How did these players never make it to the Champions League?
After hours of head-scratching and deliberation attempting to draw up the best Premier League XI to never play in European football’s premier competition, FourFourTwo has delivered its verdict.
With a trio of players boasting more than 100 top-flight goals, and the division’s most enduring goalkeeper, this is an impressive side made up of footballers who didn’t play even a single minute at the top continental level – not even in qualifying...
GK: Neville Southall
Odd-jobber, floor cleaner, binman – you name it, Southall probably did it before turning into one of the greatest British goalkeepers of all time.
The former Everton man remains the last keeper to win the Football Writers’ Player of the Year Award, and he was unlucky to be at his best while English clubs were banned from Europe post-Heysel.
He’s recently reinvented himself as an outspoken critic of Tory cuts on social media. When not retweeting animal charities and missing pets, that is.
RB: Stephen Carr
If we’re honest, this was a real problem position. When you’re sat at home in your pants vocally considering the relative qualities of Steve Watson or Aaron Hughes to line up on the right-hand side of your defence, you know something’s gone wrong. Not least with Mrs FFT.
Carr, though, was a pillar of Tottenham's team for 10 years before they got good; he then got a switch to Newcastle in 2004, just as they got bad. His middle name is Babeson. Settle down at the back.
CB: Gareth Southgate
The England manager is a lovely guy with the expression and manner of someone who should’ve been born in Welwyn Garden City, not burly Hertfordshire neighbour Watford.
Listen hard enough and you’ll be able to hear the former Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough stopper saying something nice about being delighted with his 32 UEFA Cup outings. Ironically, Southgate’s laconic style was well-suited to the European game.
CB: Paul McGrath
McGrath was the first man to be named PFA Players’ Player of the Year in 1992/93, but he hardly trained due to a knee problem so chronic that Alex Ferguson offered the Irishman a £100,000 retirement package three years earlier.
Instead, McGrath went to Aston Villa and ditched his notorious drinking habits to extend his career longer than anyone expected, but missed out on Manchester United’s Champions League exploits as a result.
LB: Leighton Baines
We could hardly believe it either. The left-back hasn’t even featured in a Champions League qualifier, despite the Toffees’ early-noughties flirtation with the cream of Europe.
One of the Premier League’s most consistent performers in both defence and attack, Baines could have joined David Moyes at Manchester United, and thus make his mark in European football, but he turned his former boss down. He’s friends with the Arctic Monkeys and Miles Kane, though, so it’s probably not all bad.
MF: Matt Le Tissier
If you’re at all like FFT, Le God would’ve been the first player who came to mind for this team. Partial to a sausage and egg McMuffin on the way to training, the exquisitely gifted playmaker passed the entirety of his 16-year professional career at Southampton, despite interest from bigger teams.
“Our whole household was obsessed with him,” Xavi told FourFourTwo in 2016. “Every week, without fail, we’d watch Premier League highlights and Le Tissier would be scoring outrageous, sickening goals.”
No Champions League football, but the boyhood hero of one of the competition’s greatest midfielders – Tiss will probably take that. He’s captain. Obviously.
MF: Darren Anderton
Rarely has a nickname been so inaccurately thought up as ‘Sicknote’. Anderton made more than 600 professional appearances in an 18-year career for Portsmouth, Tottenham and England.
It would have been more had he accepted Alex Ferguson’s efforts to bring him to Old Trafford the summer of 1995, given the prospect of Champions League football coming with it.
As it was, the wide midfielder was absent from the biggest stage of European football, with his prime coming when Spurs struggled for consistency. Criminally underrated.
MF: Clint Dempsey
There have been more natural players over the years in the Premier League, but not many have been as effective as the American who found the net 72 times in 275 games across all competitions for Fulham and Spurs.
A surprisingly good rapper given he’s A) a football player, and B) from Texas, the man nicknamed Deuce (in no way related to Rob Schneider’s male gigolo) reached the Europa League final for the former but missed out on the Champions League adventures at White Hart Lane.
FW: Paolo Di Canio
Yes, really. Not for Sheffield Wednesday, West Ham or Charlton (obviously), but also not for Celtic, Lazio, Milan or Juventus (almost impossibly). In fact, it’s almost as if he intentionally avoided the competition because of a distaste for bombastic theme tunes and star-speckled balls.
The Italian won the 1993 UEFA Cup, featuring as a substitute in both legs of Juve’s final victory over Borussia Dortmund, and the 1995 UEFA Super Cup with the Rossoneri, but a Champions League outing always eluded him.
FW: Ian Wright
After winning the 1997/98 league title for Arsenal, Wright was sold to West Ham and never added to appearances in the UEFA Cup, Super Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup, the latter won in 1994.
In the early years of the Premier League, the Englishman was one of the division’s most feared frontmen, but he also doubled as one of the greatest peddlers of Chicken Tonight in the sauce’s celebrated history.
Once wore some lens-less glasses on Match of the Day. Bold.
FW: Les Ferdinand
Sir Les – does anyone know where the honorary knighthood came from? – went through a number of phases as a striker during his Premier League career.
Lightning fast youngster at QPR, deadly battering ram at Newcastle, less deadly battering at Tottenham and creaking target man (with occasional moments of brilliance) at West Ham, Leicester and Bolton.
One UEFA Cup adventure at St James’ Park was the extent of Ferdinand’s European exploits; surprising given he sits ninth in the Prem’s all-time top goalscorer charts. "Hit Les!" (If you got that reference, well done… You’re old).
SUB: David James
The bench isn’t a familiar place for the Premier League’s fourth-highest appearance-maker, but James would provide ideal cover in the likely event that Big Nev stands as Labour MP for Knotty Ash.
UEFA Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup campaigns for Liverpool, Aston Villa and Portsmouth were as good as it got in European competition for Welwyn Garden City’s most famous product since Alesha Dixon. Or Lisa Snowdon.
SUB: Stan Collymore
While at university, FFT would spend more time than it cares to admit dictating sections of the chapter on dogging in Collymore’s 2004 autobiography Stan: Tackling My Demons to a Nottingham Forest-supporting friend.
Such elite exploits, however, never saw daylight in the Champions League, despite UEFA Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup outings for Aston Villa and Liverpool. Loves Russia.
SUB: Trevor Sinclair
Every team needs someone who can provide some spark from the bench and find the net with a 25-yard overhead kick.
Sinclair featured in the UEFA Cup for Manchester City and West Ham, but World Cup campaigns proved the extent of his international experience. Does anyone else think football needs more dreads these days?
SUB: Rory Delap
Bear with us. That long throw is a lethal weapon, and one the biggest what-ifs in football was that the sport’s most potent threat wasn't used against the cream of Europe.
There’s no better game-changer. The YouTube video of Delap’s throw-ins set to ' Need A Hero' by Bonnie Tyler is evidence of what might have been
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