Club football is the measuring stick for how world class a player is these days. Where once upon a time it was the World Cup and European Championship that acted as the platform for good players to become great players and decent players to get found out, it is now the UEFA Champions League that determines this.
Undoubtedly the glitziest and most important of soccer tournaments around, it attracts the best players and the best clubs to take part. While the group stages often offer little surprises as the big guns blast their way into the knockout round and beyond, it remains a captivating occasion where heavyweights do battle in some of the most spectacular arenas around the continent.
Some of the greatest players of all time have graced the UCL as well as the European Cup, as it was known before being re-branded back in 1993, but there have been some notable absentees from its roster including Brazilian legend Pele who never actually played at club level in Europe.
For the most part, though, the best of the best have featured and along the way there have been some tremendous goalscorers smashing balls into the back of the net. These days, of course, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are vying to finish their careers as the best marksmen the competition has ever see – they simply can’t stop scoring.
But what about the guys who experience an almost opposite level of success in this regard – the guys who have never managed to score even a solitary goal on the UCL stage? Who are the stars who have fired only blanks?
Read on to find out – the list includes a Premier League medallist, a few UCL winners and plenty of guys with several hundred appearances between them.
15 Santi Cazorla
Often regarded as one of the most exciting midfielders currently playing on the European stage, Santi Cazorla regularly oozes class on the field of play. An integral squad member to Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal, his ability to complete inch-perfect passes, produce dazzling dribbles and flashy one-twos with his team-mates make him a perfect fit for the North Londoners’ tiki-taka style of play. Having been with the club since 2012 and counting, he is an extremely experienced figure in the team dressing room and out on the pitch, but he hasn’t quite had as important an impact in the Champions League for them as he perhaps should have.
It might be a bit difficult to believe it, but the Spaniard has failed to score even a single goal in as many as 42 Champions League appearances – something which has earned him a great deal of criticism far and wide considering one of his main duties as an attacking midfielder is to contribute his fair share of strikes. Ten of his UCL caps came and went when he was on board with Spanish side Villarreal, while 32 have so far arrived in the red and white of Arsenal. The Premier League side have enjoyed a lot of success in terms of consistent appearances in the last-16 stage, but in recent years the competition has not been kind to them, often seeing them eliminated much earlier than their fans would like. Perhaps 2017 will see Cazorla break his duck and finally rattle the net in Europe’s best club competition. Time will tell.
14 Jamie Vardy
The 2015/16 Premier League campaign was a monumental one for Leicester City as they managed to transform themselves from relegation contenders to deserved champions of England. It was thanks in large part to Jamie Vardy’s efforts in front of goal that the Foxes climbed to the top of the pile – his 11-game consecutive goal-scoring streak an instrumental building block in their phenomenal success story. So, when manager Claudio Ranieri’s men secured Champions League football in the process their hopes were high that the England international would repeat his clinical exploits in front of goal on an even bigger stage still. So far, however, it hasn’t turned out so well for the player who has rapidly become a beacon of inspiration to so many non-league footballers dreaming of playing at the highest levels.
He might not have played as many continental matches as most of the names on this list, but Jamie Vardy’s goalless UCL streak is still a big surprise. Shortlisted for the recent Ballon d’Or alongside some real heavy-hitters like Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann, his 425 minutes without a goal in this edition is a real shocker. It’s hard to be too hard on the industrious Vardy, but the way Leicester have been playing it’s strange to consider he hasn’t been among the goals. Then again, this is a team built on a team of players unafraid to dream, perhaps an even bigger moment to come will see him grab his first Champions League conversion. We're waiting, Jamie.
Sure, he's a defender – but let’s not forget that they are capable of scoring some cracking goals when given the opportunity. The way the modern game has been evolving, ball-carrying defenders and aerial kingpins who come up from the back to thrive on dead-ball deliveries and corner-kick routines means that all 22 players on the pitch have a great chance of seeing some action in and around the 18-yard box during any given 90-minute match. Currently plying his trade in the French Ligue 1 – which isn’t exactly the most competitive one around – Maxwell might sometimes pass under the radar as a world-class defender, but that's not to say he doesn’t pack the necessary brilliance to deserve recognition. When everything is considered, his record proves just how excellent he has been for a long time.
With 13 campaigns to his name in Europe’s premier club competition he has reappeared consistently enough to earn his place among the pantheon of greats. Still, it’s odd to think that such a seasoned veteran as Maxwell has not scored yet on this platform. In all, he has racked up a hugely impressive 97 appearances and is likely to reach the century mark by the time 2018 rolls into view, which is a real testament to his staying power at the top. More immediately, though, it might just be feasible to wonder that with the 2016/17 season still in a state of flux, the current Paris Saint Germain man might just shake the monkey off his back with a goal – or maybe even two. After all, the 35-year-old defender knows how to strike the ball well.
12 Javier Mascherano
Javier Mascherano would not be the first name to spring to mind regarding the topic of goalless Champions League stars, but it’s undeniable when one looks at the record books that the current FC Barcelona maestro has never bagged one…yet. He still has time to make up for it and the beauty of playing for one of the world’s best teams almost guarantees them, and him, a deep surge to the latter stages of the exciting competition so he maximizes his chance of scoring every time – then again, it just becomes more and more obvious that the Argentina international has not scored with every passing game he fails to do so. It's sort of a vicious cycle.
Closing in on 100 UCL appearances – 30 with Liverpool and 63 with Barcelona to date – though Mascherano has not managed to experience the feeling of scoring just yet, he has constructed a tremendous legacy with some of the best. Having played with two of the continent’s most successful outfits, one would have thought he would have picked up a trick or two from some of the marvellous strikers around him – perhaps he has been the victim of not being presented with enough opportunities. Still, though, he should look to rectify it soon because once he is retired there will be no looking back without a bit of regret. It’s unlikely he’ll feel too upset about it all considering the amount of medals he has stashed away in his personal cabinet. For the record, he has scored in the UEFA Europa League, but that’s not good enough for this list.
11 Jamie Carragher
Liverpool have won the European Cup or the Champions League an astonishing five times – some of the best footballers to ever play the beautiful game have donned the famous red shirt in the hopes of treating the fans to yet more great memories. Kenny Dalglish, John Barnes, Kevin Keegan and so many more besides have all given their all to impress the Kop. The continent has often been a sphere they have conquered with impressive aplomb, and although the same can’t be said for them in the Premier League era, that hasn’t stopped them attracting, and producing, otherworldly talent just like Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres – and Jamie Carragher. However, despite how devoted Carragher was to the club over the years, he never actually managed to score a single goal in the Champions League.
Hang on, didn’t Jamie Carragher net one against FBK Kaunas back in 2005? Well, yes, he did but that was in a second-round qualifying match so it doesn’t really count – besides, it wasn’t that memorable. Breaking it down, the current Sky Sports pundit did not score a goal in the UCL proper in 91 appearances. He did win it back in 2005, though, when Liverpool went all the way, eventually beating AC Milan in a thrilling final that saw them fight back from 3-0 down after the first half. These days, of course, he’s retired so he’ll never get the chance to rectify this black mark on his resumé but ‘Carra’ will always be considered a legend on Merseyside regardless.
10 Michael Reiziger
Amazingly, Michael Reiziger never scored in La Liga when the full back plied his trade with Barcelona between 1997 and 2004, something which is all the more baffling considering he was a regular starter and often completed the full 90 minutes. Perhaps he never invested in a proper pair of shooting boots. In all seriousness, though, that’s the truth although his lack of a goal-scoring touch obviously never impeded his ability to get selected and it didn’t get in his way of becoming the longest-serving Dutch player in Blaugrana history as he picked up over 200 hundred appearances in that time, which is impressive enough in its own right.
He once held the La Liga record for most appearances without a goal, but Mascherano, a fellow Barcelona alumnus, took that unwanted award off him not too long ago. Perhaps there is something in the water in Catalonia. However, he still has something in common with Mascherano because he has never scored in the UCL and now that he is retired that’s a record which is set to stay in place forever more. Sorry, Michael. Mind you, he did win it with Eredivisie outfit Ajax under Louis van Gaal back in 1995, so he’s probably not too bothered. With 74 games to his name in the history of the competition he never put the ball in the back of the net once, but as you can see from the rest of this list, he’s not alone in that regard so that’s some sort of comfort.
9 Gianluca Zambrotta
The first Italian player to feature on our list, Gianluca Zambrotta is a name synonymous with this knockout battle having featured in it so many times throughout the years, appearing largely in the 1990s and early noughties. A legend of calcio, he might not be the most skillful player of all time, but he was certainly one of the hardest-working combatants when he was still active. With that being said, had it not been for the measly two goals he successfully dispatched in the UEFA Intertoto Cup (something which wasn’t even a real tournament, if we’re being honest) back during the 1999/00 season, however, Zambrotta would have no strikes to show for his numerous continental cup appearances, the majority of which arrived in the prestigious UCL. One of those two goals arrived against lowly Russian side Rostelmash while the other came in a clash against French outfit Rennes.
For whatever reason, he never figured out how to replicate his clinical touch in front of goal in the best club game series of all – perhaps it was the level of pressure, the game plan or being shackled with defensive duties – but with a career that included a satisfying total of eight honours at club level (such as getting his hands on a few Serie A medals) as well as the small matter of lifting the World Cup trophy in 2006 shortly before the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal struck the boot-shaped nation sort of makes up for his lack of goal-scoring touch in this regard.
8 Gianluca Pessotto
Former Juventus performer Gianluca Pessotto helped the Bianconeri win the UCL crown way back in 1995/96 with some stellar contributions from left back before calling time on a glittering career a decade later after winning a dozen other top club honours with the Old Lady. Alongside some tremendously talented guys such as Fabrizio Ravanelli and Gianluca Vialli he assisted in conquering the continent. A consummate professional, he was an assured passer of the ball and could zip up and down the flanks at frightening speed when he was in the mood. It was little wonder, then, when it was announced that he had taken over operation of the club's youth system back in 2009 - the influence he has had on Juve's set-up will provide magnificent results in years to come, but it's clear, as a player who always had the best interests of the club at heart, that he was the right man for the job and his goals were no doubt as admirable on taking up the reins as they are today.
Nevertheless, he was never much good at scoring them on the field of play, something which is one of the few black marks against him and his legacy - he never scored in the UCL, even after amassing nearly 70 games in the black and white of the famous Turin club. Interestingly, though, Pessotto was on the score-sheet during the crucial 4-2 penalty shootout win over Ajax at the Stadio Olimpico the last time they won the competition outright, but seeing as he didn't convert it during normal time, it doesn't count as a legitimate goal in the same sense as a strike in say, the 89th minute, would. Still a massive contribution in such a historic moment, though.
7 Alessandro Costacurta
There have been some tremendous goal-scoring Italians down through the years, strutting their stuff. The exceptional Roberto Baggio, the goal-poaching Filippo Inzaghi, the consistently goal-hungry Alessandro del Piero and so many more tremendous forwards, midfielders and even defenders have done their best to shift Italy away from their usually defensive traditions. However, Alessandro Costacurta was not destined to become a soccer star who loved shaking the back of the net – the great Azzurri defender made it to the top to stop opponents scoring, that was his chosen calling and he performed it rather well in fairness to him. A killer tackler and ferocious battler, he shut down his fair share of offensive forages in his heyday and ultimately proved himself to be one of the greatest of all time.
In all, he took part in 14 UCL adventures, reaching double appearances on three occasions, as he played a role in 94 matches falling just shy of what would have been a fantastic 100 but ensuring he pushed himself into the top five all-time appearances by Italians in competition history. His debut came against Vitosha Sofia back in 1988. Most impressively of all, though, is the statistic that he won the ECC Cup/Champions League five times, putting him joint-first alongside the equally legendary Paolo Maldini as the most wins by any Italian. He might have been a defender, but he shied away from shaking the net in all that time which is a bit out of the ordinary – the law of averages sort of hinted otherwise.
6 Jose Bosingwa
Ivory Coast international superstar Didier Drogba once singled former defender and team-mate Jose Bosingwa out as the main reason behind Chelsea’s famous 2011/12 UCL victory over a marvellous Barcelona team in a hard-fought semi final before going on to win the final against a much-fancied Bayern Munich side to seal a wondrous European night for the travelling Blues contingent as they lifted the trophy with the big ears. Essentially, Bosingwa’s dedication to the cause, tactical know-how and all-empowering spirit helped buoy his team who had been reduced to 10 men earlier in the contest following the dismissal of John Terry for kneeing Alexis Sanchez. The former Portugal international pointed out where he thought the players should play, where they should fill in and who should take over which duties at half time in the dressing room before the Londoners went on to seal the deal against the odds by playing with all of their men behind the ball, repelling attack after silky attack.
Sure, Bosingwa played out much of his career as a defender and wasn’t relied on for his goals but having featured in over 60 matches in Europe’s elite club competition he probably could have popped up with a goal or two along the way – even if it had been a soft header from an unmarked position, a tap-in from close range or even a penalty. It was not to be for him, however, and it’s hard not to think that if he had added this element to his game he could have survived longer at the pinnacle of European football – instead, it looks like he’ll finish his career in the Turish Super Lig.
5 Scott Sinclair
A former Manchester City footballer, the 27-year-old Scott Sinclair has found something of a home for himself in Glasgow, Scotland with Celtic in recent times. This season, in particular, he has been in searing hot form in front of goal alongside Moussa Dembele – the pair have found it hard to stop scoring, in all honesty. Sinclair has already hit double figures in the Scottish top tier under ex-Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, but for some reason or other he hasn’t found the going so easy in the UCL. Tougher defences could be cited as a reason behind his struggle to pocket a few goals, as well as a lack of time on the ball. As a unit, the former European champions only conjured a handful of goals in the group stage when pitted against Barcelona, Borussia Monchengladbach and Manchester City and it was frustrating for the fans to bear witness to.
Over 400 minutes of action in the 2016/17 edition saw Sinclair leave without a single goal to his name as Rodgers’ troops wound up bottom of their table, having conceded 16. A former Chelsea youth player, it has been great to see Sinclair experience a renaissance of form, but he clearly hasn’t been up to the standard of the top competition. It can be difficult to feed off scraps for any attacking players, but Celtic are particularly deficient in much of the same ability as their peers, often making it nigh on an impossibility to stay competitive against the heavyweights of world football. A Scottish league title will surely await come the summer of 2017, but the way he has been scoring goals for fun, he’ll probably pursue a first UCL goal more vociferously next season.
4 Andrea Barzagli
Currently playing in this season's edition of the Champions League, 35-year-old defender Andrea Barzagli is yet another big name player who has so far failed to nab himself a goal in the most exciting club competition there is. He began his UCL journey with VFL Wolfsburg where he got himself two appearances with the German Bundesliga outfit, but nowadays he is a Juventus player and has turned out for them in the UCL 31 times to date. The reigning Serie A champions, who have gotten close to actually claiming the showpiece final a few times in recent season, are one of the biggest clubs around and know a thing or two about winning, but they haven't figured out how to seal the deal since the mid-1990s when they last won it. It has been a case of missed opportunities for the Old Lady, and Barzagli has been guilty of that as much as the rest of the Bianconeri players.
Amazingly, he hasn't scored in the UEFA Europa League either, the UCL's sister competition, where the majority of his 27 appearances have come with another Italian side, Palermo. To make matters even more brow-raising, Barzagli has never rattled the net in the blue shirt of the Azzurri national side, either during his U21 playing days or as a full-blown senior professional. Clearly, goal-scoring has rarely been his thing, but there can be little doubt, whether a footballer is a defender or a lone wolf striker, there is nothing like scoring a goal, and to do it in the Champions League is unlike anything else. Barzagli would be lying if he said he wouldn't want to shake the net with a header or even a scuffed effort from a rebound, especially if it meant outdoing one of their bitter European rivals. Wouldn't that be special, even for a player of his stature and experience?
3 Gael Clichy
He might not have racked up as many appearances as some of the enigmatic names on this list, but Gael Clichy is still quite a famous name in world football and has 80 appearances at the Champions League level to his name. The Toulouse-born left back, who has also represented the France national team at U17, U19 and U21 levels as well as currently acting as the senior side's first-choice, left-footed full back is one of the deadliest wing-backs in the modern game and has developed a heck of a lot since his days with AS Cannes. Perhaps the highlight of his continental career to date was when he played a vital role in helping Arsenal to the semi-final stage of the 2008/09 edition of the UCL. These days, he is with Manchester City, currently attempting to usurp the duopoly which has been fiercely protected by Real Madrid and Barcelona in recent seasons.
As many as 48 of his 80 appearances came with the Gunners, while he is currently on number 32 for the Citizens, and, at 31 years of ag,e it’s arguable that he still has his best years ahead of him – certainly as long as his pace holds out and he manages to avoid injury. He doesn’t often grab goals, and his strike against Swansea City in the 2016 edition of the EFL Cup went against Guardiola’s philosophy in many ways as he strayed out of position in order to convert. Still, it was an incident which highlighted how capable he is of doing it, and so it’s all the more astonishing to ponder his extreme drought in the UCL – perhaps this side of his game has been under-utilized too much because he clearly knows how to do it when the going gets tough. More of this please, Gael.
2 Alessandro Nesta
A rock at the heart of AC Milan’s defence for years, Alessandro Nesta helped the Rossoneri conquer the Italian Serie A back when it was a much more competitive division, during the 1990s especially, as well as playing a pivotal role in guiding them to become a European superpower in the process. He even managed to lift ol’ Big Ears during his time there. It was his instinct for getting to the loose balls first, for producing top-drawer clearances, for marshalling the offside trap with his rearguard compatriots or for executing perfect sliding tackles which never lost its effect down through the years, however, which really made him stand out among so many others. He really was a fantastically austere performer with an unrivalled knack for shutting down some of the best strikers around.
Okay, so he was a defender – his job was never really about scoring or helping out down the opposite end of the pitch but that doesn’t make his lack of UCL goals any less of a shock. In fact, his illustrious team-mate Paolo Maldini, who he played alongside for many years in Milan, even managed to score in the competition; Maldini’s final goal against Liverpool back in 2005 stands out clearly in many Milanista fans’ minds. Nesta’s astonishing 101 appearances without rattling the net means that he has come close to playing more games without scoring than any other player in the competition’s history but, as we will find out below, someone else on this list beats him to the unwanted accolade by a few games.
1 Philipp Lahm
Sometimes dubbed ‘Mr. Perfect’ for his exquisite passing and ability to pick out a fellow team-mate, whether it’s from sixty yards from one end of the pitch to the other or from six yards, squeezing the ball in between two high-pressing midfielders, the German knows how to maneuver the ball where he wants and how he wants on a whim. For years he did it on international duty with the Germany senior team and he’s continuing to do it with Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich. However, one aspect of his club game that is severely lacking is his ability to score goals – particularly in the Champions League.
He might be considered an icon of the global game by so many neutrals and biased supporters alike, but he has still never managed to score in the UCL. With over 100 appearances to his name, the former Die Mannschaft international has spent a long time at the top, but considering his versatility he probably should have scored at least one by now – perhaps this campaign will see him rectify that. Under former Bayern boss Pep Guardiola, Lahm was moved here and there from role to role as he capitalized on the player’s versatility. Whether he was a full back or central defensive midfielder, he always carried out his duties with brilliance, bringing his exceptional passing into the fray time and again. However, he was rarely given the chance to net some long rangers in Europe’s most exciting club tournament – perhaps Carlo Ancelotti will free him up a bit to push forward and have more pops on goal.