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The best XI to never win the Champions League

Wednesday 14th February 2018

With the Champions League's return to action on Tuesday night, most are asking which players could win the trophy for their sides. Manchester United's chief talents include Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez; City possess immense quality in attacking areas, with Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero the main threats; Barcelona can call on Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. 

The Barca duo have already tasted Champions League success. Pogba, Sanchez, De Bruyne and Aguero are likely to lift the trophy in the future, too. Over the past 15 years, however, some all-time greats have failed to add Europe's most prestigious club competition to their medal haul. 

Here is our best XI to never win the Champions League. 

Gianluigi Buffon

Without doubt, Buffon is the greatest goalkeeper of the 21st century. The former Italian number one has remained Juventus' top stopper since joining from Parma in 2001. His impressive CV includes eight Serie A titles and the World Cup. Gigi has also featured in three Champions League finals against three different opponents. However, the outcome has always been the same: runner-up.  


A fairly easy choice as the best right backs over the last 15 years - Cafu, Michel Salgado, Gary Neville, Javier Zanetti, Philipp Lahm and Dani Alves - have all won the Champions League. That left Juanfran competing against Darijo Srna. The Croat never played for an elite club, but he was a consistent performer and displayed brilliant leadership quality throughout his career. The Spaniard, meanwhile, is a two-time runner-up in the competition under Diego Simeone. Despite costing his side the 2016 trophy after missing in the penalty shootout, Juanfran has earned his place in the best XI.    

Fabio Cannavaro

Cannavaro was the last man to win the FIFA World Player of the Year (now Ballon d'Or) before Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. The Italian is considered a true great of his generation. If he wasn't born in Italy, he'd probably be his nation's most celebrated defender. With Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta and Costacurta also vying for that tile, however, the 2006 world's best player must settle for parity.

Among the five legends, Cannavaro is the only one to receive football's most prestigious individual award. The other four, though, have all lifted the Champions League trophy.      

Lilian Thuram

As well as being France's all-time record cap holder, Thuram is considered among his country's greatest defenders in history. He was a dominant force who could perform at right and centre-back. His career wasn't decorated with Champions League glory, though. Having joined Barca the summer after they were crowned European champions, Thuram was even more unfortunate having being forced to retire less than a year before the Catalans reclaimed the trophy.   

Gianluca Zambrotta

A selection headache between Zambrotta and Roberto Carlos. The Italian featured in a backline comprised of World Cup winners at Juve before going on to play for Barcelona and AC Milan. He was equally adept on either flank and excellent in attacking situations. His defensive capabilities were solid too, meaning he edges out Carlos.   

Michael Ballack

If there is a football nearly-man, Ballack is it. After a gut-wrenching season where his sights were set on winning the treble with Bayer Leverkusen only to finish trophyless, he then dragged a flailing Germany kicking and screaming to the 2002 World Cup final. He fell short again, though.

Ballack later spent time at Bayern Munich, but his next big shot at silverware came at Chelsea in 2008. Yet more heartache followed. He finished runner-up in the Carling Cup, Premier League & Champions League. To add insult to injury, the midfielder lost in the final at that year's European Championship with Die Mannschaft. 

Patrick Vieira

Despite captaining Arsenal's 'Invincibles' in 2003-04, Vieira's talent should have won him more trophies. The French World Cup and Euro winner had combative style rarely seen before or after. His infectious personality made him a protagonist in one of the greatest Premier League rivalries in history between the Gunners and Man United. He became admired throughout Europe due to his inspirational leadership during nine seasons in North London. 

The Champions League was the only major honour missing from Vieira's medal collection after retirement.

Francesco Totti

The Eternal City's one-club legend, Totti served Roma for 24 years, winning the Serie A title, as well as the Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italiana on two occasions each. Despite also adding a World Cup with Italy, it's an underwhelming haul for a player of his quality.

Totti's longest Champions League run took him to the quarter-finals in 2006-07. It was ended emphatically, though, as a rampant Man United hit seven in the away leg.   

Pavel Nedved

Nedved replaced the great Zinedine Zidane at Juventus. In his third season in Turin, the Czech helped prevent Real Madrid from defending the Champions League title. He was then unfortunate to lose on penalties in a goalless, all-Italian final against AC Milan.

Six months later, Nedved beat Thierry Henry to the Ballon d'Or. He’s considered the greatest Czech player of his generation. Perhaps any generation.

Ruud van Nistelrooy

Van Nistelrooy is the only player ever to finish as the Champions League's top goalscorer on three occasions and never win the trophy. He’s also the fourth highest scorer in the competition's history, only bettered by Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi and Raul.


Nicknamed 'Il Fenomeno' (The Phenomenon), the original Ronaldo was the first player to cross both sides of Milan and El Clasico. At his peak, he was unplayable. Think Ronaldinho's skill and control and Messi's clinical finishing.

Paolo Maldini considers Ronaldo the most difficult opponent he faced. Only injury deprived the Brazilian of winning the Champions League. Simply put, he was the best out-and-out striker in the past 30 years. Fast, agile, two-footed, strong and good in the air. There won't be a replicate anytime soon.

Tyrone Chambers

I know most people either love them or hate them but I a massive fan of Manchester United. I'm not afraid to speak the truth. Writing it as it is, bold enough to say it in the way no manager or player could say in public. I write about all things football but I love music as well, both listening and playing, keen drummer.

Total articles: 120

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