Paolo Maldini doesn’t exactly come to mind when you think about ‘losers’ in football, does he?
The AC Milan legend is routinely named the greatest defender of all time and footage of him lifting Champions League title after Champions League title is engrained upon the minds of football fans.
However, the Italian icon himself has previously called himself the ‘the biggest loser in history’ because for all those memorable victories, he also suffered an inordinate amount of heartbreak.
Maldini calls himself ‘the biggest loser in history’
According to Marca, Maldini explained in an Instagram live chat with Christian Vieri in 2020 that he branded himself as a ‘loser’ in the sport because of how many key games that he lost in his career.
Maldini said: “Let me explain. 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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Depending on how you look at things, Maldini was either showing great humbleness or simply joking around, but it is nonetheless an interesting criterion that is worth looking at in closer detail.
In fact, Marca reacted to Maldini’s comments at the time by proceeding to list off 10 players who, like the AC Milan giant, lost an incongruous amount of huge games despite their undoubted talent.
Biggest ‘losers’ XI
And now, we have taken that format and made a few tweaks to compile what we consider – by Maldini’s definition – to be the biggest ‘losers’ XI that football has ever seen. Gosh, I can imagine the comments section already…
So, without further ado, be sure to remember the definition before you think we’re slamming legend after legend and check out some of the unluckiest footballers to ever play the beautiful game;
GK: Gianluigi Buffon
Buffon is so often defined by his Champions League final defeats in 2003, 2015 and 2017, but the Juventus legend also came up short in the 2003 and 2020 Coppa Italia finals and 2019 Coupe de France curtain-closer.
DF: Paolo Maldini
We couldn’t leave out the player who considers himself to be ‘the biggest loser in history’.
For all his glorious moments, Maldini never lifted silverware with Italy as he suffered defeat in the 1994 World Cup and Euro 2000 finals as well as being on the receiving end of Liverpool‘s iconic Istanbul comeback.
DF: Karlheinz Förster
Consecutive World Cup final defeats in 1982 and 1986 must have been tough to swallow, never mind settling for silver medals in the DFB-Pokal, Coupe de France and Ligue 1 with Stuttgart and Marseille.
DF: Javier Mascherano
Mascherano might have won 20 major honours in his decorated career, but he also lost a whopping 11 finals along the way, finishing on the wrong side of FOUR Copa America climaxes and settling for a silver medal at the 2014 World Cup.
DF: Patrice Evra
Evra has lost four Champions League finals (2004, 2009, 2011 and 2015) with three different clubs for an unwanted European record and similarly tasted defeat in the Euro 2016 final on home soil.
MD: Arjen Robben
Robben’s place in the team has less to do with his overall team record in finals, but more to do with his penchant for individual errors in them. Aside from the 2013 Champions League climax, of course.
One can’t help feeling that Robben will forever rue his one-on-one miss in the 2010 World Cup final and his penalty clanger up against Petr Cech in Bayern Munich’s very own stadium two years later.
MD: Lothar Matthaus
Like Förster, Matthaus came up short in the 1982 and 1986 World Cup finals, but also had the heartbreak of losing the 1999 Champions League in stoppage time and missing out on the 1980 UEFA Cup.
MD: Michael Ballack
Ballack might just be the unluckiest footballer to ever grace the earth.
The cursed German endured a nightmarish 2002 by coming up short in the Champions League final, World Cup final, DFB Pokal final and finished second in the Bundesliga for good luck.
Marry that to a 2008 in which Ballack suffered defeat in a second Champions League climax, as well as losing the Euros final and finishing second in the Premier League, for yet another rotten run of luck.
It’s crazy to think that one of the greatest footballers in history never won a major trophy – settling for regional titles, second and third-place finishes at Copa America tournaments and unfulfilled potential at the 1982 World Cup.
FW: Harry Kane
Defeats in the 2014/15 and 2020/21 League Cup finals as well as heartbreak in the Euro 2020 and 2019 Champions League climaxes could see Kane go down as one of the greatest players to never win a trophy.
FW: Gonzalo Higuain
Argentina fans know all-too well about Higuain’s individual errors from one-on-one misses to skied penalties that cost them in the 2014 World Cup final and Copa America climaxes in 2015 and 2016.
Throw in falls at the final hurdle in the 2017 Champions League and 2019 League Cup to see exactly why poor Higuain takes his place amongst the XI.
FW: Alessandro Del Piero
One of the harsher selections, it must be said, but Del Piero lost three Champions League finals and a Euros curtain-closer in the space of just seven years during the late 1990s and early 2000s.
You win some, you lose some
So, yes, this incredible XI might well be stacked to the brim with world-class players and plenty of trophies to boot, but things could have been so, so much better for these talented individuals.
However, fear not, Maldini, because we can’t help feeling as though Ballack is the real claimant to the crown of football’s biggest ‘loser’ with a CV that is so cruel and unkind given his magnificence.
But as they say: you win some, you lose some. It just happens that some footballers have to go through a lot more losses for their wins than others…