10 of the best teams not to win the UCL: Invincibles, Jose’s Chelsea…

Quick Reads

Only one team can win the Champions League each season – and there have been plenty of brilliant ones that weren’t able to do it. 

Thirteen clubs have won the competition since it was rebranded in 1992, with Real Madrid (8) and Barcelona (4) alone winning it 12 times between them.

Here are 10 of the best teams that didn’t manage it, including three from Spain, two from England, two from Germany, two from Italy and one from France.

Arsenal’s Invincibles

The 2003-04 Champions League was essentially a tournament of pub quiz answers.

Fernando Morientes finished as top scorer. Celta Vigo, Lokomotiv Moscow, Stuttgart, Monaco, Porto, Real Sociedad, Sparta Prague and Deportivo all qualified for the knockout stages. And Wayne Bridge scored the goal which eliminated one of England’s great club sides.

Arsenal may have reached the final in 2006, but with Henry, Vieira and co at their peak in 2004 – and only Monaco and Porto left to play – surely this was Arsene Wenger’s biggest opportunity to get his hands on the trophy?

Jose’s Chelsea

“We lost to a goal that wasn’t a goal,” Jose Mourinho said in 2017.

Over a decade after his Chelsea side were knocked out of the Champions League semi-finals by Luis Garcia’s ‘ghost goal’, the Portuguese is still rankled by that defeat at a time when their rivalry with Liverpool was one of the fiercest around.

The infamy of that incident and Liverpool’s thrilling comeback against AC Milan has somewhat masked just how good Chelsea were in the competition without success, topping their group ahead of reigning champions Porto and knocking out both Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

READ: Frank Lampard: We should have won more titles and at least one more CL

Valencia 2000 and 2001

Rafa Benitez would eventually help Valencia stick one to Spain’s duopoly by leading Los Che to La Liga titles in 2002 and 2004, but the team had suffered plenty of heartache prior to that.

In 2000 Valencia were admittedly overawed in the final, losing 3-0 to Real Madrid, but regrouped only to fall at the final hurdle once again the following season, cruelly losing a penalty shootout to Bayern Munich.

Santiago Cañizares, Gaizka Mendieta, David Albelda, Ruben Baraja, Vicente, Pablo Aimar were some of the stars of a sublime team, but as Gary Lineker once said: “Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans win.”

Juventus 1997 and 1998

Another side to reach back-to-back finals, this is when we have to explain that Zinedine Zidane was man-marked out of the 1997 final by Paul Lambert as Borussia Dortmund ran out 3-1 victors.

Despite also possessing Didier Deschamps, Edgar Davids, Alessandro Del Piero, Pippo Inzaghi and those kits, Juve were then 1-0 by Real Madrid in 1998. It can be a cruel world.

Bayer Leverkusen 2002

When Zinedine Zidane pulls out one of the greatest and most iconic goals of all time to beat you in the final, you know your luck is out.

It would be a theme which haunted Bayer Leverkusen throughout the late 90s and early 2000s, as they became Europe’s nearly men.

Ronaldo’s Inter Milan

Having won the UEFA Cup in 1998 and with a squad containing Ronaldo, Roberto Baggio, Ivan Zamorano, Diego Simeone, Youri Djorkaeff and Javier Zanetti, Inter were expected to have a big impact on the Champions League the following season.

But by the end of the season Inter were onto their fourth manager of the campaign, Ronaldo had been blighted by injury problems and were knocked out by eventual winners Manchester United in the quarter-finals, despite dominating the second leg at the San Siro.

Klopp’s Dortmund

One of the most vibrant teams of the last decade and the reason your dad knows the word gegenpressing, Jurgen Klopp had already led Dortmund to the improbable by winning back-to-back Bundesliga titles in 2011 and 2012.

The following season could have been the crowning year for that period of success and featured a thrilling win over Malaga in the quarter-finals – secured by two injury-time goals – and the 4-1 destruction of Real Madrid courtesy of Robert Lewandowski’s sublime display.

Alas, Bayern Munich would triumph in the final thanks to Arjen Robben’s 89th-minute winner.

Mid-2000s Lyon

Due to the emergence of PSG over the last decade it’s easy to forget just how dominant Lyon were in the mid-2000s.

Inspired by the brilliance of Juninho and also featuring the likes of Eric Abidal, Florent Malouda, Hatem Ben Arfa and Karim Benzema, Lyon reached the knockout stages in nine-consecutive seasons and the semi-finals in 2010.

Real Madrid’s Galacticos

Real Madrid have enjoyed unprecedented success in the competition, but their most star-studded sides regularly came up short as Los Blancos went over a decade without lifting the trophy, including five-consecutive last-16 defeats.

In 2003-04 their squad contained Iker Casillas, Michael Salgado, Ivan Helguera, Roberto Carlos, Luis Figo, David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane, Guti, Ronaldo and Raul – yet they were knocked out by a Monaco side inspired by Fernando Morientes, on loan from Real Madrid.

Simeone’s Atletico

Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid are the competition’s most recent nearly men having finished as runners-up in 2014 and 2016.

To make it even more heartbreaking, their two final defeats came against their city rivals Real – via extra time and then penalties.

Atleti’s foundations are built on defensive resolve, grit and plenty of cunning, but they have also possessed talented players who can come up with a piece of magic.

Few teams have come closer without winning Ol’ Big Ears.


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How Liverpool v Chelsea became one of the fiercest rivalries of the 2000s