Every year, the UEFA Champions League is regarded as the biggest tournament in the footballing world for club teams, at least on a European scale. For all intents and purposes, it’s supposed to be where the biggest names in the sport go head to head playing for the biggest teams in the sport against one another in the hopes of lifting the European Champion Club’s Cup.
However, that’s not always the case – at least not in terms of the players who get to lift it. In fact, there are many players who are among the biggest in the sport that don’t get to even play a group stage match in the competition. Thanks to David Moyes’ disastrous tenure as Manchester United manager last season, the Red Devils are shockingly among those who won’t get to play. That said, for the purpose of this list (and for the sake of challenging ourselves), we won’t be including any of their players among the top 10 most valuable players who aren’t in the Champions League this year.
Several of these players got the chance to strut their stuff at the World Cup in Brazil this past summer – more specifically, one got to score against the United States in the Round of 16, while another scored the opening goal for his team that made it to the quarterfinals despite losing their best player before the tournament started. More importantly, a lot of these players – eg. Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela – are just getting started with their promising careers.
Sadly, they won’t be able to wow football fans on European club football’s biggest stage this season. With that, here are the 10 most valuable, non-Manchester United players who won’t be in the Champions League this season, ranked based on their transfer market value according to transfermarkt.com and converted to American dollars.
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10 Hernanes -- Market Value: $29.2 million
Having invited comparisons to midfield maestros like Deco, Andrea Pirlo and Kaka, Hernanes has impressed with former club Lazio and current club Inter Milan through his pass accuracy, his technical ability, and his versatility. Such skills have led to him being rewarded with a market value of $29.2 million and a yearly salary of $4 million with the Nerazzurri. His international reputation ain’t too bad, either: he played for Brazil’s fourth place team at this year’s FIFA World Cup, and has scored twice in 27 caps for his home country as well. If Inter manage to put it together again and make the Champions League next season, perhaps we’ll see his abilities in Europe’s biggest club tournament.
9 Christian Eriksen -- Market Value: $29.2 million
One of the most promising players in his position of attacking midfielder, as well as the most promising player Denmark has seen in quite some time, Christian Eriksen proved himself as a more than capable number 10 for Tottenham Hotspur last season. This year, he could bring his free-kick and playmaking abilities to new heights at White Hart Lane. With his $29.2 million market value (and $6 million yearly salary), it’s a bit of a shame that he won’t be able to do that on a stage bigger than the Europa League. That said, Liverpool have been knocking on his door, so a bigger move may be in the cards if Tottenham don’t make the Champions League this year.
8 Samir Handanovic -- Market Value: $32.2 million
The fact that he hails from the very small former Balkan country of Slovenia is perhaps why Samir Handanovic is relatively underrated as far as goalkeepers are concerned, but his ability between the sticks is undeniable. He’s twice been named to the Serie A team of the year, first with former club Udinese (which is close to his homeland) and again with current club Inter Milan. Boasting a market value of $32.2 million, Handanovic will be expected to be one of the best goalkeepers in Italy again, though it’s less certain how well the team in front of him will play.
7 Luiz Gustavo -- Market Value: $32.2 million
He started out his career mainly playing as a defender, but Luiz Gustavo’s move to Germany in 2007 (first with Hoffenheim, then Bayern Munich, and now with VfL Wolfsburg) has shown him playing as a defensive midfielder – a switch that has paid dividends for the Brazilian. Not only has he blossomed into an important part of his club team’s midfield, he’s done the same with the Brazilian national team, as former manager Luiz Felipe Scolari made him a regular during the World Cup that Brazil hosted this summer. His market value of approximately $32.2 million shows how sought after a player like him would be, and for good reason.
6 Borja Valero -- Market Value: $33.5 million
Despite Borja Valero’s talent in central midfield, he’s been continually passed over by the Spanish national team thanks to his country’s extreme depth in almost every position, not to mention the fact that he plays in the Serie A after moving to Fiorentina from Villarreal in 2012. His passing accuracy has helped Fiorentina to compete among Italy’s best despite them not being in the Champions League this season, and the former West Bromwich Albion man has gotten a market value of $33.5 million. At 29 years of age, he’s been named the Spanish Player of the Year once, and helped Fiorentina to second place at the Coppa Italia last season.
5 Erik Lamela -- Market Value: $35 million
He struggled at times at Tottenham Hotspur last season under Andre Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood – in other words, he barely played, which led to his omission from Argentina’s second-place World Cup team this year – but Erik Lamela is already putting in solid performances at an early point in the season under compatriot Mauricio Pochettino, racking up two assists in Tottenham’s first Europa League match against AEL Limassol. With this Spurs team that started last season full of new additions looking like they may finally start to gel, expect the $35 million-rated Lamela to finally start showing his potential in England.
4 Giuseppe Rossi -- Market Value: $36.5 million
Are there many more footballers who are as unlucky as Giuseppe Rossi? Not only has he been snubbed by the Italian national team for two consecutive World Cups, but he’s been snakebitten with serious injuries: he missed much of the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons thanks to an ACL injury, and suffered another knee injury in January while playing against Livorno – at a time when he was the Serie A’s leading scorer. The native of Teaneck, New Jersey is still expected to lead the strike force for Fiorentina with a market value of $36.5 million, and likely the Italian national team as well under new manager Antonio Conte.
3 Ricardo Rodriguez -- Market Value: $40.8 million
He’s only 22, but his ability as a left back would imply that he’s been a seasoned pro for years now. One of the most promising young defenders in the world, Ricardo Rodriguez has already gotten a market value of roughly $40.8 million after joining VfL Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga in 2012. He’s also played 22 times for the Swiss national team, including at this summer’s World Cup where he took a corner against Ecuador that led to a goal for his country. His all-around ability transcends his young age, and one can expect him to potentially move to a bigger club eventually if Wolfsburg don’t make the Champions League next year.
2 Romelu Lukaku -- Market Value: $43.8 million
Chelsea might not have a place for him in their strike force – because Fernando Torres is totally not still struggling to score goals, right? – but Everton will gladly take him. At 21 years old and with tons of potential, Romelu Lukaku has yet to get a goal in his first two games of the season with the Toffees, but he impressed greatly during his loan at Goodison Park which would lead to Everton taking him on permanently. It’s a huge coup, given his market value of roughly $43.8 million. Where Everton finish this season remains to be seen compared to teams like their crosstown rivals Liverpool, but one thing is clear: Jose Mourinho’s loss is Roberto Martinez’s gain.
1 Juan Cuadrado -- Market Value: $46.7 million
The most casual of football fans might not be familiar with him because of his playing days overseas spent almost entirely in Italy, but Colombian winger Juan Cuadrado is capable of quite a lot. His sublime dribbling and speed up the wings for Serie A club Fiorentina – although he’s been the subject of rumours of a move to Manchester United – has helped to justify his market value of about $46.7 million. His performances for Colombia at the World Cup didn’t disappoint either, as he ended the tournament at the top of the assists leaderboard (with four assists) and a penalty goal against Japan as well.
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