The UEFA Champions League is one of the biggest stages in the world of football. Every footballer yearns to play the Champions League… Some players actually move to other clubs just so they can play Champions League football.
The Champions. League has made and unmade a lost of players. Today, we are highlighting 10 players who took Champions League by storm and the flopped in the seasons that followed.
There’s no better platform to shine on at club level, but these players’ exploits in Europe were all too brief
Carlos Alberto (FC Porto, 2003/04)
Deployed by Jose Mourinho as a second striker behind either Derlei or Benni McCarthy, Alberto started every game of Porto’s run to the 2004 Champions League Final. He was only 19 at the time, and the Brazilian capped his stellar campaign in Europe with an expertly-taken goal to break the deadlock in the final against Monaco.
It looked like a career in the big time beckoned for Alberto – but the youngster let his ego get the better of him. After clashing with Mourinho’s replacement, Victor Fernandez, the youngster headed back to Brazil in 2005 with Corinthians, where he soon fell out with manager Emerson Leao too and was shipped out to Fluminense.
Another disastrous stint back in Europe with Werder Bremen followed, with Alberto struggling as a result of what he claimed was “insomnia”. He’s been in Brazil ever since, save for a bizarre turn of events in 2015 when the Brazilian signed for Al Dhafra in the United Arab Emirates – a move that lasted just 15 days.
Juan Sanchez (Valencia, 2000/01)
Generally, a goal-shy striker during his time with Valencia (40 in 178 appearances over two spells), Sanchez’s most telling contribution for Los Che came during their Champions League semi-final second-leg clash with Leeds back in 2001. With the tie finely balanced after a 0-0 draw at Elland Road, Sanchez broke the deadlock after 16 minutes – and in controversial fashion.
The Spaniard appeared to turn Gaizka Mendieta’s cross past Nigel Martyn with his arm, but the good stood despite Leeds protests. Two minutes into the second half, Sanchez added a second with a superb left-foot shot from the edge of the box.
Valencia eventually ran out 3-0 winners but Sanchez was dropped for the final despite his starring role in Yorkshire and found himself increasingly edged to the periphery in the years that followed. He eventually moved to Celta Vigo in 2004, retiring at the age of 34.
Luiz Adriano (Shakhtar Donetsk 2014/15)
Adriano is Shakhtar’s record goalscorer in the Ukrainian Premier League, but his standout season in the Champions League came during the 2014/15 campaign where he equalled Cristiano Ronaldo’s record of nine goals in a group stage campaign.
The Brazilian also matched Lionel Messi’s record for the most goals in a single Champions League match, scoring five in a 7-0 thrashing of BATE Borisov. Those two achievements were enough to see the striker named Most Valuable Player of that season’s group stage and earned him a move to Milan in July 2015.
The goals didn’t flow so freely in Italy, though, and Adriano was soon heading back to colder climes with Spartak Moscow in January 2017.
Mauro Bressan (Fiorentina, 1999/00)
A journeyman Italian midfielder whose career took in no fewer than 13 different clubs, Bressan is best remembered for his three-year spell with Fiorentina and one unforgettable night in the Champions League. It was there, against a star-studded Barcelona, that Bressan scored one of the greatest goals in Champions League history with his acrobatic bicycle kick from all of 25 yards.
What’s often forgotten is that Bressan followed that wonder strike up with an equally sublime assist for Abel Balbo; a deft backheel that flummoxed the Barça defence in a thrilling 3-3 draw.
Bressan went on to win the Coppa Italia with La Viola in 2001, but his Champions League masterclass was never repeated. He was back in the headlines in 2011 – only this time as one of 16 people arrested in connection with allegations of match-fixing.
Michalis Konstantinou (Panathinaikis, 2001/02)
Panathinaikos took a huge gamble in the summer of 2011 with their €11.3 million signing of Konstantinou. A regular goalscorer for Iraklis Thessaloniki, the striker had bagged 61 goals in 119 appearances for the Cyprus club – but suspicions remained about whether he could step up to the Greek Super League and Champions League.
It proved to be a resounding yes on both fronts… initially, at least.
Combining well with the Greek club’s experienced midfield trident of Paulo Sousa, Jan Michaelsen and Robert Jarni, Konstantinou bagged six goals in 14 matches, including a spectacular strike from all of 40 yards against Barcelona in a quarter-final clash at the Camp Nou.
While that was as good as it got in Europe for Panathinaikos, Konstantinou went on to help the club to a Greek cup and league double in 2004, before joining bitter rivals Olympiakos in 2005. Though further European success evaded him, the Cypriot went on to win three more Super League titles and two Greek cups.
Simone Inzaghi (Lazio, 1999/00)
Pippo’s brother began his 19-year association with Lazio in 1999 during an unforgettable debut campaign. Inzaghi struggled for goals in Serie A after being signed from Piacenza – he scored just seven times in 22 appearances that year – but was prolific in Europe with nine goals in 11 games.
His standout performance came in March 2000, when Inzaghi equalled the then-record of Marco van Basten by scoring four goals in a single game against a hapless Marseille. That performance earned him an Italy call-up for a friendly with Spain and sparked suggestions that he could partner his brother upfront for the Azzurri at Euro 2000.
Yet despite celebrating a Scudetto and Italian cup double with Lazio that season, Simone failed to keep pace with Pippo on the goalscoring front in the years that followed. The younger Inzaghi reached double figures just once more in his career before eventually retiring in 2010.
He’s gone on to enjoy more success than his brother as a manager, though, and is currently in charge of Lazio.
Ryan Babel (Liverpool, 2007/08)
Given the myriad of far-flung clubs Babel has played for to date, it’s easy to forget that the Dutchman enjoyed an excellent debut season at Liverpool where he emerged as something of a Champions League super sub.
Babel bagged a brace from the bench against Besiktas in a memorable 8-0 win and added another in a crucial group-stage victory over Marseille. His most notable contribution came during the knockout phase when Rafa Benitez introduced the Dutchman late in the second leg of their quarter-final against Arsenal.
Liverpool needed a goal to progress and Babel didn’t disappoint, winning a penalty that was duly converted by Steven Gerrard, before sealing progress with a goal of his own. Though the Reds were eventually beaten by Chelsea in the semis, Babel scored again to finish the campaign with five Champions League goals.
Although he never hit those heights again, the 32-year-old has enjoyed something of a career revival since joining Besiktas in January 2017. He returned to Netherlands contention that summer and has remained a key player ever since, and has the chance to make an impact in Europe’s premier competition this year with Galatasaray.
Lars Ricken (Borussia Dortmund, 1996/97)
Possibly the most notable one-season wonder on this list, Ricken is best known for scoring the fastest goal by a substitute in a Champions League final – just 16 seconds after coming on for striker Stephane Chapuisat against Juventus in 1997.
It was a memorable long-distance strike that came after Ricken spotted Bianconeri goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi absent-mindedly off his line, and snuffed out any hopes of a Juventus comeback. Dortmund won 3-1 and Ricken was an overnight sensation.
Hero status already secured, he spent the next few years in and out of the treatment room. Though he enjoyed a renaissance of sorts during the 2001/02 campaign, helping Dortmund win the Bundesliga and earning a Germany call-up for the World Cup, the injury woes continued. He eventually retired in 2007, a one-club man with a career remembered for one goal.
Francesco Coco (Milan, 2000/01)
Say Coco’s name to a Milan fan and you’re likely to be greeted by a wry smile. After all, it was he who ended up being traded away to Inter Milan for Clarence Seedorf in a straight swap deal.
To comprehend Inter’s thinking, you’d have to go back to the 2000/01 season when Coco, a right-footed left-back, was being tipped as the natural successor to Paolo Maldini after impressing in the Champions League and earning an Italy call-up in the process.
He was out of favour a year later, but that didn’t stop Barcelona signing him on a season-long loan. That didn’t work out either and soon he was back at San Siro, albeit this time with Inter.
Coco went on to play 10 times for the Nerazzurri in the Champions League. Seedorf became the only player to win the Champions League with three different clubs.
Jerome Rothen (Monaco, 2003/04)
Rothen and Ludovic Giuly ran the flanks for Monaco on their way to the 2004 Champions League Final, laying on big goals for Fernando Morientes and Dado Prso en route.
Both found themselves in demand come the summer, but while Giuly was only too happy to join Barcelona, Rothen resisted the overtures of clubs like Manchester United and Chelsea to sign for hometown club PSG.
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