The UEFA Champions League is a tournament that showcases the very best teams European football have to offer every season, and sets up football fans for mouthwatering clashes between continental superpowers and thrilling victories in the final by whichever team gets the right to lift the trophy when all’s said and done. However, there are some who make the Champions League consistently and put up good fights, but ultimately don’t get a chance to have their moment of glory.
On this list, we rank the top 10 teams to never win the Champions League ranked by their current position on UEFA’s club coefficient list for 2013-14. Therefore, teams like Manchester City, Bayer Leverkusen, Napoli and Galatasaray missed the cut on this list due to them not being high enough on UEFA’s list. Teams that won the Champions League prior to its modern era, such as Benfica, Celtic or PSV Eindhoven, were also left off.
Some teams – such as Tottenham Hotspur or Atletico Madrid – are among the best in countries that already have clubs that are even bigger and/or more successful both domestically and continentally, though others such as FC Basel and Shakhtar Donetsk come from more unheralded footballing nations and end up exceeding expectations that were initially made of them by pundits and the public alike prior to the tournament.
However, these teams have also proven that even though clubs with more of a winning history have been traditionally luckier in terms of winning the Champions League, those teams don’t go down without a fight. For some of these teams, it’s only a matter of time before they get to lift the trophy themselves.
Without further ado, here are 10 of the best teams who have yet to win a Champions League trophy, as well as their best finish to date in Europe’s biggest showcase for club teams.
10 FC Basel
This is perhaps an odd selection for this kind of list, but the Swiss club’s position of 21st on the UEFA coefficient list gives them the 10th spot here. Having made the modern day Champions League five times – the first time in 2002-03 – FC Basel enjoyed their best showing in Europe’s biggest club competition after qualifying for the Round of 16 thanks to them beating Manchester United 2-1 in December 2011, with goals from Marco Streller and Alexander Frei causing the Red Devils to crash out in the group stage and down to the Europa League for the first time in Sir Alex Ferguson’s history as United manager.
9 Zenit St. Petersburg
Though they’ve only really rose to prominence in Europe over the past few seasons, Zenit St. Petersburg – with players like Hulk and Axel Witsel in tow – are establishing themselves as one of Russia’s best Champions League hopes. Their first Champions League appearance came in 2008-09, but they crashed out in the group stage in a group including Juventus and Real Madrid. Their best performance in the tournament thus far has come this season as well as in 2012; however, both seasons saw Zenit – currently ranked 20th in Europe by UEFA – exit in the round of 16 at the hands of Borussia Dortmund and Benfica respectively.
8 Tottenham Hotspur
While they’re consistently a contender for at least a top-four finish in the Premier League year in and year out, Tottenham Hotspur have only made it to the Champions League once in its modern era, in the 2010-11 season. That year, they managed to qualify for the quarterfinals after topping group A and beating Inter and AC Milan – the latter victory thanks to an 80th-minute goal from Peter Crouch – in the process. However, it was not to be, as Spurs fell 5-0 on aggregate to Real Madrid in the quarterfinals. They have not qualified since as the team tries to re-emerge as a top English contender following the loss of Gareth Bale to Los Merengues.
7 Shakhtar Donetsk
Though they’re based out of Ukraine, FC Shakhtar Donetsk have put up a couple of very respectable performances in the Champions League – a tournament they’ve qualified for nine times since 1992-93. While the Miners have mostly fallen in the group stage during their history in the tournament, two notable exceptions include their appearance in the Round of 16 last season before losing 5-2 on aggregate to Borussia Dortmund, as well as a quarterfinal appearance in 2010-11 – where they dominated Roma 6-2 on aggregate in the round of 16 before eventually losing to Barcelona in the quarterfinals.
6 Paris Saint-Germain
Thanks largely to being purchased by the Qatar Investment Authority, Paris Saint-Germain has started to re-establish itself as a legitimate European superpower. With players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Edinson Cavani on their books, they’re already arguably the best team in France, but they still have yet to have their domestic form translate into European success. Their best ever Champions League finish in the modern era came in 1994-95, where they made the semifinals after beating Bayern Munich and Barcelona to get there, but lost to Milan 3-0 on aggregate. Last season, Les Parisiens made the quarterfinals only to exit thanks to Barcelona having the edge on away goals.
5 Schalke 04
Although not quite of the same calibre as Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund domestically, Gelsenkirchen-based club Schalke 04 have held their own on several occasions in the Champions League in the past, with their best showing coming in the 2010-11 season after making it past Valencia and Inter in the knockout stage to make the semifinals, only to lose 6-1 on aggregate to Manchester United. Previously, the Royal Blues had made the quarterfinals in 2007-08 where they exited the knockout stage 2-0 on aggregate to Barcelona. Currently ranked 14th on UEFA’s coefficient list, Schalke have made the round of 16 the past two seasons.
As far as the modern Champions League era is concerned, Olympique Lyonnais have the distinction of making the tournament the most times thus far of any French club, though they haven’t played Champions League football since 2011-12. Their best finish at the tournament thus far has come in 2009-10, where they made the semifinals. With Lisandro Lopez, Miralem Pjanic and Hugo Lloris in tow at the time, Lyon it past Liverpool, Real Madrid and fellow French club Bordeaux to make the last four, only to lose 4-0 on aggregate to Bayern Munich. The team had previously made three consecutive quarterfinal appearances from 2003-04 to 2005-06.
Call them unlucky if you will, but Valencia’s performances as a team both in Europe and domestically have been overshadowed by the dominance of Barcelona and Real Madrid. Though they’ve made the tournament nine times since 1992-93, Los Che’s two best Champions League finishes came in two straight seasons, and in the best place you can finish without actually winning: the final. Valencia lost to Real 3-0 in 1999-00 and to Bayern Munich on penalties in 2000-01 to just miss out on winning the most coveted trophy in European club football. They have not made it that far since, being ousted in the quarterfinals in 2002-03 and 2006-07.
2 Atletico Madrid
This year’s title race for La Liga has been largely a three-way dogfight between Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Real’s cross-town rivals Atletico Madrid. Currently tied for first with Real in La Liga with 70 points, Atletico also sit in the quarterfinals of this year’s Champions League with a tough test against Barcelona ahead of them. The last time they made it this far was in 1996-97, where Los Rojiblancos fell to Ajax in the quarterfinals 4-3 on aggregate. With a team that now boasts Diego Costa, Koke, Arda Turan and Thibaut Courtois, expect Atletico to gun for an even better finish in April.
In addition to their woes over the past few years in their attempts to win their first Premier League title since 2004, Arsenal have also yet to win the top title in European club football. The closest they came was in 2005-06 when they fell to Barcelona in the final at the Stade de France in Paris. A 37th-minute Sol Campbell goal was wiped out by Samuel Eto’o and Juliano Belletti, winning Barça their third title within six seasons. The Gunners’ best finish since then came in 2008-09, where they made the semifinals only to lose to Manchester United 4-1 on aggregate.