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Ronaldo, Eric Cantona, Zlatan Ibrahimovic: The best players never to win Champions League 25-1


They came, they saw and they didn't conquer.

Today should have been the Champions League final in Istanbul, so Sky Sports have decided to look at the best players who never got their hands on the famous trophy.

Here we continue our countdown to No 1...

25 - Roberto Mancini

Roberto Mancini loves himself and there is a lot to love. He looks like a film star, he's won 20 major honours and he is now the manager of Italy. Not bad for an altar boy who was born in a small town near Ancona.

Sampdoria recently put Mancini's best three goals for them on social media and they are some of the most incredible goals scored in the history of football. Three volleys which are guaranteed to leave you thinking "How did he do that?"

Mancini was a fabulously talented forward and he brought out the best in his team-mates. His career was full of trophies and individual honours but the closest he came to lifting the European Cup was when Sampdoria lost 1-0 to Barcelona after extra time in the 1992 final at Wembley Stadium.

He did win two European trophies though - the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1990 with Sampdoria and in 1999 with Lazio.

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24 - Dimitar Berbatov

Dimitar Berbatov has been in and around the Champions League final three times.

Unfortunately for him, the outcomes were the same - his team lost. What was different though, was Berbatov's involvement in the games.

In 2002, he came off the bench in the 39th minute for Bayer Leverkusen. Six minutes later, he had a great view of Zinedine Zidane's incredible volley as Real Madrid won 2-1 at Hampden Park.

Dimitar Berbatov
Image: Dimitar Berbatov did not enjoy the best of luck when it came to Champions League finals

In 2009, he had less time - the final 24 minutes for Manchester United against Barcelona. Within four minutes of his appearance on the pitch in Rome, Lionel Messi scored to make it 2-0 and that was that.

Then 2011. That was painful. Berbatov was top scorer in the Premier League but he was left out of the 18-man United squad to face Barcelona at Wembley.

Sir Alex Ferguson chose Michael Owen as his striking substitute. Ferguson later said Berbatov didn't deserve that. Berbatov is philosophical. He says Barcelona were so good he wouldn't have made a difference.

23 - Fabio Cannavaro

There's a famous clip on YouTube of Fabio Cannavaro, Patrick Vieira, Martin O'Neill and Adrian Chiles in the ITV studio at the 2014 World Cup.

The rest of the panel are making fun of O'Neill when he reminds them that he won two European Cups as a player. While he acknowledges that Cannavaro and Vieira are World Cup winners, he asks how many European Cups they've won. Silence.

Cannavaro is an Italian legend who led his country to World Cup glory, but when it came to the European Cup he was an also-ran. He won the UEFA Cup at Parma and reached the semi-finals of the Champions League with Inter Milan.

The less said about his European record at Juventus and Real Madrid the better though.

Image: Fabio Cannavaro captained Italy to World Cup glory in 2006

At Juventus, he lost two quarter-finals and in Madrid he was knocked out three times in the last 16.

His European career ended in ignominy in 2010 when he was sent off in a Europa League last-16 second-leg tie against Fulham. Juventus had won the first leg 3-1 but were knocked out after losing 4-1 at Craven Cottage.

22 - Hernan Crespo

There were six minutes of the first half to go in the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul. AC Milan led Liverpool 1-0. Hernan Crespo scored two quick goals to make it 3-0 at half time.

Game over? Not quite.

In six crazy second half minutes, Liverpool scored three times and eventually won on penalties.

He couldn't even take part in the shoot-out because he had been substituted for Jon Dahl Tomasson.

Crespo never got close to winning the Champions League again.

21 - Paul Pogba

World Cup winner - check. Domestic title winner - check. Domestic cup winner - check. Europa League winner - check.

Champions League winner - computer says no.

Paul Pogba - a man who divides opinion. But the fact is he's only made one Champions League final - the 2015 defeat to Barcelona for Juventus.

Paul Pogba
Image: Paul Pogba consoles Andrea Pirlo following Juventus' 2015 Champions League final defeat to Barcelona

That final aside, the furthest Pogba has got is the last eight.

At 27, he still has time to fulfil that ambition. The question is where?

20 - Michael Ballack

Ask Michael Ballack about his close calls in the Champions League and he will say: "That's football".

In 2002, he was part of the Bayer Leverkusen team called "Neverkusen" because they finished runners-up in the Bundesliga, German Cup and the Champions League - as if that wasn't bad enough he also reached the World Cup final with Germany that year but was suspended as they lost 2-0 to Brazil.

When he joined Chelsea in 2006, he turned down the chance to go to Manchester United. In his second season at Stamford Bridge, United beat Chelsea in a dramatic penalty shootout in the Champions League final in Moscow.

Ballack collapses to the floor in Chelsea's penalty shoot-out defeat to Manchester United in the 2008 Champions League final
Image: Michael Ballack collapses to the floor in Chelsea's penalty shoot-out defeat to Manchester United in the 2008 Champions League final

A year later, Ballack infamously chased referee Tom Henning Ovrebo across the Stamford Bridge pitch as Chelsea were denied what appeared to be a number of clear-cut penalties in a tense semi-final against Barcelona.

Chelsea had drawn 0-0 in Spain and were leading 1-0 at home with seconds to go when Andres Iniesta scored to take Barcelona into the final on the away goals rule.

19 - Robert Pires

Robert Pires was 32 when he played in his only Champions League final - Arsenal vs Barcelona in Paris in 2006.

It would be his last game in an Arsenal shirt, and it could have been a fitting end to a glorious six year spell at the club. It didn't end as he had hoped.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM:  Arsenal's French players Robert Pires (L) and Thierry Henry (R) celebrate Pires' equalising goal in the second half during the Pre
Image: The Champions League was one of only a few prizes that eluded Robert Pires during his career

He was the Arsenal player sacrificed by Arsene Wenger following Jens Lehmann's red card after 18 minutes. Barcelona went on to win 2-1.

Pires was an Invincible who won the World Cup, the European Championship, two Premier League titles and two FA Cups but he still hasn't forgotten that night in Paris.

He says it was "a nightmare" and his "worst memory".

18 - George Weah

Surely George Weah can have anything he wants?

He is the only player in history who has gone on to become a president. And we're not talking president of a football club.

Since January 2018, George Manneh Oppong Weah has been the President of Liberia.

Very impressive but that doesn't change the fact that he never won the European Cup.

He won eight trophies at Monaco, Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan and Chelsea, but nothing in Europe.

17 - Ruud van Nistelrooy

Only five players have scored more Champions League goals than Ruud van Nistelrooy but he has never even played in the final.

Van Nistelrooy joined Manchester United two years after their treble triumph in 1999, and he left Old Trafford two years before they won the European Cup again in 2008.

Ruud van Nistelrooy
Image: Ruud van Nistelrooy never got to a Champions League final despite spells at Manchester United and Real Madrid

The semi-final stage was as good as it got for Ruud - and that was in his first season at Old Trafford.

At Real Madrid, he never won a knockout tie.

16 - Gabriel Batistuta

Gabriel "Batigol" Batistuta was a goal machine.

He was the player everyone in Italy and Argentina wanted to be. He looked like he was in Bon Jovi and he finished like Alan Shearer.

Image: Legendary Argentina striker Gabriel Batistuta never achieved the ultimate success in European club football

His loyalty to Fiorentina meant that he didn't win as many trophies during his career as his talent deserved but who needs trophies when you've got a bronze statue of yourself outside the Stadio Artemio Franchi?

During the 1990s he could have left Fiorentina for virtually any big club in Europe but he stayed for nine seasons until he moved to Roma in 2000.

He helped Roma win the Serie A title in 2001 but he never won a European trophy during his career.

15 - Gianfranco Zola

Gianfranco Zola is no stranger to success in European competition.

He's won the UEFA Cup and the European Cup Winners' Cup.

16 Dec 1998: Gianfranco Zola of Chelsea celebrates after scoring against Manchester United in the FA Carling Premiership match at Old Trafford in Manchester, England. The game ended 1-1. \ Mandatory Credit: Alex Livesey /Allsport
Image: Gianfranco Zola had limited opportunities in the Champions League during his career

But while it's not a total shock that club football's ultimate prize eluded him given the names on this list, the fact he only played in the competition in two seasons is a definite surprise.

A quarter-final for Chelsea in 2000 when they blew a 3-1 first leg lead against Barcelona was as good as it got.

14 - Sergio Aguero

Sergio Aguero is approaching the last-chance saloon when it comes to the Champions League.

He is 32 on June 1 and Manchester City won't play in Europe for the next two seasons unless they win their appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Sergio Aguero's dramatic winner against QPR handed Man City the title
Image: Sergio Aguero's dramatic winner against QPR handed Man City the Premier League title in 2012

Aguero is City's all-time record goalscorer and has guaranteed his place in footballing folklore thanks to his title-clinching goal against Queens Park Rangers in 2012.

When it comes to the European Cup though, he has unfinished business. There's still a chance 2020 could be City's year.

13 - Patrick Vieira

Patrick Vieira won the World Cup. He won the European Championship. He won three titles at Arsenal and four at Inter Milan. He was captain of the Invincibles, but he never played in a Champions League final.

His last kick as an Arsenal player won the 2005 FA Cup final in a penalty shootout against Manchester United. A year later, Arsenal reached the final - beating Vieira's Juventus on the way to Paris.

After a season at Juventus, Vieira joined Inter Milan. He stayed for three and a half years. Less than five months after he left, Inter won the Champions League.

12 - Francesco Totti

785 games. 307 goals. One club. Francesco Totti loved Roma. Roma loved Franceso Totti.

In a career which spanned a quarter of a century, Totti won the Serie A title and two Italian Cups. The Champions League was out of reach though.

Totti was successful in just two knockout ties in the competition and never got past the quarter-finals.

Francesco Totti retired from football in the summer of 2017
Image: Francesco Totti retired from football in the summer of 2017 as a one-club man with Roma

Manchester United knocked Roma out both times they got to that stage.

He was easily good enough to play in a European Cup-winning side but he was a one club man and there aren't many of them around these days.

Anyway, he's got a World Cup winner's medal.

11 - Bobby Moore

In Bobby Moore's days, only one team from each country played in the European Cup and they were the champions. It's not surprising that Moore never won it because he never played in it.

Despite captaining his country to World Cup glory, his loyalty to West Ham meant he only won two club trophies during his playing days - the 1964 FA Cup when West Ham beat Preston North End 3-2 in the final at Wembley and the European Cup Winners' Cup the following season when they beat 1860 Munich 2-0 at the same stadium.

Moore won three trophies. All of them at Wembley.

10 - Dennis Bergkamp

In 1993, Dennis Bergkamp decided it was the right time to leave Ajax. He could have moved to Real Madrid or Juventus, but he signed for Inter Milan.

Things didn't work out there, which was good news for Arsenal, who bought him two years later for £7.5m.

Dennis Bergkamp
Image: Dennis Bergkamp produced some of the most iconic Premier League moments - but it was a different story in Europe

If he had stayed at Ajax, he could have played in the Champions League winning side of 1995 and if he had moved to Juventus he could have been part of their European Cup success in 1996.

Real Madrid wanted him too and he could have won the Champions League with them in 1998.

It wasn't to be though and by the time he arrived in London, he had developed a phobia of flying. That meant no European Cups for the non-flying Dutchman and Arsenal.

9 - Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Dijmi Traore doesn't think he's God, he doesn't have 40 million Instagram followers and he doesn't have any statues anywhere. But he has won the Champions League and that means that when it comes to European Cups it is Djimi 1 Zlatan 0.

Joking aside, it's a mystery how the European Cup is not among the 31 major honours Ibrahimovic has won bearing in mind he's played in the Champions League for seven of Europe's top clubs - Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored 56 goals in 85 appearances during his two seasons with AC Milan
Image: Zlatan Ibrahimovic may have played for some of Europe's top clubs - but it hasn't resulted in Champions League success

He's played 124 times and scored 49 goals in the competition without winning it. He has never even reached the final.

The closest he got was with Barcelona in 2010 when they were knocked out in the semi-finals by eventual winners Inter Milan - who he had left the previous summer.

8 - Lothar Matthaus

Imagine the heartbreak of being 1-0 up in a European Cup final with minutes to go - only to lose 2-1. Now imagine that happening twice.

Step forward Lothar Matthaus. 1999 is the one that most people remember. Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in stoppage time for Manchester United at the Nou Camp against Bayern Munich.

As Matthaus sat motionless on the bench, his mind might have wondered back 12 years to 1987. Bayern 1-0 up against Porto in Vienna with 13 minutes to go. They were 2-1 down with 10 minutes to go and the Cup was lost.

Tough on Matthaus, but he's a World Cup winner and a European Championship winner so he won't be losing any sleep over it.

7 - Eric Cantona

Collar up. Chest out. According to former Manchester United chairman Martin Edwards, Eric Cantona "changed the history of the club".

He cost £1.2m from Leeds and turned United from contenders to champions.

Image: Eric Cantona never tasted European success during his illustrious career

The long wait for a title came to an end after 26 years. Three more followed in the next four seasons. Two doubles. Cantona the catalyst for a new, young, vibrant United.

Success in Europe proved elusive though but many of those he had inspired went on to lift the trophy in 1999, two years after he retired aged 30.

6 - Robert Lewandowski

Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Raul are the only players who have scored more Champions League goals than Robert Lewandowski and when it comes to European Cups it's Ronaldo 5, Messi 4, Raul 3 and Lewandowski 0.

The closest Lewandowski came to getting his hands on the trophy was when he reached the 2013 final with Borussia Dortmund, only to lose to future employers Bayern Munich.

Since then he has only got as far as the semi-finals (three times) and the quarter-finals (twice).

Image: Robert Lewandowski has been a prolific scorer in Europe's elite competition

His luck could be about to change though. Bayern have one foot in this season's quarter-finals after winning 3-0 at Chelsea, so maybe this could finally be Lewandowski's year.

64 goals and counting in Europe's elite club competition deserves a European Cup.

5 - Roberto Baggio

Il Divin Codino. The Divine Ponytail. Roberto Baggio was one of the best players of his generation.

He was a Ballon d'Or winner who was the most famous player in the world for much of the '90s.

But he only won four trophies during his career - all of them between 1992 and 1996 at Juventus and AC Milan.

He did win the 1993 UEFA Cup with Juventus, beating Borussia Dortmund 6-1 on aggregate in the final which in those days was played over two legs.

It's easy to forget just how good he was and it's a shame he will always be remembered for that penalty miss in the 1994 World Cup final between Italy and Brazil at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

Baggio has got over it though and in 2010 he received the Man of Peace award for his charitable work for social justice and peace.

4 - Gianluigi Buffon

Six goalkeepers have made more than 100 appearances in the Champions League.

Five of them have won the trophy. Gianluigi Buffon is the odd man out.

Three finals. Three defeats. 2003 was particularly painful. Juventus lost on penalties to AC Milan despite Buffon saving two penalties in the shootout at Old Trafford.

Image: Gianluigi Buffon has tasted plenty of domestic success during a trophy-laden career

Buffon is 42 now and opportunities are running out for one of the best goalkeepers the world has ever seen.

Juventus are still in this season's competition, but they will have to overturn a 1-0 deficit against Lyon if and when the tournament resumes.

3 - Romario

Romario is living proof that winning the European Cup is even harder than it looks. Here was a guy who won the World Cup and FIFA World Player of the Year award. He was was one of the stars of Johan Cruyff's Barcelona Dream Team, but had to settle for a runner's up medal in the 1994 Champions League after a 4-0 defeat at the hands of AC Milan in the final in Athens.

He was Champions League top scorer in 1992/93 and he scored home and away against Manchester United in 1994.

Former United centre-back Steve Bruce says he still has nightmares about what Romario did to him in Barcelona's 4-0 win that season at the Nou Camp.

Romario is now a politician and a senator in Brazil. His incredible self-confidence remains intact. "When I was born," Romario said. "The man in the sky pointed to me and said 'that's the guy'."

2 - Ronaldo

Between them, Ronaldo and Cristiano Ronaldo have won five European Cups. Unfortunately for the boy from Brazil, Cristiano has won them all.

The Brazilian Ronaldo has won the Ballon d'Or twice and scored 36 goals in Europe for PSV Eindhoven, Barcelona, Inter Milan and Real Madrid but he never even reached the Champions League final.

David Beckham and Ronaldo were team-mates at Real Madrid between 2003 and 2007
Image: Ronaldo won two World Cups during his career - but never got his hands on the Champions League

The closest he got was the semi-final with Real Madrid in 2003 when they were knocked out by Juventus. And he was on the books of AC Milan when they won in 2007, but having joined from Real mid-season was cup-tied and unable to feature in the Champions League.

He did win the European Cup Winners' Cup though with Barcelona in 1997 and the UEFA Cup with Inter Milan in 1998 and he scored in both finals.

When it comes to European Cups it's Ronaldo 0 Cristiano 5, but when it comes to World Cups it's Ronaldo 2 Cristiano 0.

1 - Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona is the greatest footballer of all time so he has to come top of this list. That's just the way it is.

Maradona won the World Cup virtually 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 1989 UEFA Cup with Napoli.

Argentine soccer star Diego Armando Maradona, being carried by fans after winning the 1981 local Championship with Boca Juniors at La Bombonera stadium in Buenos Aires. Boca Juniors,
Image: Diego Maradona tops the list, with the UEFA Cup his only European trophy

In his days though there was no Champions League and the European Cup was a knockout competition for champions. You couldn't qualify for it by finishing second, third or fourth.

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

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