eight seasons in the Champions League, making 56 appearances, Roma were never quite in the position to make a serious run at 'Old Big Ears'.

One of the best Italian players of all time – narrowly missing out on a Ballon d’Or – the Roma legend would win a Serie A title, but never conquered Europe.

9 - Eric Cantona

Of all the illustrious players to have graced the Theatre of Dreams, none have evoked – and continue to evoke – as much adoration as Eric Cantona.

But the man who almost single-handedly returned Manchester United to the summit of English football was unable to return them to the summit of European football.

With the Champions League still a relatively closed shop, Cantona only spent four seasons in the competition and three with United.

Although he saved his best form for the Premier League, where he won the title in all four years in which he wasn’t serving a lengthy suspension, 1997 presented the Red Devils’ best chance of European success with a semi-final against Borussia Dortmund.

But 1-0 defeats home and away saw United dumped out of the Champions League, with Cantona retiring from football in the immediate aftermath.

8 - Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Having spent the bulk of his career playing for the likes of Juventus, Inter, Barcelona, Milan, PSG and Manchester United, it’s hard to fathom how Zlatan Ibrahimovic, with 116 Champions League appearances, has never won the competition.

Even more remarkably, not only did he never make a final, he only ever played in one Champions League semi – the 3-2 aggregate defeat with Barcelona to eventual winners Inter.

Only 18 players have made more appearances – no outfield player has made more appearances without picking up a winners’ medal – and only 10 players have scored more goals, but Champions League glory was ultimately beyond Ibrahimovic.

7 - Michael Ballack

One of the finest midfielders of his generation, Michael Ballack is one of the few Germans to experience penalty shoot-out heartbreak.

In 2002, his Bayer Leverkusen side were unlikely Champions League finalists, losing out to Zinedine Zidane’s out-of-this-world volley.

A move to Chelsea brought about more opportunities for European success. They reached the semi-finals in 2007 but an injured Ballack was forced to watch on as the Blues lost on penalties to Liverpool.

The German found himself on the brink of glory in 2008, only to see skipper John Terry miss what would’ve been the winning penalty, and Chelsea were extraordinarily hard done by when controversially eliminated by Barcelona the season after.

6 - Fabio Cannavaro

Undoubtedly one of the most distinguished defenders of his generation – if not all time – Fabio Cannavaro’s resume is unusually bare.

Having spent seven years with Parma where he became a mainstay of the Italian national team, Cannavaro won the Coppa Italia twice and UEFA Cup in 1999. 

Cannavaro then spent two years with Inter and Juventus, before three at Real Madrid and one more in Turin making a total of 62 appearances in the Champions League.

Utterly outstanding at the 2006 World Cup, Cannavaro would lift the trophy as well as taking the Ballon d’Or at the end of the year, but a place in a Champions League final would forever elude him.

5 - Gianluigi Buffon

In 1997, Gianluigi Buffon made his first Champions League appearance. In December 2020, he made his last Champions League appearance.

Buffon spent 19 years with Juventus and a year with PSG, winning 11 league titles, numerous cups, a World Cup with Italy and too many individual accolades to count.

But despite only 12 players in the history of the competition making more appearances than Buffon – three of them being in finals – the Champions League would elude the Italian.

4 - Dennis Bergkamp

One of the players of a generation, Dennis Bergkamp was capable of pulling off moments of magic other players couldn’t even dream of.

The early 90s saw Bergkamp twice win Dutch Footballer of the Year and twice rank in the top three of the Ballon d’Or. He’d win the PFA Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year in 1998 as Arsenal won the Premier League and FA Cup.

But – not aided by his aviophobia – the closest Bergkamp came to European success was in 2006 as an unused sub in his final game for Arsenal, where the Gunners lost 2-1 to Barcelona in the final.

3 - Pavel Nedved

Europe’s best midfielder in 2003, Pavel Nedved was instrumental in Juventus’ journey to the Champions League final, which made it all the more heartbreaking that he’d miss the showpiece through suspension.

With the tie entering its dying stages and Juventus on course to progress to the final – thanks to Nedved’s winner – a moment of madness saw the Czech dive into a tackle and pick up a booking that ruled him out of the final.

So influential was Nedved for the Old Lady that season that it’s suggested his presence in the final would’ve been enough to see Juventus – and Nedved – win the Champions League.

2 - Lothar Matthaus

Although much of Lothar Matthaus’s career was spent in the European Cup era, he had two golden chances to lift the famous trophy.

The irrepressible German found himself 12 minutes away from glory in 1987 when Bayern Munich were 1-0 up against Porto before two late goals saw them lose 2-1.

His second spell in Germany was much more agonising, however. Bayern would reach the semi-finals in 1995, only to be dismantled by Louis van Gaal’s fledgling Ajax side; they reach the semi-finals in 2000, only to lose 3-2 on aggregate to eventual winners Real Madrid; and 1999 speaks for itself.

Leading 1-0 heading into stoppage time, Matthaus had been subbed off; a shell-shocked onlooker as Manchester United equalised, nicking an even later winner.

He’d captain West Germany to the World Cup in 1990, but the Champions League wasn’t to be. 

1 - Ronaldo

Not only did Ronaldo not win the Champions League; he never really got close. 

The Brazilian actually travelled a rather cursed path when it came to Europe’s elite competition.

With PSV he’d compete in the UEFA Cup in his two seasons in the Netherlands. Barcelona, on the back of finishing third the previous season, signed Ronaldo, whose only season saw him compete in the Cup Winners’ Cup. 

His maiden season at Inter saw him win the UEFA Cup, finally getting a crack at the Champions League, but after missing the first leg of the quarter-finals against eventual-winners Manchester United, Ronaldo’s Inter would be eliminated, and, owing to serious injuries, O Fenomeno wouldn’t play in the Champions League again for four years after his move to Real Madrid.

But even in their Galacticos era, Ronaldo would only reach one quarter-final and one semi-final in five seasons at the Bernabeu, and a Champions League winners’ medal would forever elude him.

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