While most soccer fans believe players are in the game for the money, they’ll have you believe they’re actually in it for the trophies. If this is the case, then the most sought-after piece of silverware in Europe is definitely the Champions League. This esteemed tournament replaced the old European Cup competition back in 1992.
The Champions League is entering its 26th season in 2017/18 and the top teams in Europe will be competing for it once again. There have been some great players lift the trophy over the years, but there have also been some excellent ones who never played on a Champions League winner. This list focuses on the best 10 players who have never won the world’s top club tournament.
10. Patrick Vieira
French international midfielder Patrick Vieira played for three different top clubs in the Champions League as he suited up for Inter Milan, Juventus and Arsenal. He ended his career with 76 Champions League games under his belt, but was never able to hoist the coveted piece of silverware. He came close in a way, though, as he left Arsenal just 12 months before the English Premier League club reached the tournament final in 2005/06. The Gunners didn’t win that final though, as they were down to 10 men when goalkeeper Jens Lehmann was sent off against Barcelona after 18 minutes. Vieira was also with Inter Milan until January of 2010 and left a few months before the Italian team won the trophy when he headed to Manchester City. That move also ended Vieira’s Champions League career, but he did manage to win a European Championship and World Cup with the France national team.
9. Ruud van Nistelrooy
Poor Ruud van Nistelrooy. The Dutch international striker was one of the best goalscorers of his era and one of the top scorers in the Champions League with 56 goals in 73 games. In fact, he’s the highest scorer in the tournament to never have won a winners’ medal. Van Nistelrooy joined Manchester United a couple of seasons after they had won the treble in 1998/99 and unfortunately he left the famous English side two years before their next Champions League triumph. He also struck out with Real Madrid during his four seasons with the Spanish giants and went winless in his days with PSV Eindhoven. Van Nistelrooy led the tournament in scoring three times and his goals-per game average was better than even Cristiano Ronaldo’s.
8. Dennis Bergkamp
Dutch international attacker Dennis Bergkamp was fortunate enough to reach the final of the 2005/06 Champions League at the tail end of his career while playing for Arsenal of the English Premier League. However, what took place during the game certainly wasn’t that fortunate. Goalkeeper Jens Lehmann of Germany was handed a red card after just 18 minutes of action and the Gunners were down to 10 men for the remainder of the contest. The London club fought hard, but eventually fell to Spanish powerhouse Barcelona by a score of 2-1. Arsenal has never won the trophy to this day, but the club may have made it to another final or two if the classy Bergkamp didn’t miss several away matches due to his well-known fear of flying.
7. Robert Lewandowski
Polish international striker and captain Robert Lewandowski is just one of three players on this list who is still active. The 29-year-old currently plays with Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich, but has also played in the Champions League with Borussia Dortmund. In fact, he played with Dortmund in the 2012/13 tournament final, but came out on the wrong end of a 2-1 decision to Bayern Munich, of all teams. Lewandowski had helped Dortmund reach the final by scoring all four goals in a 4-1 semifinal game win over Real Madrid. The six-time Polish player of the year is one of the best scorers ever in Champions League history and had 40 goals in his first 61 tournament games. Since joining Bayern, the team has been eliminated twice in the semifinals and once in the quarterfinals.
6. Fabio Cannavaro
Defender Fabio Cannavaro was one of Italy’s and the world’s all-time greats. He suited up for his country a second-best 138 times and took home the 2006 Ballon d’Or award as the planet’s best footballer. However, he never tasted the same level of success with his club teams. Cannavaro played with Parma of Italy in the late 1990s and then moved on to fellow Italian sides Inter Milan and Juventus before joining Real Madrid. These were all top European clubs at the time, and still are, but they failed to prove it by being crowned European champions with Cannavaro in the lineup. He managed to captain the Italian side that won the 2006 World Cup though and also won La Liga championships while playing in Spain.
5. Roberto Baggio
There weren’t many better strikers or attacking midfielders on the globe than Italian international Roberto Baggio back in the early 1990s. He was instantly recognizable due to his hairstyle and was nicknamed “The Divine Ponytail” while scoring goal after goal for his club and country. Baggio would play with three great Italian clubs in the Champions League during his career as he banged in the goals for AC Milan, Juventus, and Inter Milan. However, none of them were able to conquer Europe with him in the side. In fact, Juventus sold the striker to AC Milan and the very next season they won the Champions League in 1995/96. Baggio’s career was highlighted by winning the Ballon d’Or award in 2004. He also scored goals in three different World Cup tournaments, but is best remembered for missing his penalty in the 1994 shootout against Brazil.
4. Francesco Totti
Italian legend Francesco Totti recently retired and unfortunately he had to do so without a Champions League winners’ medal ever being placed around his neck. Totti was the favorite son at Roma, where he spent his entire pro career, but the 40-year-old felt it was the right time to hang up his boots. He managed to win the Serie A title in the 2001/01 campaign though, but to be honest, Roma has never been one of Europe’s consistently-strong powerhouses. The furthest the club got in the Champions League with Totti as its driving force was the quarterfinals stage in both the 2006/07 and 2007/08 seasons. The attacker didn’t retire completely empty handed though as he also won a World Cup medal with Italy in 2006.
3. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Swedish international striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is also currently playing and hopes to rejoin his Manchester United teammates once his knee injury has healed. The 35-year-old played with several of Europe’s top clubs before signing with United, including Malmo, Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan and Paris Saint Germain. However, he’s never hit the Champions League jackpot as of yet. In fact, Ibrahimovic has played the most tournament games at 119 without winning it. He left Inter Milan just 12 months before they won the title in 2009/10 and also left Barcelona a year before they were crowned champions. He’s scored 44 Championship League goals in his career, but this could be his last shot at a medal. Overall though, he’s won 13 league championship medals with his various clubs.
When we say Ronaldo, we’re actually referring to the former Brazilian great, not Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid. Ronaldo was another former Ballon d’Or winner (1997 and 2002) who never tasted glory in the Champions League despite playing on some great squads. These included PSV Eindhoven, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, and both Milan teams. Ronaldo was the dominant striker in the mid 1990s and he was twice sold for world record transfer fees at the time. But while his teams struggled for success in Europe, he was able to help lead Brazil to the World Cup in 2002 by banging in eight goals during the event. Ronaldo hung his boots up several years ago, but will never be forgotten as arguably the best outfield player to never capture a Champions League winners’ medal.
1. Gianlugi Buffon
Perhaps the unluckiest soccer star to never win the Champions League is Italian international goalkeeper, Gianlugi Buffon. The 39-year-old is still playing with Juventus where he serves as team captain, a job he also holds with the Italian national team. Buffon spent 1995 to 2001 with Parma before joining Juventus for a world-record transfer fee for a goalkeeper. He’s played in three Champions League finals with Juventus and lost every time. His side was beaten by fellow Serie A team Milan in 2002/03 in a penalty shootout after drawing 0-0 even though he made a pair of saves in the shootout. Juventus was then beaten 3-1 by Barcelona in 2014/15 and 4-1 by Real Madrid in 2016/17. Buffon has won numerous club trophies, league titles, and personal awards, but 2017/18 could be his last shot at a Champions League title.