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Worst players to win the Champions League

ESPN staff
May 24, 2013
Djimi Traore... European champion? © Getty Images
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This weekend Wembley Stadium plays host to the 20th Champions League final, as German giants Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund go head-to-head in the capital. Some of the best players in the world - Bastian Schweinsteiger, Franck Ribery and Robert Lewandowski among them - will all be on show.

However, over those past 19 years it hasn't always been the best players in Europe who have lifted the trophy. Below we list ten of the more eyebrow-raising names to have (somehow) played in a triumphant Champions League final-winning side.

Djimi Traore - Liverpool 3-3 (3-2 on pens) AC Milan

Cult hero? Bambi on ice? Flawed genius? All of the above probably describe Djimi Traore, although one term that almost certainly doesn't is: Defender.

It was Traore who sparked Liverpool's first-half capitulation against AC Milan in 2005, giving away possession with his first touch and then fouling Kaka in an attempt to get the ball back. Milan scored from the free-kick inside the first minute and by half-time Liverpool were 3-0 down.

Back in the changing room, boss Rafa Benitez told Traore his game was over but, with Steve Finnan unable to carry on, the Spaniard had to rethink. "I had just a second to pause for thought, to change our plans. I called Djimi back. He had his boots off, on his way to the shower."

Traore emerged for the second half as Liverpool mounted the most amazing comeback in Champions League history, forcing extra-time. The French defender even produced a goal-line clearance to keep his side on terms, allowing them to complete the job on penalties.

It was the night when Traore somehow made up for all his sins, such as when he produced a perfect Zidane-like turn - into his own net - against Burnley. Liverpool fans later sang: "Don't blame it on Hamman, don't blame it on Biscan, don't blame it on Finnan, blame it on Traore. He just can't, he just can't, he just can't control his feet."

True.

Jesper Blomqvist - Manchester United 2-1 Bayern Munich

For all Sir Alex Ferguson got right during his 26 years at Manchester United, there's no denying he got the odd signing wrong. Juan Sebastian Veron, Massimo Taibi, Bebe…the list is long and lamentable. Jesper Blomqvist is on that list.

The Swedish winger arrived at Old Trafford in 1998 as cover for Ryan Giggs, which may be the definition of a hiding to nothing. Suffice to say, he rarely posed a threat to the Welsh wizard - in 38 appearances for the club he scored just once.

But with suspensions ruling Paul Scholes and Roy Keane out of the 1999 final against Bayern Munich, Ferguson had little choice but to start Blomqvist alongside Giggs, David Beckham and Nicky Butt in midfield.

After an anonymous bit-part performance at the Camp Nou, arguably the finest contribution of his Manchester United career came as he jogged off to make way for Teddy Sheringham, who prodded home United's late equaliser before Ole Gunnar Solksjaer's late, late winner.

And for that he has a Champions League winners' medal? Football, bloody hell…

Oleguer - Barcelona 2-1 Arsenal

Ryan Bertrand? Champions League winner? © Getty Images
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Mes que un club. That's the FC Barcelona motto, a tribute to their status as the pride of Catalonia. Few players have committed themselves more fervently to the Catalan cause than Oleguer Presas, and few clubs have fielded a player so far short of his team-mates and still lifted the European Cup.

Nobody makes more than 100 appearances for a club as big as Barcelona without being able to play a bit, but by the time Oleguer lined up against Arsenal in the 2006 final it was clear he was punching above his weight and filling gaps. Playing at right-back, he could have cost Barca the title as well, losing Sol Campbell as he headed the ten-man Gunners into a first-half lead in Paris.

Barcelona were still trailing when Oleguer departed in the 71st minute to be replaced by Juliano Belletti. The substitute scored as Barca turned the match on its head, winning 2-1. With that, the writing was on the wall for Oleguer. The man who once insisted he could never play for Spain as a Catalan could no longer hold down a place in the Blaugrana defence. In 2008 he left Barcelona to join Ajax, who released him after the 2010-11 season.

Ryan Bertrand - Chelsea 1-1 (4-3 on pens) Bayern Munich

"Ryan? Ryan it's the gaffer. Listen, I've got something to tell you: you're in my team for the final. Look, I know you've not played in the competition, but you'll be fine. Oh, and one more thing, you're playing left wing. See you at training…"

Ryan Bertrand's inclusion in Chelsea's starting XI in Munich, ahead of Fernando Torres, Florent Malouda and Daniel Sturridge, is up there as the most left-field selections in recent footballing history. The young left-back had made just 13 appearances for the Blues all season before becoming the first player to make his Champions League debut in the final.

Whatever the logic behind the gamble, it initially looked like it wouldn't pay off as Bertrand scuttled up and down the line for 73 minutes before being hauled off for Malouda. Eventually victorious, Roberto Di Matteo was later hailed for his courage in starting the youngster, but it would have been so different had Didier Drogba not rescued Chelsea with an 88th-minute equaliser.

One of the worst players to win a Champions League medal? With Ashley Cole having signed a contract extension at Stamford Bridge, that remains to be seen. The downright weirdest? Yep.

Carsten Jancker - Bayern Munich 1-1 (5-4 on pens) Valencia

Known by some as the German Tank, Carsten Jancker was effectively a big chap with a bald head who - at 6ft 4in - became a cult figure. If you're still struggling to get on board with the image, picture a German, bald-headed version of Peter Crouch, surprisingly poor in the air for his height but possessing a good touch for a big man.

Jancker will be remembered by Manchester United fans for being one of several men to hit the frame of their goal in the dramatic (and frankly lucky) victory over Bayern Munich in 1999. On that occasion big Carsten was denied, but in 2001 he finally got his hands on the European Cup.

Valencia were the "people's favourites" on the night at Milan's San Siro, with technically brilliant players such as Gaizka Mendieta, Ruben Baraja and Kily Gonzalez. The Spaniards made the mistake of going to penalties though, and nobody beats the Germans at penalties.

Jancker was introduced at half-time in Italy and his presence actually helped win the initial spot-kick in normal time that forced the shootout. However, despite being one of few recognised strikers on the pitch, he did not take any of Bayern's seven penalties as centre-back Thomas Linke eventually scored the decisive kick.

Jancker then left to join Udinese in 2002, where he scored two goals in 36 appearances.

Ivan Campo - Real Madrid 3-0 Valencia

Which seems more far-fetched: Steve McManaman being named man of the match in a Champions League final or Ivan Campo - Bolton's blocker with the big barnet - having two European Cup winners' medals to his name?

Both are true. McManaman's stunning second-half volley steered Real Madrid towards a 3-0 win against Valencia in the 2000 final in Paris, the first Champions League final to feature two clubs from the same nation. And at the heart of that defence, with Roberto Carlos left wing-back and Michel Salgado right wing-back, Aitor Karanka on his shoulder and Ivan Helguera behind him, was Campo (there was a need for a sweeper with Campo).

In 2002, with his days at the Bernebeu numbered after falling out with the club, Campo sat on the bench as Real beat Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 in Glasgow. It was an arrangement that seemed to suit both parties, and Campo soon accepted a season-long loan move to the Reebok, enjoying himself so much he stayed for another five years. Now that seems far-fetched.

Michele Padovano - Juventus 1-1 (4-2 on pens) Ajax

The Italian striker's story is one of peaking at just the right time - a veritable journeyman of five previous clubs (including two separate spells at Genoa and Reggiana) by the age of 29, Padovano suddenly found the sort of middling form that somehow earned him a move to Juventus, where his just-frequent-enough rate of goalscoring got him into the matchday squad for the 1996 Champions League final against Ajax.

With the scoreline locked at 1-1, Padovano was thrown on (for future Middlesbrough legend Fabrizio Ravanelli) in the 77th minute - but it was only in the eventual penalty shootout that he would finally make an impact, scoring the third of four penalties that secured the Old Lady the title.

A solitary national team cap would follow soon after, but from there it was all downhill - to say the very least. Relegated to the Juve reserves and sold to Crystal Palace barely six months later (a bad enough fate as it is), Padovano was useless as the financially-stricken Eagles were relegated from the Premier League. Similarly inept moves to Metz and Como followed before his retirement - but that was just the beginning for Padovano, who would finally achieve notoriety after being sentenced to nearly nine years in prison for his connection to drug-trafficking.

As he probably didn't say on his arrival at the big house: "Well, it's still better than Selhurst Park."

Ever seen Fabien Barthez with hair? Here it is... © Getty Images
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Nuno Valente - Porto 3-0 Monaco

Singling out Valente is perhaps harsh - you can run through the entire 2004 Porto side and hardly find a single player who reached the same heights after being separated from Jose Mourinho - but the left-back was the quintessential journeyman for all phases of his career bar the years he spent under the 'Special One'.

Heading into his late twenties, Valente remained an unremarkable name in Portugal when Mourinho arrived at lowly Uniao Leiria - but his career revitalisation quickly began. Improved performances (and a willingness to adhere to the tactical instructions given to him) saw Valente go with Mourinho to Porto, where they would sweep all before them.

Valente started in the 2004 European final against Monaco, and in truth did not have to do a lot as his side romped to one of the most one-sided victories in recent memories. But Mourinho would leave soon after and Valente's career would never reach the same glories- falling out of favour under the new regime he left for Everton in 2005, where he was pegged as Alessandro Pistone's replacement (hardly the tallest of tasks, if we're honest).

Valente established himself at Goodison Park but found Gary Naysmith a constant threat to his position - something of an indictment of his quality and consistency. Then Leighton Baines was signed, and it was all over for the Portuguese - who retired in 2009, having never played more than 20 league games in a season for the Toffees.

Fabien Barthez - Marseille 1-0 AC Milan

One might look at Fabien Barthez's medal collection and think there is no possible way he belongs on this list. Winner of a Champions League, World Cup, European Championship, two Premier League titles, two Ligue 1 titles and the Ligue 1 Goalkeeper of the Year award, Barthez's honours list ranks him as one of the greats.

However, those who witnessed his work, particularly while at Manchester United, know the words "erratic", "inconsistent" and "enigmatic" (all words you don't really want associated with a keeper) were also true of his work.

Capable of the most eye-catching saves, those highlight-reel moments actually papered over the fact that Barthez was a liability. For every sublime 50-yard pass from his own 18-yard box was a scuffed kick - like the one Thierry Henry promptly returned with interest when United played Arsenal at Highbury.

Barthez, at less than 6ft tall, was powerpuff under the high ball and truly bailed out at United by the fact he had a strong defence in front of him.

His Champions League success came in the newly-formatted competition's first year in 1993, when he actually kept a clean sheet as Marseille beat AC Milan 1-0. Maybe he was good after all...

Stephane Chapuisat - Dortmund 3-1 Juventus

Stephane Chapuisat picked up over 100 international caps in his career and, for a while at least, was the second top foreign goalscorer in Bundesliga history (behind Giovane Elber) - but, frankly, he was still not very good.

English fans may remember him for some ineffectual cameos for Switzerland against the Three Lions, particularly at Euro 96 - but barely 12 months after that substitute appearance, he was a Champions League winner with Borussia Dortmund. Having amassed a full three goals in the tournament to that point (all against Steaua Bucharest in the group stage), Chapuisat somehow earned a starting role in the final alongside future Liverpool flop Karl-Heinz Riedle.

Riedle would prove the star of the show, however, scoring twice as the Germans moved into a 2-0 first-half lead. Alessandro Del Piero's free-kick reduced the deficit shortly after the hour-mark, and so, with the game in the balance, Chapuisat was hauled off in a tactical change. No shame in that, of course - except the man who replaced him, 20-year-old Lars Ricken, needed just 16 seconds to do what Chapuisat couldn't in 70 minutes and beat Angelo Peruzzi with a sublime lob that effectively clinched the title for Dortmund.

Chapuisat would last a couple more years at the club before being sold back to Switzerland, where he finished his career.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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