The world’s stars who’ve never won it

By Pete Reilly Source: Global Times Published: 2020/8/26 16:58:41

Kylian Mbappe Photo: VCG


Football is a cruel mistress. That is one of the only sure things about the ­so-called beautiful game. How else can you possibly explain some of the wonderful world-class players to never have lifted the biggest trophy in club football?

These are players who are household names across the world and played for some of the finest sides to ever compete but for some reason never came closer than having to walk past the 74-centimeter tall, 11-kilogram solid silver trophy designed by Swiss jeweller Jürg Stadelmann and read the words "Coupe des Clubs Champions Européens" in shiny bold letters.

None ever came closer than Lothar Matthaus. The German had returned to his homeland and Bayern Munich after years in Italy with Inter Milan, reaching the Champions League final in 1999 in Barcelona. The Bavarians had scored early, through a Mario Basler free kick, and led until late.

Matthaus was taken off after 80 minutes, the 38-year-old allowed to milk the applause from the travelling fans as the English side looked to have run out of ideas. He was named German Footballer of the Year that season and deserved the applause but Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer dramatically decided the game in injury time and Matthaus and his Munich teammates missed out. He still cannot believe it.

"I still can't believe we lost on that evening in Barcelona. I just don't know how it happened," Matthaus wrote in British newspaper The Sun on the 20th anniversary of the final. "It was our game, all game - and my worst experience in football."

He compared the experience to another final loss.

"Yes, I lost the World Cup final in 1986 but I understood why we lost that game - Argentina were better than Germany and we couldn't argue. That wasn't the case in 1999. For 90 minutes, we did everything right."

It should be noted that Matthaus got revenge for the World Cup by beating Argentina in the final in 1990 - the other year that he was named as Germany's Footballer of the Year - but would never get his "rache" in the Champions League.

Another German, Michael Ballack, was 25 when he lost the Champions League final with Bayer Leverkusen to that Zinedine Zidane volley and then lost the World Cup final against Brazil. He would never get back to another final in either, despite Chelsea probably deserving to beat Barcelona in 2009.  

But winning a World Cup does not improve a player's chances of winning the Champions League, as Kylian Mbappe and Presnel Kimpembe, both winners in Russia 2018 with France, found out against Bayern Munich in Lisbon last Sunday. Their days may yet come either with PSG, who were playing their first-ever Champions League final, or with another club.

Mbappe in particular is spoken of in the hushed tones that are saved for the very greatest of the game and he is only 21. There is talk of him as a future Ballon d'Or winner and he is linked with even bigger clubs than the Paris outfit, notably ­serial Champions League winners Real Madrid.

Nothing in football can be taken for granted of course. Take Ronaldo, the original Brazilian one, the boy in a man's world who left them all standing to earn the nickname of O Fenemeno and leave even older men in tears of joy.

Ronaldo won the World Cup in the US at 17 as an unused susbtitute and was the game's biggest global star, the youngest ever winner of the Ballon d'Or and he had the weight of Brazil on his shoulders four years later. That World Cup ended with hosts France winning but Ronaldo would get redemption in Japan and South Korea in 2002.

After that he swapped Inter Milan for Real Madrid to add to a CV that already included Barcelona and would go on to feature AC Milan, European royalty all, but a Champions League final appearance would elude him.

The closest he would come was in 2003 with Madrid, the season when he was applauded off the pitch by the home fans at Old Trafford after a clinical hat trick. Juventus stood in the way in the semifinals and Ronaldo opened the scoring in the first leg at the Bernabeu. He lasted just 38 minutes of the second leg in Turin, with injury once again pegging him back just as it had done during his one Champions League season with Inter years before. In the end Ronaldo only ever played in 40 Champions League games, with the lowest point perhaps Real's shock quarterfinals exit to lowly Monaco in 2004.

Gabriel Batistuta once partnered Ronaldo in a charity match. The strike partnership lasted just 45 minutes of a game between Europe and the Rest of the World in 1998. In the leadup to France hosting the World Cup, all the participating nations sent a player to an exhibition game at Marseille's Stade Velodrome, Argentina sent Batistuta and Brazil sent Ronaldo. Against Europe's finest, and having gone a goal down in the opening minute, the duo combined for five goals to make the score 5-1 at the interval before Ronaldo was swapped for Derby County's Jamaica international Deon Burton.

As for Batistuta, he remains a player of some renown, decades on from his last unstoppable goal, but his Champions League record while filled with such goals never actually saw him reach the knockouts with Fiorentina or Roma.

It's similar with his Roma teammate, Francesco Totti, a god of the game but never at a club that got past a semifinal, and there are countless others.

Pavel Nedved and Fabio Cannavaro, both Ballon d'Or winners, never reached a final. Cannavaro reached a semi with Inter Milan, but lost to AC Milan on away goals, and then went no closer than the quarters with either Real Madrid or Juventus, where he was teammates with Nedved.

That Juve team is filled with players it seems shocking that they have not won, such as Gianluca Zambrotta, Lilian Thuram and Patrick Viera.

Worst of all was Viera - he left Inter Milan for Manchester City in January just before the Italians won the Champions League in May.
Newspaper headline: Champions League losers

Posted in: SOCCER

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