Many great players took part in the Champions League and most of the greatest managed to win the competition, but there are always exceptions.
Just like the trio of Roberto Baggio, Michael Ballack and Dennis Bergkamp who appeared in the first part. Interestingly, they share three lost Champions League finals between them, countering the four footballers in this piece, who only have one final in total. However, two of them are still active and though both of them are well above 30, they might have a shot at capturing their first European Cup, according to online betting odds.
• Two World Cup Winners
• Two crazy geniuses
• Titles but no European Cup
Gianluigi Buffon, though he is 37 already, has no immediate plans about retiring as he is still in top form, gambling news reports, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is 33, plays and sometimes behaves as he would be younger by a decade. He is reminiscent of Eric Cantona, who is on the list too, together with Fabio Cannavaro, who strengthens the Italian presence. We have two World Cup winners, and two divisive geniuses who were heroes on many occasions, but sometimes acted like true villains. They come in alphabetical order.
4. Gianluigi Buffon
One of the greatest goalkeepers ever made his debut 20 years ago for Parma, with a typical clean sheet performance against AC Milan. Since then he have seen many things, winning the UEFA Cup with Parma and collecting seven Scudettos with Juventus from which two were revoked after the Calciopoli scandal. He was accused of breaking the Italian gambling laws, but after being cleared of all charges, he won the World Cup with Italy. Buffon played in the Serie B too, after Juve was relegated in court.
Gigi Buffon’s nickname is Superman because of his unique taste for saving penalties. Though penalties favoured him when Italy won the World Cup against France in 2006, denied him securing his first Champions League title, when AC Milan beat Juventus in a shootout at Old Trafford in 2003. Apart from the European Championship, which he only had a chance to win if Spain weren’t that good in 2012 or if he didn’t break his hand before the tournament in 2000, the Champions League trophy is the only one that is absent from his collection.
5. Fabio Cannavaro
At Parma, Juventus and the Squadra Azzurra, Cannavaro commanded backlines defending the goal of his close friend, Buffon. Originally from Naples, he spent his most successful years at Parma and at Real Madrid. He is best known for captaining the Italian national team that won the 2006 World Cup in Germany, and winning the Ballon d’Or at the end of that year, which is a unique achievement from a defender.
Though he played at Juventus for two shorter spells, he never won an Italian championship. Regarding the Champions League, he would have to have a shot with Real Madrid in according to the odds of online sportsbooks in the EU. However, the Blancos were far from their peak between 2006 and 2009, and with head coaches like Fabio Capello, Bernd Schuster and Juande Ramos only managed to capture two league titles.
6. Eric Cantona
The archetypal crazy football genius who turned to acting after retiring from football is remembered for his brilliant skills and vision, for his trademark upturned collar and for the kung-fu kick he performed on a Crystal Palace supporter in 1995, who abused him after being sent off. The Frenchman is considered as the best player who worn the shirt of Manchester United ever being a key member of the team that ruled the Premier League in the nineties. He had behavioral problems and was suspended several times while playing for Auxerre, Olympique Marseille, Montpellier and Nimes in France. For his last couple of seasons his discipline improved however, after serving an eight-month long ban for the kung-fu incident.
Though he played his part in winning the French national title at Marseille, he announced his retirement after another suspension in 1991. His psychoanalyst advised him to start over his career in England and he left OM, the team that won the Champions League two years later. Cantona signed for Leeds United and he helped the Yorkshire outfit to claim the final First Division championship in 1992, and he scored the first ever hat trick in the freshly launched Premier League. Manchester United bought him during that season and he won four titles and two FA Cups with the Red Devils, but in 1997, again two years before Champions League success came, he retired for good.
7. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
A similar figure to Cantona, who sometimes kicks whoever he can, collecting bans and slamming journalists on the go, but who is also capable of scoring goals that nobody else could do. He can conjure up a scorpion or a bicycle kick goal anytime but maybe his finest came at Ajax, when he performed seven dribbling moves against NAC defenders before putting the ball into the net. He is clearly one of the finest strikers of his time, with a unique sense for always joining a team that becomes champion at the end of the year: he won eleven championship titles in his thirteen professional seasons with six different sides. However, Champions League somehow always just avoided him.
Poor Ibra leaving a team boosts its chances to win the Champions League significantly. He left Inter after three seasons – all ended with a Scudetto, of course – to join Pep Guardiola’s Barca to seek international glory. That season Inter won the competition beating Barcelona in the semifinal. Ibrahimovic blamed Guardiola for the failure and as the two didn’t even speak to each other then, it did not come as a surprise at all when he moved to AC Milan at the end of the campaign. Barca duly won the Champions League next spring, and the Super Swede obviously became Italian champion once again before signing for Paris Saint-Germain. With that transfer he became the most expensive football player regarding combined transfer fees with 180 million Euros in total.
AC Milan had no potential to win the Champions League, so the Ibra boost didn’t work that time, but PSG is a place where the striker might have a chance to capture the throne of Europe in the following seasons. At 33 he is at his best, so there are a few seasons left in him to play top level football. The ever improving French team, that won every Ligue 1 title since Ibra joined them, plays the Lyon role in the Champions League, making to the quarter-finals three in a row without advancing further. Their squad might be capable of reaching the final in the following years and who knows, Ibra might get a chance to finish his career with a Champions League trophy.
We are wrapping up the selection with the final chapter presenting four players who played a major period of their careers in Italy. The best player of the eighties and arguably the best in the nineties all lined up in part III, as well as the only footballer from the former socialist countries recorded, together with the only one on the list who has been playing for the same team since 23 years.