De Rossi, Van Persie, Djorkaeff & the best players to never win a league title or Champions League

By Enis Koylu

“People have written all sorts of things about me. Some of it makes me laugh, some of it makes me angry.” Daniele De Rossi sat down and declared that he had no intention of leaving Roma, despite an official bid from Manchester City.

It had seemed for months that the 29-year-old was destined to depart his hometown club as he repeatedly delayed signing a contract extension, which he finally penned in February to keep him in the Eternal City for at least the next five seasons.

His most recent rejection of a move away from the Italian capital, however, is perhaps the most significant, and at 29, De Rossi’s chances of European or Italian glory are rapidly diminishing, bar, of course, a dramatic change of fortunes for the Giallorossi.

But he is far from alone, and are on hand to assess some of the best talents who failed to secure the two biggest honours in club football. Please note: we have only included players who were active after the re-branding of the Champions League in 1992-93.

Let’s start with the man himself. Throughout his illustrious career at Roma, De Rossi has been a committed, talismanic figure on the pitch. However, a succession of coaching changes, and an ever-changing support cast have stopped the Giallorossi from replicating their Scudetto success of 2001, the year before De Rossi made his first strides into the first team.

A five-time Serie A runner-up, he has frequently been linked with a move away the Olimpico, only to rebuff numerous suitors, and the 29-year-old’s chances of turning around his losing record with his hometown club seem to be slight, unless Zdenek Zeman can mastermind an unlikely title triumph in the near future.

Best remembered as the man who starred alongside fellow France midfielders Zidane and Deschamps in their victorious 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 campaigns, the Lyon native never managed to replicate his success at international level in the club game.

His quest for glory in domestic football took him to Arsene Wenger’s Monaco, Paris Saint-Germain and even Inter, but barring triumphs in the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1996 and the Uefa Cup in 1998, it was futile.

Agonisingly, he finished as a runner-up in Ligue 1 on four occasions, one of which was on goal difference, once in Serie A, while the Bundesliga-winning Kaiserslautern team had long slipped into mediocrity when he joined them in 1999, and his club career ended in 2006 without any of the top honours.

Cesc Fabregas’ club career has always held a cruel sense of irony. He left Barcelona as a teenager for the all-conquering Arsenal side of the mid-2000s, but Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea had knocked the Gunners from their perch by the time he had established himself in the first team.

But despite Arsene Wenger’s side surrendering domestic dominance, Fabregas & Co. came desperately close in the 2006 Champions League final, only to lose to Barcelona.

He still believed in Arsene Wenger’s project, and signed an eight-year contract soon after, but two lost finals and five years later, the Spain midfielder ran out of patience and returned to Camp Nou, only for Pep Guardiola’s men to surrender their title to arch-rivals Real Madrid and suffer heartbreak in the semi-final of the Champions League against Chelsea.

At 25, and with the likes of Lionel Messi as team-mates however, it seems unlikely that his barren streak on the biggest club stages will go on for much longer.

An Anfield hero, Fowler was one of the undisputed stars during the reigns of both Roy Evans and in the early years of Gerard Houlier, and helped his hometown club to a host of successes, including an FA Cup, a pair of League Cups and even the Uefa Cup.

In 2001, after the Reds had completed a treble, he was widely linked with a move to Arsenal, who won the double the following season, but eventually decided that his future lay at Leeds United

He eventually returned to Liverpool, then-European champions under Rafa Benitez, but his final shot at continental success ended in tragedy in 2007 as his side failed to replicate their miraculous victory over AC Milan two years prior.

His second stint with the Reds ended soon after, and the veteran poacher sank into obscurity with two medals missing from his trophy cabinet.

Gaizka Mendieta’s career is yet another example of a footballer who was quite simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. The classy Spanish schemer burst onto the scene in the mid-90s with Valencia but, after two consecutive Champions League final defeats in 2000 and 2001, decided that his time at Mestalla had come to an end and moved on to Lazio for a mammoth €48 million.

However, he was never able to live up to his star billing in the Italian capital, and with stellar names such as Pavel Nedved and Juan Sebastian Veron leaving the club, the Biancocelesti failed to replicate the same success they had enjoyed under previous coach Sven-Goran Eriksson, as Valencia stormed to Liga superiority back in Spain.

A loan move to Barcelona soon followed, but Mendieta arrived at Camp Nou during an unsuccessful period for the Catalans. A subsequent switch to Middlesbrough effectively signalled the end of his chances of winning a major domestic or European title, and he eventually retired at the Riverside in 2008.

One of the few oddities in German football is Bayer Leverkusen. Despite being, by and large, amongst the top clubs in the Bundesliga for the last two decades, all of their attempts to secure a league title have proved futile, earning them the unwanted nickname ‘Neverkusen’.

One player to suffer from the unhappy jinx was Bernd Schneider, who transferred to the BayArena in 1999 as the North Rhine-Westphalia outfit looked to secure that ever-elusive Bundesliga crown. The midfielder was decisive as his side finished in second place in 2000 and 2002, but he could not quite deliver top spot. On the European front, things were not much better for the former Eintracht Frankfurt man.

In 2002, Leverkusen became the first team to qualify for the Champions League final despite never having won their domestic league, but ended up losing 2-1 to Real Madrid, aided by an unforgettable moment of genius from Zinedine Zidane.

Unlike some of his under-decorated colleagues, Schneider did not have a glittering international career to make up for his shortcomings at club level, losing in the 2002 World Cup final, and finishing third in the 2005 Confederations Cup and the 2006 World Cup.

One of the most prolific strikers in European football over the past three decades, Signori made his name as the focal point of the Foggia team that earned cult status for their charge towards Serie A in the early 1990s.

His exploits in Zemanlandia saw him eventually reacquaint himself with former coach Zdenek Zeman at Lazio, but despite winning three Capocannonieri in five seasons in the Eternal City, he fell victim to the wealth of talent available in Italy at the time.

For that reason, he never managed to take the step up to a club capable of delivering titles to him, with names such as Gianfranco Zola, Alessandro Del Piero and Roberto Baggio occupying the front lines of Serie A’s big guns at the time.

His striking colleagues, along with a strained relationship with Italy coach Arrigo Sacchi restricted him to a place on the Azzurri‘s left wing, and his major chance of international success came in the 1994 World Cup, when his country lost on penalties to Brazil in the final.

When Van Persie arrived at Arsenal, who were fresh from an unbeaten league-winning season in 2004, few would have predicted that he would leave the club eight years later without anything but an FA Cup winners’ medal. After a difficult first season in north London, the Dutchman emerged the heir apparent to his compatriot Dennis Bergkamp.

However, after a string of high-profile players such as Ashley Cole and Thierry Henry left the club, the Gunners fell away from the Premier League pace-setters. For Van Persie personally, it was a particularly painful period as injuries meant he could only watch on from the sidelines as embryonic title challenges collapsed without him.

After Fabregas’ departure in 2011, the former Feyenoord man was handed the Arsenal captaincy and maintained his fitness to record a 37-goal season, but decided that his quest for medals lay elsewhere and opted to join Manchester United.

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