The Nearly Men: Football's Unlucky Superstars
For the neutral, the 2017 Champions League Final was a fantastic game of football with Real Madrid simply a joy to watch. One thing less joyful however, was the look of sadness on Gianluigi Buffon’s face as he missed out on what could be the best chance he gets to lift the one trophy he lacks.
The Italian joins a club of nearly men; those who have come so close to some of Europe’s top prizes but have missed out, leaving a significant gap in their trophy cabinet.
We take a look across Europe at some of the best players to have an incomplete collection of medals…
Naturally, we’ll start with the great Juventus goalkeeper. There isn’t much the 39-year-old hasn’t won in the game and has consistently been one of the best goalkeepers in the world. He’ll go down as one of the best of all-time, but one thing has eluded him – the Champions League.
With eight Serie A titles to his name, four Coppa Italias, the UEFA Cup, and a FIFA World Cup medal, only the Champions League was left to go. Reaching the Final in impressive fashion last season, it was finally his chance.
However, the final in Cardiff saw Gigi miss out on a winners medal for the third time and with only a year left on his contract with the Old Lady, it’s a pretty good bet he will remain a nearly man.
Of course, this won’t affect his legend in any way. What he has achieved is phenomenal and with a season still to go it’s not out of the question, at least according to him.
“I still have one more year on my contract, so that means I have one more chance of winning the Champions League.”
We sure hope he does it.
Liverpool and Steven Gerrard were so close to lifting the Premier League in 2014. “Don’t let it slip,” he said, geeing up his teammates after a fantastic win over Manchester City. But let it slip he did, leading to a 2-0 defeat to Chelsea, and the loss of the Premier League title.
Take nothing away from Gerrard though, he’s won practically everything else. That night in Istanbul is widely regarded as the greatest comeback of all time, and Gerrard was the man at the very forefront of that. A year later, he did the same in the FA Cup Final. He won nine major honours with Liverpool, including the FA Cup, League Cup, Champions League, and UEFA Cup but the Premier League wasn’t to be.
Bookmakers are already offering odds on him to be Liverpool manager one day, where he will hope to finish off his collection from the dugout and further enhance his legacy at Anfield.
There’s plenty of time left for Antoine Griezmann who, at 26, is already developing the tag of a nearly man. He’s yet to win anything but the Supercopa de Espana at Atletico Madrid despite being one of the hottest prospects in the game.
He’s been a runner up in the Champions League and Euro 2016, while also finishing behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in the race for the Ballon d’Or.
His next move could be vital in ending that curse. A transfer ban at Atletico means the Frenchman has committed to the club for the time being, but a move to Manchester United could still be on the cards once that is lifted.
Trophies could be on the cards there, with United having won the Europa League, League Cup, and FA Cup in recent years, but could he also be the man to take them beyond and to the Premier League and Champions League titles?
Zlatan has won the league in four different countries, playing for some of the world’s best clubs including Barcelona, Milan, and PSG. But like Buffon, he’s never won the Champions League.
One of the most prolific scorers of the modern era, Ibrahimovic has reached the Semi Final only once and Quarter Final eight times throughout his 15 years at the top but heartbreak has always followed.
What’s perhaps worse for the Swede is that the year after he left Inter Milan, the club lifted the trophy and the season after he left Barcelona they did the same.
It’s likely he’ll never get his hands on the title now unless a surprising move happens over the summer.
Spurs are starting to earn an unwelcome reputation as nearly men following a last few seasons of almost. Finishing second in the Premier League and FA Cup Semi Finalists this term has not helped matters.
Many pundits have had their say on the matter and it appears to be true that, like Arsenal and Liverpool, they are a side that continually threatens without actually lifting the title.
The last two seasons have seen Spurs challenge closer than ever until enduring a poor result to let it slip away. The turning point this season came against Chelsea in the FA Cup Semi Final, losing out 4-2, before a bad result against West Ham put the title beyond their reach.
Of course, they have a young side though and with Pochettino at the helm there is a chance they can shake off the nearly men tag. SkyBet have them at 15/2 to lift the title next season and if they invest wisely there’s no reason they can’t go beyond the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City, as on their day they can be truly devastating.
This one could rumble on over the next few seasons, but there’s hope.