Buffon, Ballack, Robben: Football's 10 biggest 'losers'

  • Kobe Tong

'Loser' isn't exactly the first word that comes to mind when you think about Paolo Maldini.

I mean, the AC Milan legend is justly regarded as one of the greatest footballers of all time and trust me when I say that we're not here to refute that today.

Nevertheless, for all the unbounded success that Maldini enjoyed across his illustrious career, there's no denying that he also experienced an inordinate amount of disappointment and defeat.

Maldini calls himself a loser

In fact, Maldini even went as far as calling himself the 'the biggest loser in history' in an Instagram live conversation with Christian Vieiri in 2020, listing some of his biggest failures in football.

The Italian icon 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."

However, fear not, Paolo, because you're by no means the only football legend to have suffered a degree of heartbreak that seems incongruous with both their talent and success elsewhere.


'Football's biggest losers'

And Spanish newspaper Marca proved that point perfectly in the aftermath of Maldini's self-deprecation by naming the 'the 10 biggest 'losers' in football' to make him feel a little bit better.

Now, we can sense already that the list will ruffle a few feathers, so remember to bear in mind that it's talking about total final defeats regardless of how many wins the player might still have enjoyed.

But disclaimers aside, brace yourself for some legendary footballers who have a surprising amount of heartbreak and heartache on their otherwise glittering resumés.


1. Javier Mascherano

Ok, sure, Mascherano might have an astonishing 20 major honours in his trophy cabinet, but his career couldn't be more demonstrative of Argentina's generation of frustration.

That's because the former Barcelona and Liverpool man has lost a whopping 11 finals in his career, including the 2014 World Cup final and no less than FOUR Copa America climaxes.


2. Patrice Evra

Again, Evra isn't exactly lacking in the trophy department, but he also holds the unwanted record of having lost more Champions League finals than any other player in history.

Evra first tasted defeat at AS Monaco in 2004, losing to Jose Mourinho's FC Porto, before three final losses to Barcelona with Manchester United in 2009 and 2011 and Juventus in 2015. 

Oh, and he also lost the 2016 European Championship final against Portugal on home soil.


3. Arjen Robben

Six final defeats - two in the Champions League, three Super Cups and the 2010 World Cup curtain-closer - means that Robben's decorated career hasn't been without heartbreak.

However, it's the individual moments that really sting for Robben: having that one-on-one effort saved by Iker Casillas and seeing his penalty thwarted by Petr Cech in Munich two years later.


4. Michael Ballack

Ballack's 2002 is the stuff of infamy: finishing second in the Bundesliga, losing the DFB Pokal and Champions League finals and suffering defeat in a World Cup final for which he was suspended.

And history repeated itself in 2008 when Ballack came up short in the Champions League final yet again, finished as runner-up in the Premier League and lost to Spain in the Euro 2008 final. Ouch.


5. Hector Cuper

The only manager on the list, but one with a gut-wrenching six defeats in finals on their record, including back-to-back losses in Champions League finals during his time with Valencia.

Throw in Copa del Rey, Cup Winners' Cup, African Cup of Nations and Greek Cup final defeats for good measure, as well as bottling the 2003 Serie A title race, and you really start to feel for Cuper.


6. Alessandro Del Piero

Of all Marca's selections, we're inclined to think this might be the cruellest because we can't get away from the fact that Del Piero won the Champions League and World Cup in his stellar career.

But the late 1990s and early 2000s marked a tough time for the Italian maestro, suffering defeats in three Champions League finals and being forced to settle for a silver medal at Euro 2000.


7. Lothar Matthaus

Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's stoppage-time goals in the 1999 Champions League final were a dagger to the heart for Matthaus in a career that had already been littered with heartache.

Besides, we are talking about a player who lost back-to-back World Cup finals in 1982 and 1986 as well as a crushing UEFA Cup final defeat against Eintracht Frankfurt to boot.


8. Gonzalo Higuain

Like Robben, it's the individual moments that make Higuain's track record all the more painful, missing key chances in the 2014 World Cup final and missing a penalty in the 2015 Copa America climax.

Combine that with runners-up medals in the 2016 Copa America final, 2017 Champions League climax and 2019 League Cup final and you'll quickly get an idea of why Higuain makes the list.


9. Gianluigi Buffon

At the end of the day, this comes down to the Champions League because 'Big Ears' has always been Buffon's kryptonite, suffering heartbreaking final defeats in 2003, 2015 and 2017.

Elsewhere, Buffon has also sampled defeat in the 2003 and 2020 Coppa Italia finals and even tasted an upset lost to Rennes in the French Cup final during his brief stint at Paris Saint-Germain.


10. Antony de Avila

'The Smurf' might have won nine league titles and played until he was 47 years old, but he found his nemesis in Copa Libertadores, losing an astonishing five finals across his career.

Losing to Penarol through a 120th-minute winner in the 1987 climax was the most gutting loss of all and one that was compounded by a defeat on penalties two years late at the very same stage.


The importance of losing

Well, there you have it, you really can be a winner and a loser at the same time...

But truth be told, that shouldn't really come as a surprise because those two poles of life and sport wouldn't exist without each other and countless athletes justly highlight the importance of failure.

Whether it's losing a Champions League or not passing your driving test, there can be nothing more valuable than failure if you take it as a lesson and learn from it moving forward.


Besides, you're by no means doing poorly if you're a 'loser' in the way that Maldini, Ballack, Evra, Del Piero, Buffon and Robben are 'losers', right?

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