The Champions League final is upon us at last, and with it comes possibly the biggest disparity of any two sides to have reached the final hurdle of Europe’s premier competition.
On the one hand, Real Madrid’s side bowasts a staggering 40 medals amongst them. On the other, well, Liverpool have a grand sum of … zero.
That’s not to say Liverpool are devoid of terrific players. And that got us thinking. Not everyone can be a winner – just ask Gigi Buffon – but who would make up a not-so-winning eleven?
We scoured the Champions League records since its reinvention in 1992, and this is what we came up with.
With the likes of Schmeichel, Kahn, Casillas and Neuer already in possession of a coveted Champions League winners’ medal, there’s really only one man whose name could fit snugly amongst this pantheon of giants.
A more reliable custodian of the goal you’ll be hard pressed to find throughout the history of world football, the 39-year-old Buffon has still yet to claim Europe’s biggest prize despite appearing 117 times in the competition.
Just don’t expect Michael Oliver to be inviting him to his birthday party.
In a career that saw him turn out in Europe for Monaco, Parma, Juventus and Barcelona, the powerful French full-back – who counts Serie A, Coupe de France, Coppa Espana and Coppa Italia medals amongst his collection – never once got his hands on a Champions League winner’s medal.
His only appearance in a final came in the dour 2003 edition, where Milan and Juventus played out a turgid 0-0 draw, further consolidating the Italian’s reputation for being absolute misers for goals. Come on lads, would a shot on target really have killed you?
It seems absurd that the last time a defender won the Ballon d’Or was when Cannavaro scooped the award after Italy’s victorious World Cup in 2006. And it seems even more absurd that the legendary Italian defender never won the Champions League.
Despite turning out for Juventus, Real Madrid and Internazionale, the diminutive Italian centre-half never got his hands on the jug-eared trophy. Seems something of an injustice that his compatriot Marco Materazzi somehow won the trophy, in spite of forging a career out of being more violent than Steve Austin tanked up on Budweiser. Bah gawd!
Never a stranger from controversy – read: leaving Spurs for Arsenal, and assuming an unlikely career as a fervent Tory campaigner – the hulking English centre-half was one of the famed ‘Golden Generation’.
In reality, just like his international career, despite his unquestionable talents, Campbell fell short on the biggest stage. To be fair, though, if you’re going to lose a Champions League final, you may as well lose it to Barcelona.
“Are you sure?” we hear you cry. The indomitable German turned out for Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern Munich and Chelsea, appeared in two finals and still somehow didn’t pick up a winners’ medal. Talk about taking the piss.
Frustratingly, Ballack’s woes weren’t just reserved for club football. As well as picking up two runners up medals in Europe, he also picked up a silver medal at the 2006 World Cup. What a load of ballacks.
Daniele De Rossi
The highest-scoring Italian midfielder in post-war history, Il Gladiatore came as close to European glory as he’s likely to get when Roma crashed out in the dying moments of their semi-final against Liverpool.
He may have been suspect over the two legs against Klop’s rampaging side, but the bearded warrior forged a fearsome career out of kicking seven bells out of anything that moves. Just don’t tell him he made our list of best losers. We like our teeth in our mouths.
Perhaps the man on this list who, both figurative and literally, came closest to lifting the famous trophy, Lothar Matthaus was substituted off in the ’99 final at the age of 38 with his Bayern Munich side leading an under-performing Manchester United 1-0.
Yet, in the final 90 seconds, the legendary playmaker’s dreams of a first – and possibly last – European crown went up in smoke. For a man who remains Germany’s solitary Ballon d’Or recipient, football can seem a cruel sport. To this day, Matthaus can be reduced to a quivering wreck by the words “Ole Gunnar Solskjaer”.
Ballon d’Or recipient, multiple-time Serie A winner Pavel Nedved never got the chance to add the finest European crown to his wealth of accolades despite being one of the greatest players of the ’00s.
Another participant in the shittest Champions League final in living memory, Nedved’s chance to consolidate his legacy went up in flames when Juve blew the game on penalties. Travesty.
Ruud van Nistelrooy
He may have borne an uncanny resemblance to a prize stallion, but the Dutch hitman was one of the most lethal strikers in recent history. 56 goals in 73 games is astonishing when you consider during his time at United and Madrid he never got near the final.
In fact, only Messi and Ronaldo can better his goals-to-game ratio in the modern game. Just a shame he joined the list of footballers who got on the wrong side of Sir Alex. To be fair, he’s knocking about with the likes of Beckham, Stam and Keane, so that’s not exactly a bad place to be…
He won’t thank us from putting him on this list, but then again, tough luck, Zlat, should’ve won the f*cking thing, eh? It’s not as if the giant Swede didn’t have enough chances. Turning out for Ajax, Juventus, Milan, Inter, Barcelona and PSG should’ve reaped at least one Champions League medal.
Instead, Zlatan won just about everything else the game has to offer. That’s if you include banging 6938 goals past French postmen and plasterers week-in, week-out for four seasons.
Like De Rossi, Batigol’s loyalty to his middling club robbed him of any real chance of picking up a Champions League medal. But in 1999/00, he got the chance to test his mettle against Europe’s elite. He duly responded by smashing 6 goals past the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal.
Without a doubt, one of the finest strikers of the 1990s – and one of the most feared marksmen in football history – if Batistuta had taken the chance to jump ship to United in the summer of 1996, he could have dodged this list. Unlucky, mate.