When AC Milan legend Paolo Maldini comes to mind, you don’t exactly think ‘loser’.
Arguably the greatest defender in football history, Maldini won the Champions League five times, collected seven Scudettos and won another 13 major titles at the San Siro for good luck.
However, the Italian icon also suffered more defeats in major finals than you would expect and that’s prompted Maldini to call himself ‘the biggest loser in history’.
You could interpret Maldini’s comment – made during an Instagram Live chat with Christian Vieiri – as some tract of humility, but he quickly backed up the claim with compelling evidence.
Maldini explained: “I won a lot but I lost three Champions League finals, a European Super Cup, a World Cup final, a European Championship final, a World Cup semi-final, and I could go on.”
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Football’s 10 biggest ‘losers’
But fear not, Paolo, you’re by no means the only legendary player that suffered a disproportionate amount of heartbreak in finals and Spanish newspaper Marca has sought to prove that fact.
That’s because they’ve named ‘the 10 biggest ‘losers’ in football’ to make Maldini feel a little more comfortable about all the heartache with Italy.
Of course, many of these figures had incredible careers and won plenty of trophies outside of the disappointment, so take the ‘loser’ tag with a pinch of salt. Anyhow, disclaimer aside, check out the list below:
1. Javier Mascherano
So, yes, Mascherano might have won 20 major honours in his career, but he also represents a generation of frustration for his country and he won’t be the last Argentine on the list.
The long-time Barcelona player has lost a staggering 11 finals – one more than Lionel Messi, by the way – including the 2014 World Cup final and FOUR Copa America finals in 2004, 2007, 2015 and 2016.
2. Patrice Evra
Amongst the 21 winners’ medals Evra has sitting in his trophy cabinet, the illustrious left-back also has the unwanted distinction of losing more Champions League finals than any player in history.
Evra lost his first final to Jose Mourinho’s Porto in 2004, came up second to Barcelona twice with Manchester United (2009 and 2011) as well as losing to the same opposition with Juventus in 2015.
Then, just to rub salt in the wounds, Evra lost the Euro 2016 final on home soil to Portugal.
3. Arjen Robben
Again, we’re talking about a player who hoovered up trophies in his career, but Robben also came up short in six finals: two in the Champions League, three Super Cups and the 2010 World Cup climax.
It’s individual moments that truly earns Robben his place on the list, though – missing that one-on-one against Iker Casillas and bungling an extra-time penalty vs Chelsea at Bayern Munich’s very own stadium.
4. Michael Ballack
Ballack’s 2002 is the stuff of legend for all the wrong reasons.
The German juggernaut was forced to settle for second in the Bundesliga, lost the DFB Pokal and Champions League finals and watched Germany lose a World Cup final he’d been suspended for.
Surely it can’t worse, though? Sadly it did as Ballack suffered another black year in 2008 when he lost the Champions League and European Championship finals within a matter of weeks.
5. Hector Cuper
The only coach on the list and another man to lose six finals throughout his career.
Cuper lost the Copa del Rey final to Barcelona in 1998, the Cup Winners’ Cup climax against Lazio in 1999, the 2017 African Cup of Nations final with Egypt and a Greek Cup final in 2010.
Combine that with two consecutive Champions League final losses with Valencia as well as blowing Inter Milan’s lead in the 2003 Serie A title race for a pretty unlucky career, to say the very least.
6. Alessandro Del Piero
One of the harsher selections on the list considering Del Piero won the World Cup with Italy and the Champions League at Juventus, plus another 14 titles in Turin for good measure.
But he was also forced to collect silver medals during the 1997, 1998 and 2003 Champions League finals as well as in the 2000 European Championship despite leading going into stoppage time.
7. Lothar Matthaus
The German legend might be a World Cup winner with 26 trophies to his name, but boy did he suffer a long list of defeats in finals.
Matthaus was on the losing side in the 1982 and 1986 World Cup finals as well as two Champions League climaxes, the latter of which seeing Bayern blow a 1-0 lead to United in time added on.
Oh, and he also lost a UEFA Cup final against Eintracht Frankfurt, too.
8. Gonzalo Higuain
Higuain will forever be taunted for celebrating his offside goal in the 2014 World Cup final, which he missed plenty of chances in too, but that night in Brazil is just one of five heartbreaks for El Pipita.
The Juventus striker lost the 2017 Champions League final with his current club, the 2019 League Cup final with Chelsea and back-to-back Copa America losses in 2015 and 2016, missing a penalty in the former.
9. Gianluigi Buffon
Buffon has won just about everything there is to win in football, but the Champions League will forever be his nemesis.
The 42-year-old has tasted defeat in the 2003, 2015 and 2017 finals as well as losing the 2002 Coppa Italia to Parma and suffering an upset in the French Cup final with PSG against Rennes.
10. Antony de Avila
Finally, The Smurf and a reminder that playing until you’re 47 years old doesn’t necessarily help you shake off a ‘loser’ tag.
De Avila won nine league titles across his illustrious career, but was famously never crowned the king of South America after losing a heart-wrenching FIVE Copa Libertadores finals.
Losing to Penarol in the 120th minute during the 1987 final was the most gutting of all, although nobody likes missing out on penalties and that’s exactly what happened to De Avila two years earlier.
Unluckiest players ever
Ten players who clearly needed a four-leaf clover or rabbit’s foot in their lives, that’s for sure.
We’re inclined to think that Ballack has suffered the most misfortune out of the 10 for his 2002 and 2008 heartbreaks alone, but at least all of these players have some gold medals to console themselves with.
Besides, to be one of the biggest ‘losers’ in football history, you have to be one of its biggest winners too.