There is one trophy in Europe that all players and teams want to win. Seen as the pinnacle of European football, the UEFA Champions League is the most prestigious trophy at club level, the one meant to elevate a player’s status and cement his legacy. Since its inception in 1955, and known as the European Cup until 1992, the famous trophy has eluded numerous talents and legendary players over the years, some of whom had fallen short of expectations, while others simply didn’t have ‘’Lady Luck’’ on their side.
The 66th Champions League started its group stages on the 20th of October and will conclude on the 29th of May 2021 with the finals taking place at the Atatürk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, Turkey. To commemorate the return of the greatest club prize in European football, we’ve had a look at both famous winners and losers of the Champions League.
Who has won the most Champions League titles?
A total of 22 clubs have won the tournament while only three have reached ten or more finals (Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, and AC Milan). Real Madrid have dominated the competition and hold the record for the most Champions League trophies, having won the competition 13 times. AC Milan have won 7 Champions League titles making them the most successful Italian team in the competition. Following closely, Liverpool have won the UEFA Champions League title 6 times. Bayern Munich have tied that record after winning in the 2020 Champions League finals. Next, is Barcelona with 5 wins, and Ajax with 4 with their latest win in 1995.
Which nation has the most Champions League wins?
Champions League winners have only come from ten countries. Spanish clubs are the most successful, with 18 titles in total. They’re followed by England with 13 wins, while Italy is in 3rd place with 12 titles. Germany also has eight wins, Netherlands counts six, followed by Portugal with four.
Who are the top teams that have never won the Champions League?
One of the biggest clubs in the Premier League, Arsenal have never won the Champions League. A long sense of disappointment for the London club that had appeared in the competition for 17 consecutive seasons under Arsène Wenger’s rein but couldn’t go that one step further. They came close in 2006, when they reached their only UEFA Champions League final, but lost to Barcelona in Paris.
On the other side of the spectrum, Roma are the biggest Italian club to never win the Champions League. They reached the Final in 1984 but lost to Liverpool. Despite playing at home, they weren’t good enough in the penalty shoot-out.
Atletico Madrid also deserve a mention. The 10-time Spanish champions have reached the finals three times, the first one in 1974 where they lost to Bayern Munich. The second and third time, in 2014 and in 2016, they faced Real Madrid losing both times to their local rivals.
Who are some top players to never win the Champions League?
Here are some names that may surprise you:
Totti is the ultimate Roma legend. Having spent his career in only one club, his goal tally comes to 307 in 785 appearances. He won the 2000/01 Serie A title and two Italian Cups, but the Champions League remained out of reach for the Italian. The 2006 World Champion never managed to achieve Champions League glory, reaching only as far as the UCL quarterfinals. At least, Il Capitano can be proud to be the oldest Champions League scorer in history – at 38 years and 58 days.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic calls himself God. He has 45 million Instagram followers. He also has his very own statue. And yet he doesn’t have a Champions League title. The Swedish striker has collected 31 major honours in his career and has played for seven of Europe’s top clubs – Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, and Manchester United. And although he’s played in 120 games and scored 48 goals in the competition, 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 and former club Inter Milan. Does the 39-year old have enough time left to grab the eluded trophy?
Il Divin Codino. The Italian may be best remembered for that penalty miss in the 1994 World Cup final between Italy and Brazil – plus his inspiring ponytail – but ‘’The Divine Ponytail’’ was one of the best players of his generation admired for his artistry and vision. The 1993 Ballon D’or winner spent his entire career in Italy playing for giants such as Juventus, Milan, and Inter, but was never crowned a European champion. He won only four trophies in his career, while his former club Juventus won the Champions League in 1996, just one year after his departure for Milan. With more than 300 career goals, Baggio remains the only Italian to score in three World Cups and one of the highest scoring Italians of all time in all competitions. To remember him, there’s always that Johnnie Walker ad…
The Italian goalkeeper has 122 Champions League appearances to his name, one of the highest of all time. And yet no Champions League trophy. It’s definitely not for lack of trying. Three Finals. Three Losses. The 2003 Champions League final was particularly painful. Juventus lost on penalties to AC Milan despite Buffon saving two penalties in the shoot-out at Old Trafford. He reached the finals with the Old Lady two more times, but the Italians still lost to Barcelona in 2015 and to Real Madrid in 2017. With 11 domestic titles, Buffon is considered one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time. Will he be able to reach a 4th Champions League Final at 42?
A unique blend between a playmaker and a striker, the Non-Flying Dutchman was one of the most technically gifted players of his generation. Known for his first touch and entertaining goals, Dennis Bergkamp has two UEFA Cups two his name, but never won the Champions League. Some speculate it was his fear of flying that held him and Arsenal back from European success as he sparingly travelled to away matches. In a twist of fate, the final game of his career was the 2006 Champions League Final against Barcelona. He was an unused substitute in that game, watching from the sidelines as Arsenal suffered a 2-1 defeat…
Tall, strong, fast, but also good with the ball, Patrick Vieira was a force of nature in the middle of the park and a dominant box-to-box midfielder. A World Cup winner, with two European Championships under his belt, the captain of Arsenal’s Invincibles never played in a Champions League final. A year after he left Arsenal, the Gunners reached the final beating Vieira’s Juventus on the way. Less than five months after he left from Inter Milan, they also won the Champions League as part of their historic treble. Unfortunately, although the Arsenal legend guided his side to an unprecedented unbeaten season in the Premier League, he was never able to do the same in the Champions League.
Batigol was one best strikers of his time. A goal machine, perhaps it was his deep loyalty for Fiorentina that didn’t allow him to compete for a major European trophy. Coming in third in the World Player of the Year rankings in 1999, he could have moved to any big club of his choice, but the striker dedicated his prime to La Viola staying there for nine years. He even stayed with the club when they were relegated helping them return to the Serie A. Argentina’s all-time top scorer in the World Cups, he joined Roma late in his career helping them win the Serie A title in 2001. Although success in Europe eluded him, is that so important when you have your own statue outside the Stadio Artemio Franchi?
Ruud van Nistelrooy
56 goals in 73 Champions League appearances. Only five players have scored more Champions League goals than Ruud van Nistelrooy but he’s never even played in a final. While active, the prolific striker was the all-time scorer, but the semi-finals was as good as it got for him. He reached them in 2002 with Manchester United, but they were eventually knocked out by Bayer Leverkusen. The competition’s top scorer in 2001-02, 2002-03 and 2004-05, he similarly struggled at Real Madrid, never winning a knockout tie. He mustn’t have liked it when Real won the trophy while he was at Man United and then the Red Devils winning the trophy while he was in Madrid.
A true successor to Franco Baresi, Cannavaro was the captain of the Italian side that won the 2006 World Cup. Despite playing for three football giants, Inter Milan, Juventus, and Real Madrid, he failed to claim the coveted European trophy, falling short at each club. He reached the semis once with Inter in 2002, while at Juventus, he lost two quarter-finals, and in Madrid he was knocked out three times in the round of 16. Although he never experienced a Champions League final, Cannavaro can claim to be one of the few defenders to have ever won the Ballon d’Or. Who’ll there be someone to succeed him?
Another former Juventus player who never managed to win the Champions League. With Nedved’s seemingly endless energy while on the pitch, it’s no wonder he’s considered one of the greatest midfielders of the modern era. He had a chance to play in the 2003 Champions League final against Milan but was suspended and had to watch from the stands as Juve suffered a loss to in a penalty shoot-out. Perhaps if he played, he wouldn’t be in this list. The Czech still won the Ballon d’Or in 2003, but never reached another final. He and Juve went to two more quarter-finals, but lost to Liverpool and Arsenal respectively, thus missing out on a chance for redemption.
The Phenomenon. One of the best players of all time, and arguably the greatest player to never win the Champions League. He doesn’t only hold two Ballon d’Or, but he was also twice the world’s most expensive player with his transfers to Barcelona and Inter. Even though he spearheaded Brazil to World Cup glory in 2002 with eight goals, he never did enough to claim a European title. His 36 goals in European competitions were enough for only the European Cup Winners’ Cup and the UEFA Cup with him scoring in both finals. The closest the Brazilian striker ever got, was the semi-final with Real Madrid in 2003 when they were knocked out by Juventus. Greatest Champions League moment? The hat trick against Manchester United in 2003 followed by a standing ovation inside the Old Trafford. He played his final Champions League game at 29. Fittingly, he scored twice.
Honourable mentions: Giorgio Chiellini, Robert Pires, Cesc Fabregas, Hernan Crespo, Phillip Cocu, George Weah, Michael Ballack, Gianluca Zambrotta, Lilian Thuram, Alan Shearer, Eric Cantona, Romario, Lothar Matthaus.
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