Notable players who have never featured in the Champions League

Several famous footballers surprisingly have never featured in the Champions League games in their career. 

Playing in the UEFA Champions League has been one of the ultimate dreams for all players at the club level. Most of them were willing to leave their comfort zone in order to join elite clubs and appear in the European top tier competition if they have to. 

This season, a handful of teams have paved their way to the Champions League after performing at a high level last season. Arsenal, Newcastle United, RC Lens, and Real Sociedad all make their long-awaited returns, while Union Berlin and Royal Antwerp makes their debut. 

As a result, a number of well-known players will finally have the opportunity to compete in the continent’s most prestigious competition. The likes of Declan Rice, Bukayo Saka, Alexander Isak, Nick Pope, Mikel Merino, Mikel Oyarzabal and Sami Khedira’s brother, Rani Khedira have the luxury of performing in the Champions League this season.

Meanwhile, some other notable names such as Liverpool’s Alexis MacAllister, AS Roma frontman Andrea Belotti, Spurs man James Maddison, and Chelsea new signing Moises Caicedo could have a chance in the near future. 

However, some have been unfortunate enough to miss out on appearances in the Champions League. One of them was even a legendary striker in the world. Here are those unlucky ones.

Top footballers without Champions League games in their career

Guillermo Ochoa

The 38-year-old goalkeeper is undoubtedly one of Mexico’s best shot stoppers in history. He has been the key man between the sticks in the last three World Cup finals and has already been included in the World Cup squad since the 2006 edition. The current Salernitana player is known for his quick reflexes, which frequently frustrate his opponents. 

Nevertheless, Ochoa has never had a chance to play in the UEFA’s top flight tournament up to now. This is primarily due to the fact that he has never signed for a top team in any of Europe’s major leagues. Ochoa only played for the mid or low table sides such as Ligue 1’s Ajaccio and La Liga teams, Malaga and Granada.

His closest opportunity to taste the high level continental competition was in the 2018/19 season. At that time, he was a mainstay in the Belgian side, Standard Liège, which had to face off Erik ten Hag’s Ajax Amsterdam in UCL playoffs. His team lost 5-2 on aggregate, continuing their campaign in Europa League. 

Now, it is very unlikely for Ochoa to feature in UCL unless a European top team signs him as a deputy for the first-choice goalie. Despite his age, El Tri skipper still manages to contribute well for Salernitana. The Serie A club finished on the mid table last season and he kept clean sheets in four games. 

Asamoah Gyan

The former Ghanaian forward is one of the most famous footballers in Africa. He is the all-time leading goalscorer in Ghana and record holder of African top scorer in World Cup history with six goals in three editions. Unfortunately, he already hung his boots without even making a debut in the Champions League. 

Gyan only played for mid and low table sides in his career such as Sunderland in the Premier League, Udinese in Serie A and Rennes in France. He even opted to sign for Kayserispor in the Turkish top tier instead of playing for the big three, Galatasaray, Beşiktaş or Fenerbahçe. It is no surprise that he did not even make the continental competition in Europe. The former Al Ain striker only made one appearance in Europa League qualification in 2008/09 season when Rennes was beaten by Norwegian side Stabæk 2-1.  

Clint Dempsey

The former USMNT star also missed out on the chance to play in the Champions League. He was the key figure in Fulham from 2007 to 2012 as well as in the USA. Dempsey is the first American to score goals in three consecutive World Cup finals (2006-2014). The versatile midfielder’s top performance in the continental competition was when he helped The Cottagers reach the Europa League final in 2010. Sadly, they suffered a dramatic loss to Atlético Madrid in the summit. 

In 2013, Dempsey moved to Spurs, but failed to play in UCL. He only played in Europa League again as Spurs did not compete in the UEFA’s premier club competition at that time. The Texas-born striker eventually left London to join MLS side Seattle Sounders at the end of the campaign.

Gary Lineker

One of the most notable Englishman in World Cup history surprisingly did not feature in a single Champions League in his career. Lineker is still the record holder of the highest goalscorer for England in World Cup finals with 10 goals. 

The reason behind his misfortune was that he somehow came at the wrong time and club during his peak years. The Champions League was once called the European Cup at that time and only the league winners could play in the competition. Lineker joined Everton, England’s top division Champions in 1985. Unfortunately, due to Heysel’s tragedy, all English clubs were banned from continental competitions until 1990. 

Thus, Lineker joined Barcelona in 1986, but the Catalan side just lost in the European Cup final in the same year and failed to retain La Liga title. So, he could only play in the UEFA Cup Winners Cup during his time in Spain. Despite being the key man for Blaugrana – as he bagged 51 goals in three seasons – his club was not the best one in the country. They were forced to watch Real Madrid’s glorious campaigns with five league titles in five consecutive campaigns (1985-1990). 

Lineker did help the Catalan giant lift the Cup Winners Cup trophy in 1989 under Johan Cryuff but then left at the end of the season after the Dutch boss deployed him as a winger in the entire season. Once he was gone, Blaugrana began their golden era in 1990/91.

In the meantime, the former Leicester City man signed for Tottenham in summer 1989 and only brought them to finish 10th despite snatching the FA Cup in 1991. That meant Lineker once again missed out the Champions Cup, the UCL’s previous name prior to 1992. The 1986 World Cup Golden Shoe winner eventually left Europe for good in 1992 to Japan before his retirement.

Other notable names

Beside those players, England and Everton’s shot stopper Jordan Pickford, Sassuolo man Domenico Berardi, West Ham midfielder Jarred Bowen and Ghanaian international plus Athletic Bilbao star, Iñaki Williams could end up having the same fate if they do not join an elite side immediately. They deserve a better club than their current one and should feature in the Champions League before they are running out of time. 

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