20 Greatest Players That Never Won The UEFA Champions League

The biggest dream of every footballer is to win the UEFA Champions League at club level. Europe’s premier club football competition regularly features the best teams and players on the planet.

Many soccer stars and legends have been produced by the Champions League.

However, some of the greatest players ever have missed out on lifting this much-coveted trophy in their career. It remains a small blight on their otherwise successful careers.

In this article, FootballOrbit presents to you 20 greatest footballers who missed out on lifting the biggest prize in club football.

1. Diego Maradona

Clubs: Barcelona, Napoli

Maradona greatest players Never Won Champions league
Diego Maradona playing for Napoli in 1985 (Photo by Stefano Montesi – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

To some, Diego Maradona is the greatest footballer of all time.

The Argentine maestro almost singlehandedly won the World Cup 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 UEFA Cup with Napoli in 1989.

In his days though, the Champions League was known as the European Cup and it was a knockout competition for the champions of the various European leagues.

Barca didn’t qualify for the competition during his time at the club.

Maradona played in the then European Cup twice with Napoli. In 1987/88 they were knocked out by Real Madrid and in 1990/91 by Spartak Moscow.

2. Ronaldo de Lima

Ronaldo - never won the UEFA Champions League

Clubs: PSV, Inter Milan, Barcelona, Real Madrid.

If it weren’t for unfortunate injuries that derailed his career, Ronaldo de Lima would have UNDOUBTEDLY be the greatest striker of all time.

The Brazilian “Phenomenon” was extremely successful at both club and international level. However, he never won the UEFA Champions League in his illustrious career.

The furthest he reached in the competition was the semi-final when Real Madrid were knocked out by Juventus in 2002/03.

More painfully, Ronaldo was at AC Milan in 2006/07 when they won the trophy. But he was cup-tied, having played for Real Madrid earlier that season, and was thus ineligible to receive a winners’ medal!!

“I live football with a passion that doesn’t give me any peace for not winning the Champions League – it’s a trophy everyone would love to win.”

Ronaldo de Lima on not winning the UEFA Champions League in his career.

3. Gianluigi Buffon

Clubs: Parma, Juventus, PSG.

One of the greatest goalkeepers in football history, Gianluigi Buffon reached the Champions League final 3 times with Juventus…..and lost all!

He made 2 saves in the penalty shoot-out in 2003, but Juve ultimately lost the shoot-out to AC Milan.

Furthermore, Juventus lost to Barcelona and Real Madrid in the 2015 and 2017 finals respectively.

In a bid to win the trophy, Buffon even moved to PSG, but the trophy eluded him yet again in Paris.

4. Lothar Matthäus

Lothar Matthaus never won the Champions League
Lothar Matthaus walks past the Champions League trophy in 1999

Clubs: Bayern Munich, Inter Milan.

In 1987, Lothar Matthaus lost the Champions League (then European Cup) final to FC Porto courtesy of two late goals after his Bayern Munich side took a 1-0 lead.

The 1990 World Cup and Ballon d’Or winner looked set to finally lay his hands on the trophy in 1999 as Bayern led Manchester United 1-0.

But what happened 12 years earlier against Porto repeated itself again as United made a famous comeback to win 2-1 — with two of the most epic and dramatic last-minute goals in football history.

Matthäus retired in 2000, AND Bayern won the Champions League the following year!!!

5. Dennis Bergkamp

Clubs: Ajax, Inter Milan, Arsenal.

In his career, Dennis Bergkamp won 3 Premier League titles, 4 FA Cups, 1 Eredivisie, 2 Dutch Cups, 2 UEFA Cups and a UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup.

Unfortunately, the UEFA Champions League always eluded him.

At Arsenal, he reached the quarterfinals twice (2000/01, 2003/04) and the final in 2005/06.

Winning it in 2006 would have been a befitting end to a wonderful career. However, Bergkamp was left on the bench as 10-man Arsenal lost 2-1 to Barcelona.

6. Michael Ballack

Ballack never won the UEFA Champions League in his career

Clubs: FC Kaiserslautern, Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern Munich, Chelsea.

One of the most unlucky footballers ever, Michael Ballack also lost the Champions League final TWICE.

He was a key member of the Leverkusen side defeated by Real Madrid in 2002. Six years later (2008), his Chelsea team got defeated by Manchester United on penalties.

7. Zlatan Ibrahimovic

(Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images)

Clubs: Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan, PSG.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has played for some of the biggest clubs in Europe, and won more than 10 league titles in 6 different countries. But has never won the UEFA Champions League.

To have played for Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona and AC Milan and never win European football’s top prize might hurt him forever.

With Barcelona dominating European football, Ibrahimovic left Inter Milan to join Pep Guardiola’s side in 2009.

That same season, Jose Mourinho’s Inter eliminated Barca in the semi-finals on their way to winning the 2009/10 Champions League!!!

8. Patrick Vieira

Clubs: Arsenal, Juventus, Inter Milan.

Patrick Vieira is regarded as one of the greatest midfielders of all-time. He was integral as Arsenal won 3 Premier League titles — one of which was unbeaten as “Invincibles”.

The former French international claimed 6 league titles in England and Italy, but was unable to replicate his domestic success on the continental stage.

The 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 winner never advanced further than the quarter-finals — doing so with Arsenal in 2000/01 and 2003/04.

Just a year after Vieira left Arsenal, the Gunners reached the Champions League final in 2006.

Worse still, he had left for Man City in January when Inter won it in 2010 and wasn’t eligible to receive a medal!!

9. Gabriel Batistuta

Clubs: Fiorentina, AS Roma, Inter Milan.

Argentine legend, Gabriel Batistuta, never even got to the Champions League knockout stage in his career.

His Fiorentina side were eliminated at the group stage in 1999/00. He later moved to AS Roma and won the Serie A in his first season, but didn’t succeed on the continental stage with the Giallorossi.

Furthermore, Batistuta was not included in Inter Milan’s Champions League squad in 2002/03, when the Nerazzurri got to the semi-finals.

10. George Weah

Clubs: AS Monaco, PSG, AC Milan.

George Weah won the Ballon d’Or in 1995, the year he led PSG to the Champions League semi-final — scoring 7 goals.

The Liberian won 3 league titles in his career alongside lots of individual accolades, but ultimately missed out on club football’s ultimate prize.

11. Pavel Nedved

Clubs: Sparta Praha, Lazio, Juventus.

Pavel Nedved won the Ballon D’or in 2003 amid some amazing individual displays.

That same year was the closest he ever got to winning the UEFA Champions League.

In the 2nd leg of Juventus’ semi-final victory over Real Madrid, Nedved was absolutely outstanding — scoring the crucial late third goal that secured Juve’s place in the final.

Unfortunately, the Czech midfielder was booked for a foul on Steve McManaman, ruling him out of the final.

Juventus went on to lose 3-2 on penalties to AC Milan following a goalless draw. What a difference Pavel Nedved could have made in that final!!

12. Ruud van Nistelrooy

Clubs: PSV, Manchester United, Real Madrid.

No one has scored as many goals in the UEFA Champions League without winning the trophy as Ruud Van Nistelrooy (56 goals in 73 games).

In fact, the Dutchman was the topscorer in the competition 3 times!

He never went beyond the semi-finals — doing so with Manchester United in 2001/02 before being knocked out by Bayer Leverkusen.

13. Eric Cantona

Clubs: Marseille, Leeds United, Manchester United.

Eric Cantona reached the semi-finals of the Champions League with Marseille in 1989/90, but his side lost to Benfica.

It was at Manchester United that the Frenchman became an icon, winning 4 league titles in his 5 seasons at Old Trafford.

The only season he didn’t win the Premier League, he was suspended following an infamous karate kick incident with a Crystal Palace fan.

But Cantona never won the UEFA Champions League with Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.

Shortly after United’s semi-final defeat by eventual winners Borussia Dortmund in 1996/97, Cantona announced that he would retire at the end of the season.

Manchester United became champions of Europe two years later!!

14. Roberto Baggio

Clubs: Fiorentina, Juventus, AC Milan, Inter Milan.

Roberto Baggio played for the biggest clubs in Italy, but hardly got the chance to display his talent in the UEFA Champions League.

Baggio crashed out at the group stage with Milan in 1996/97, but reached the quarterfinals with Inter in 1998/99.

15. Michael Owen

Clubs: Liverpool, Real Madrid, Manchester United.

Another great player that never laid his hands on the Champions League trophy was Michael Owen, one of the best English strikers ever.

He played for Liverpool, Real Madrid and Manchester United in the competition but never won it.

Owen was on the bench as Manchester United lost 3-1 to Barcelona in the final in 2011.

16. Hernan Crespo

Crespo was so unlucky with the Champions League in his career

Clubs: Parma, Lazio, Inter Milan, Chelsea, AC Milan.

Hernan Crespo lost in two consecutive UCL semi-finals in 2002/03 and 2003/04 with Inter Milan and Chelsea respectively.

He reached the final with AC Milan in 2004/05 and was set to win the trophy after scoring twice against Liverpool, with Milan leading 3-0 at half-time.

But tragedy struck as Liverpool made one of the greatest come-backs in football history to level scores and eventually triumphed on penalties.

AC Milan won it two years later (2007) but by then; Crespo had left for city rivals, Inter Milan.

Interestingly, Inter also won the Champions League just a year after Crespo had departed!!!!!!!!!!!

17. Cesc Fabregas

Clubs: Arsenal, Barcelona, Chelsea, Monaco.

Cesc Fabregas made more than 100 appearances in the UEFA Champions League but never won the title.

The Spaniard lost in the final with Arsenal (to Barcelona) in 2006.

He made a dream transfer to Barca 5 years later, just a few months after the Blaugranas had won their 4th Champions League crown in 2011.

Fabregas left Barcelona for Chelsea ahead of the 2014/15 season, and Barca immediately won the Champions League that same season!!!

18. Francesco Totti

Club: AS Roma

A one-club man throughout his career, Francesco Totti made 786 appearances for his boyhood side, Roma.

In October 2014, he became the oldest goalscorer in Champions League history when he netted against CSKA Moscow at the age of 38 years and 59 days.

The 2006 World Cup winner made his debut in the competition in 2001/02 but didn’t reach the knockout until 2006/07.

That season, Roma were thrashed 8-3 on aggregate by Manchester United in the quarterfinals.

The Giallorossi also reached the last eight the following year, but Totti never made it beyond that stage in the Champions League.

19. Fabio Cannavaro

Clubs: Parma, Inter Milan, Juventus, Real Madrid.

Fabio Cannavaro won the Ballon d’Or after captaining Italy to win the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

Although he played for several top clubs, he never went beyond the semi-finals in the UEFA Champions League.

Cannavaro was with Inter Milan when they lost to eventual winners, AC Milan, in the last four in 2003.

20. Lilian Thuram

Clubs: AS Monaco, Parma, Juventus, Barcelona.

A 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 winner with France, Lilian Thuram came closest to winning the UEFA Champions League with Juventus in 2002/03.

But the Old Lady suffered penalty shoot-out heartbreak against AC Milan after 120 goalless minutes in Manchester.

Earlier, the defender was part of Arsene Wenger’s Monaco side that got to the semi-finals in 1993/94.

Moreso, Thuram was on the bench as Barcelona were defeated in the semi-final by Manchester United in 2007/08.

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