Right Place Wrong Time
Some clubs have become synonymous with Champions League success, since the competition began in 1955 (then under the guise of The European Cup) 21 different clubs have been crowned as champions of Europe.
The top ten most successful clubs in the history of the competition have taken an impressive 42 out of 55 available trophies ₁. This number is even more staggering when you take into account the 29 trophies won by the top five; Real Madrid (9), AC Milan (7), Liverpool (5), Bayern Munich (4) and Ajax (4), historically winning over 50% of the trophies on offer ₁.
With this in mind it may be easy for players at many of these clubs to take for granted that success in Europe’s most coveted competition is a given. This article takes a look at the five players who have not been able to win a Champions League medal themselves despite playing for a minimum of four Champions League winning clubs over the course of their careers.
Ronaldo (PSV Eindhoven, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, AC Milan)
The greatest striker of his generation, and arguably of all time; El Fenomeno (The Phenomenon) has this week announced his retirement from the game, finishing his career with homeland club Corinthians.
This announcement has sparked a flurry of articles, blogs and youtube compilations depicting his remarkable skills and achievements in the game, it seems unjust to include Ronaldo’s name in this piece which ultimately has a negative outlook.
His start with Cruzeiro and finish at Corinthians sandwiched spells with five European clubs whom have enjoyed success in the continents premier club competition, despite this Ronaldo never managed to acquire a Champions League winners medal himself.
This is not to say that the strikers career could be deemed unsuccessful, far from it, to showcase but a few of Ronaldo’s club level honours; domestic trophies in Brazil with both clubs that he represented as well as in Holland with PSV, a UEFA Cup Winners Cup with Barcelona in 1997 was to be accompanied by a UEFA Cup winners medal with Inter Milan in 1998 before a move back to Spain where R9 was to win La Liga twice.
The only club with whom Ronaldo did not win a trophy was AC Milan where he was cup tied for the Champions League triumph of 2007. The closest he came to winning an elusive Champions League winners medal was in Real Madrid’s 2002/03 campaign which ended in a 4-3 aggregate semi final defeat to Juventus.
Ronaldo will be able to enjoy his retirement with a feeling of immense pride, having also received a number of individual accolades; two Ballon D’or awards, FIFA Player of the Year winner on three separate occasions (a feat matched only by Zinedine Zidane) and listed in the FIFA 100 by fellow countryman Pele to name but three.
All this without mentioning his 15 World Cup goals (an all time competition record) and two World Cups won with Brazil which are the icing on the cake of a remarkable career blighted by injury.
Laurent Blanc (Barcelona, Marseille, Inter Milan, Manchester United)
Another player to obtain a World Cup winners medal (albeit serving a suspension in the final) the imposing defender who stands at 6’3” was also a teammate of Ronaldo at Barcelona for the European Cup Winners Cup winning season of 1996/97 (missing the final through injury).
His greatest successes were enjoyed with the French national side, a European Championship winners medal being added to his collection in 2000. This is not to say that the player was not to taste glory at club level, the highlight’s being a Ligue 1 triumph with Auxerre and a Premier League trophy with Manchester United in 2003.
Often deployed as a sweeper Blanc was one of the modern games greatest defenders, also enjoying stints with Napoli, Inter Milan and Marseille as well as a host of other French clubs he will hope to replicate his successes on the field with the national side in his new role as manager.
Boudewijn Zenden (PSV Eindhoven, Barcelona, Liverpool, Marseille)
Another player to enjoy spells with Barcelona and Marseille, but not before his breakthrough at homeland club PSV where he started out in the youth team, now with Sunderland he is the only member of this list still playing.
The Dutch winger benefitted from winning honours with PSV early in his career, receiving the Dutch Football Talent of the Year award in 1997 went hand in hand with an Eredivisie League Championship win. This rise to prominence led the Dutchman to Barcelona where he added a La Liga title to his honours list.
An extended stay in England with Chelsea, Middlesbrough and then Liverpool, Zenden was somewhat unfortunate with the Anfield club. He arrived on the back of a Champions League final victory over AC Milan in 2005 only to make his final appearance wearing the famous red shirt in the 2007 Champions League final defeat against AC Milan. He did however win a European Super Cup with the club in 2005 as well as an FA Cup the following year (although he was injured for the final).
An unfruitful two years in France with Marseille before moving back to the North of England with his present club.
Pierre Van Hooijdonk (Celtic, Nottingham Forest, Benfica, Feyenoord)
The second Dutchman on this list, perhaps a little harshly considering the last time that any of the clubs he played for won the Champions League was in 1980 (Nottingham Forest), nine years before his debut with RBC.
The striker who was an aerial threat due to his sheer size won 46 caps for Holland. Also seen as a set piece specialist, Van Hooijdonk made his first move abroad to join Celtic before a transfer to Premier League Nottingham Forest, however his greatest successes were to be enjoyed later on his career.
Leaving England saw spells back home and in Portugal with Benfica, prior to another transfer back to Holland where Van Hooijdonk scored two goals in Feyenoord’s 3-2 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the 2002 UEFA Cup Final, at the clubs home ground. From here the player moved to Fenerbache where he enjoyed top flight league success for the first time, winning the Super Lig back to back in 2004 and 2005 (won English Division One in 1998 with Nottingham Forest).
Now retired after another two years (2005-07) shared between previous clubs NAC and Feyenoord in his homeland.
Dean Saunders (Liverpool, Aston Villa, Nottingham Forest, Benfica)
The Welsh striker who earned 75 caps for his country enjoyed stints at some of England’s most renowned clubs including Liverpool and Aston Villa as well as the big two in Wales (Cardiff and Swansea City).
Somewhat of a journeyman, Saunders also made appearances for top clubs in Turkey and Portugal (Galatasaray and Benfica respectively). His career highlight being an FA Cup win at Wembley with Liverpool in 1992, which was shared with his strike partner for club and country Ian Rush.
Premier League runner up with Aston Villa the following season, another trip to Wembley in 1994 saw Saunders grab two goals in a 3-1 victory over Manchester United to lift the League Cup with the Midlands club.
It is very rare (if ever) that a list of strikers of the modern game will include Pierre Van Hooijdonk, Dean Saunders and Ronaldo but I have managed to do it here. All five of these players have enjoyed successful careers at some of the European games most prestigious clubs despite not winning the Champions League as individuals.
It remains to be seen if any of these players harbour any regrets in terms of this competition. All that is left to do is enjoy the opening fixtures in the final 16 of the 2010/11 campaign and to see who will be crowned the 56th Champions League winners at Wembley in May.
₁ This figure is up to and including the final of 2010.