Messi: We let Liverpool walk all over us
Lionel Messi admitted Barcelona let Liverpool "walk all over them" in their dramatic Champions League semi-final defeat. Should Barcelona get the better of Valencia in Saturday's Copa del Rey final, they will complete the domestic double for the second year in a row.
© Provided by Future Publishing Ltd. Cafu
Please note: This feature originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of FourFourTwo.
You were rejected by Corinthians, Palmeiras, Santos and Atletico Mineiro as a kid – why do you think they all failed to see your potential when Sao Paulo did?
Renan Santos Souza, via Facebook
Sao Paulo initially rejected me, too! Most coaches told me to come back the following week. I never gave up. I had to play for a small team called Itaquaquecetuba. Eventually, after I did well in a friendly against Sao Paulo, academy coach Carlinhos Neves spotted me. Today it's tougher for kids who don’t have a good agent. Those who do, play almost anywhere. Hard work was enough in my day.
Where are they now? Liverpool’s Champions League finalists of 2007
Where are they now? Liverpool’s Champions League finalists of 2007
Is it true you were a midfielder in your youth? If so, how did your switch to full-back come about? © Getty (Photo by Michael Regan - EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images)
Kian Gough, via email
I started as a winger. Then one day, Sao Paulo’s right-back, Ze Teodoro, got injured and our coach, Tele Santana, wanted me to play in that position for three games while he recovered. And that was that. I trusted Santana.
Despite our good relationship, I didn’t really enjoy being a full-back at first – I had to learn how to cross in a different way, and it took a while – but when Paulo Roberto Falcao called me into the Brazil squad in 1990, I knew Santana was right. Nothing meant more to me than playing for the Seleção.
I read that you were linked with a move to Real Madrid early in your career, but they signed your back-up at Sao Paulo, Vitor, instead. Did that irritate you? How different do you think your career would have been had you moved to Madrid at that stage?
Tottenham, Liverpool go for Euro glory
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© Provided by Future Publishing Ltd. Cafu: "It's true that Milan were celebrating at half-time against Liverpool in Istanbul"
Kingsley Irwin, Doncaster
Who knows how things could have worked out? It could have been even worse; maybe I wouldn’t be a world champion today if I had gone there at that time. Back then I was very upset, naturally. The Spanish came to talk to me, but then Sao Paulo’s chairman said he would have to resign if I left.
I was flattered to be seen as so important, but I did still want to go to Madrid. At the time, Sao Paulo were winning it all, nationally and internationally, but it was seen as more special to play for Real Madrid. It took some time for players in Brazil to think of Barcelona, Milan or Manchester United as a dream club. © Provided by Future Publishing Ltd. Cafu: "It's true that Milan were celebrating at half-time against Liverpool in Istanbul"
When you came on as a substitute in the first half of the 1994 World Cup Final, you hadn’t played much during the tournament, had you? Were you nervous? Did you have time to get your head around the situation?
Liverpool player ratings: Premier League 2018/19
Liverpool’s domestic season came to a close last weekend as they missed out on securing the Premier League title on Sunday. Although Jurgen Klopp’s side won their game, 2-0 against Wolves at Anfield, the matter was taken out of their hands as Manchester City won 4-1 against Brighton to clinch a second successive crown. Despite missing out of silverware, Liverpool finished second with 97 points – the highest total of any team not to win the title in the history of the Premier League.Klopp’s men, however, do still have a chance at winning something this season when they face Tottenham in the Champions League final at the start of next month.
Oli Watson, Roehampton
At first I didn’t realise how big it all was, but I was still nervous. When our coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, told me, “Jorginho is injured – warm up now”, my first reaction was: “Who, me?!” Then I took a breather and told him I was ready. I was waiting for that moment. I’d stayed with the Seleção for 45 days, working my ass off. I was probably pretty annoying in the training sessions; I ran as much as I could, trying to get noticed. I used to say that I couldn’t go into battle without loading my gun first. © Provided by Future Publishing Ltd. Cafu: "It's true that Milan were celebrating at half-time against Liverpool in Istanbul"
I also played against the USA under the midday heat in California, and in the last 10 minutes of our quarter-final against the Netherlands – at that stage it was still 2-2 [Brazil eventually won 3-2]. I was prepared. But a final is always special.
Were you glad not to have to take a penalty in the 1994 World Cup Final? How far down the order were you? Would you have taken a better penalty than Diana Ross?
Ed Marshall, Kent
I wasn’t ready to take a penalty at all – that was never a skill of mine! I was probably dead last in the order. Even Diana Ross was ahead of me in that one.
The title race preview: A month-by-month look at Liverpool and Man City's fixture lists
The 2019/2020 Premier League fixture list has been revealed and each of the 20 competing sides now knows when they’ll be facing each opponent. Whilst, ultimately, everybody plays everybody else twice, the timing of games can certainly play a factor in the season, especially for those battling for the title. As it stands, Liverpool and Manchester City look best placed to be in the title race again, but things might not exactly pan out that way. However, working on the basis that it’ll be Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola’s sides battling at the top of the table, we’ve taken a look at both club’s fixtures on a month-by-month basis to see who hold the advantage during each period.
Why did you last only half a season at Real Zaragoza? Did you ever wish you could have spent more time in Spanish football?
Bruno, via Twitter
For sure. They welcomed me in great fashion. My contract was for six months, with the option for two more years. In the middle of the season I had this injury in my pubis and that stopped me from playing. I was always on the bench. When I was offered a contract to go to a tiny club called Juventude, I took it. The coach in Spain said I should stay, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to help the team much. I was feeling terrible for being there without helping out on the pitch. © Provided by Future Publishing Ltd. Cafu: "It's true that Milan were celebrating at half-time against Liverpool in Istanbul"
Did you find it difficult to dislodge Zaragoza legend Alberto Belsue? Did the fact that he was a local hero make it tougher?
Mark Wormall, Fareham
It's tough to go to a new team, but I arrived as a World Cup winner, and I had just played in the final. I got along with Belsue. We used to have dinner together; we had a lot of fun. The respect was mutual, but the coach had the final decision. To be honest, maybe he sometimes had an advantage because he was the local hero, but in general the competition was very healthy.
Leaving Real Zaragoza for Juventude back in Brazil, then playing only a handful of games for them before leaving again for Palmeiras... how hectic was that period of your career?
This heavenly building served as both church and mosque
The Hagia Sophia rose in its present form around A.D. 537. After centuries as a Christian church, this masterpiece of Byzantine architecture was claimed by a conquering sultan, Mehmed II, as his imperial mosque in 1453. He ordered acres of its intricate mosaics simply plastered over to cover the prohibited figurative imagery. The mosque years also show themselves in the bold flowing lines of Arabic calligraphy on hanging roundels near the second level and in the beautiful marble mihrab, indicating the direction of Mecca. (Check out our guide to Istanbul.
Luana Martins Pinto, Sao Paulo
I couldn’t go straight to Palmeiras because of the terms of the deal between Zaragoza and Sao Paulo, who didn’t want me to come back to Brazil and play for their bitter rivals – Palmeiras had taken Sao Paulo’s place as Brazil’s winning machine. So the people at Parmalat, who were Palmeiras’ sponsors, told me I should go to one of the other teams they had links with first.
I chose Juventude because I needed to recover from my injury and going there meant I could do so closer to my home. People in Caxias do Sul, where Juventude are based, were just fantastic – I felt like a king. When I eventually arrived at Palmeiras, the adaptation was really quick. They didn’t see me as a former rival at all.
It's Europe's most prestigious and coveted trophy, and the yardstick by which greatness is measured. Since its inception in 1955, only 22 clubs have lifted the cup affectionately known as 'Big Ears'; Real Madrid reign supreme with 13 triumphs in their illustrious history.
But enough about teams. Which individuals have fired their outfits to glory most frequently? We take a look at the most prolific goalscorers in the history of the competition: featuring Dutch destroyers, Italian poachers, Ivorian talismen and more...
25. Ryan Giggs (28)
Giggs spent his entire professional career at Old Trafford, making a club-record 963 appearances for Manchester United between his debut in 1991 and his retirement in 2014. The winger-turned-midfielder played 145 times in the Champions League, with his 28 goals enough for him to squeeze into this list.
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Maltese authorities say they have rescued 216 migrants aboard two dinghies in distress in the Mediterranean Sea near Malta. The migrants were rescued Friday night by the Armed Forces of Malta and are being taken to Malta where they will be examined by doctors and given the chance to seek asylum. © Thomson Reuters Migrants sit on an Armed Forces of Malta patrol boat before disembarking at its base in Marsamxett Harbour, Valletta, Malta May 25, 2019. The Times of Malta newspaper reports that men, women and children were aboard the rubber boats.
Giggs got off the mark on the continental stage with a brace against IFK Göteborg in 1994/95, but United missed out on a place in the knockout phase on goal difference. His five goals in 1998/99 helped United lift the Champions League trophy alongside the Premier League and FA Cup, but he didn't find the net in the club's next triumphant campaign of 2007/08.
22= Roy Makaay (29)
The spearhead of the Deportivo La Coruna side that won the 1999/00 La Liga title, Makaay's 22 goals that year helped Javier Irureta's men beat Barcelona, Valencia and Real Zaragoza to the crown. He scored twice in Europe the following campaign to help Deportivo reach the quarter-finals, but only found the net once as the Spanish side reached the same stage in 2001/02.
Makaay exploded into life a season later, though, scoring nine times despite Deportivo's exit at the second group stage. His hat-trick against Bayern Munich persuaded the Bavarians to sign him in summer 2003; Makaay struck an impressive 17 goals in 32 Champions League matches for Bayern, although he again failed to advance beyond the last eight.
22= Patrick Kluivert (29)
Kluivert could hardly have asked for a better first season as a footballer: the striker broke into the Ajax first team in 1994/95, just in time to help them scoop an Eredivisie and Champions League double. Kluivert was the team's top scorer in the league that year, while he also scored the only goal of the game to beat Milan in the European showpiece.
The Dutchman scored nine Champions League goals during his three campaigns in Amsterdam, before later netting 20 for Barcelona between 1999 and 2004. Kluivert later helped PSV to the quarter-finals in his penultimate season as a professional, although he failed to score in any of his three European outings for the Eindhoven outfit.
Why Manchester United’s 1998/99 treble winners are still easily the best team in English club history
Why Manchester United’s 1998/99 treble winners are still easily the best team in English club history
22= David Trezeguet (29)
Trezeguet only played five games in Monaco's triumphant Ligue 1 campaign of 1996/97, but he became a first-team regular the following season, when his four goals helped the principality club into the semi-finals. He didn't feature in the tournament again until 2000/01, by which time the Frenchman had sealed a £21m transfer to Juventus.
Trezeguet represented the Bianconeri in eight editions of the Champions League, although he was never able to get his hands on the famous trophy - the closest he came was in 2003/04, when Juve lost the final to Milan on penalties. In total, the World Cup-winning frontman scored 25 times for the Italian side in Europe's foremost club competition.
19= Wayne Rooney (30)
Rooney is Manchester United and England’s record goalscorer, won five Premier League titles and lifted the Champions League trophy in 2008. Some question whether he should have achieved more in the game after making an astonishing breakthrough as a teenager, but it's difficult to quibble with 30 goals in Europe's foremost competition.
Rooney produced one of the best ever Champions League debuts, notching a hat-trick on his maiden outing against Fenerbahce in 2004. The England international never managed more than five goals in a season, but he did play in three finals as United beat Chelsea and lost twice to Pep Guardiola's brilliant Barcelona.
19= Kaka (30)
Given that he was an attacking midfielder rather than a centre-forward, Kaka’s haul of 30 goals in 86 Champions League appearances is extremely impressive. The Brazilian joined Milan when they were reigning European champions, and his first season in the competition in 2003/04 brought four strikes in 10 outings.
Kaka's best campaign for the Rossoneri came in 2006/07, when his 10 goals helped Milan lift the trophy for the seventh time in their history. Injuries limited his effectiveness during a four-season spell at Real Madrid, with the ex-Sao Paulo man scoring only five times in 24 continental clashes.
19= Samuel Eto’o (30)
The Cameroon striker became the first player to complete a European treble twice (with Barcelona and Inter), the second to score in two Champions League finals and the fourth to win the trophy in successive years with different teams.
Eto’o joined Barcelona in 2004 but it was in the 2005/06 season that he made his mark in the Champions League, scoring six goals en route to the Catalans' second crown. He scored 10 times in the tournament for Inter, including two in the triumphant 2009/10 season, and also netted Champions League goals for Mallorca and Chelsea.
18. Arjen Robben (31)
Robben leaves Bayern Munich this summer after 10 years of exemplary service, and as one of the 20 highest scorers in the competition since 1992: the Dutchman has struck 26 goals for Bayern, one for Real Madrid, two for Chelsea and two for PSV.
Robben's most significant came in the 2013 final at Wembley, when he was responsible for the match-winning effort in Bayern’s 2-1 defeat of German rivals Borussia Dortmund.
17. Neymar (32)
A much-maligned figure who divides opinion like few others players in today’s game, it’s debatable whether Neymar has fulfilled his considerable early promise. It’s hard to argue with his return of 60 goals in 96 games for Brazil, however; so too a record of 32 in 53 matches in the Champions League.
Ten of those strikes came in Barcelona’s triumphant campaign of 2014/15, with Neymar scoring the third in a 3-1 victory over Juventus in the final. His goals-per-game record at PSG is superb, with the 27-year-old having netted 11 times in just 13 appearances.
16. Fernando Morientes (33)
Serial winner Morientes was part of Real Madrid's victorious teams of 1998, 2000 and 2002. His best individual season in the competition came in that middle year, the Spaniard netting six times as Los Blancos saw off Dynamo Kiev, Rosenborg, Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Valencia.
Morientes memorably helped to knock out Madrid while on loan at Monaco in 2003/04, notching in both legs of the sides' quarter-final clash before going on to finish as the competition's top scorer. He also struck Champions League goals for Liverpool and Valencia.
15. Edinson Cavani (34)
Although he has a reputation for being somewhat unreliable in front of goal, Cavani’s record of 34 Champions League strikes in 57 games isn’t to be sniffed at. The Uruguayan scored five times in the 2011/12 edition – his only season in the competition with Napoli – before making the net bulge on four occasions in his maiden European campaign with PSG.
He’s since added another 25 goals to that tally, putting him 14th in the all-time rankings. His best scoring season in the tournament came in 2017/18, but Cavani’s seven goals weren’t enough to help PSG into the quarter-finals.
14. Sergio Aguero (37)
Aguero scored his first Champions League goals at the age of 19, as Atletico Madrid won 3-0 at PSV. He's since scored in 11 consecutive campaigns, with the majority of his goals coming for current club Manchester City.
The Argentine bagged six goals in five group games as City qualified for the knockout phase for the first time in 2013/14, and the following year hit a hat-trick in a coming-of-age 3-2 victory over Bayern Munich. Aguero will no doubt be key to his side's challenge next term, when City will aim to translate their domestic dominance to the continental stage.
12= Thomas Muller (42)
Muller made his Champions League debut in March 2009, finding the net as Bayern Munich recorded a 12-1 aggregate victory over Sporting. The Bavarians reached the final the following season but Muller missed a huge chance against Jose Mourinho's Inter, who ultimately won 2-0.
In 2012, the German looked to have scored a winner in the final when he headed home off the crossbar with just seven minutes remaining against Chelsea, but Didier Drobga equalised and Bayern went on to lose the penalty shootout. He and Bayern went one better the following year, Muller scoring eight times as Jupp Heynckes' men lifted the trophy. He's still the right side of 30.
12= Alessandro Del Piero (42)
Del Piero scored six in the 1995/96 Champions League as Juventus lifted the trophy, beating Louis van Gaal’s Ajax in the Rome final. He netted in the 1997 final too, but his goal wasn't enough to prevent Borussia Dortmund winning a maiden European Cup.
In 1998, Del Piero finished as the Champions League's top scorer with 10 goals - including a hat-trick in the semis against Monaco - as Juventus reached a third consecutive final. He and the Bianconeri made it that far once again in 2003, but despite converting his penalty in the shootout against Milan, Del Piero was on the losing side for a third time.
11. Didier Drogba (44)
Drogba scored five Champions League goals in his one season at Marseille before joining Chelsea for £24m. He repeated that tally in his first season at Stamford Bridge, but only managed to score once in 2005/06.
The Ivorian later netted Chelsea’s first European hat-trick in 19 years in their 3-1 win against Levski Sofia the following season, and although he was sent off for slapping Nemanja Vidic in the 2008 final, he made amends by scoring the equaliser and winning penalty against Bayern Munich in the 2012 showpiece.
10. Filippo Inzaghi (46)
Inzaghi twice won the Champions League with Milan but initially made his name with Juventus, where he became the first player to score two hat-tricks in the competition. After an injury-hit first year at San Siro, the poacher bagged another Champions League hat-trick the following season against Deportivo La Coruna as Milan reached the final, where they beat Juventus on penalties
The World Cup winner’s standout moment came in 2007 when he scored both of Milan’s goals in a 2-1 victory over Liverpool in the final in Athens; Inzaghi turned in Andrea Pirlo’s free-kick just before half-time and rounded Pepe Reina for his second late on.
8= Zlatan Ibrahimovic (48)
Ibrahimovic scored both goals on his Champions League debut in the 2002/03 season as Ajax beat Lyon in the group stage. Despite that promising start to life in Europe’s premier club competition, the Swede failed to make his mark on the tournament at either Juventus or Inter and, despite being one of the most decorated players in the modern game, has never won the competition.
Ibrahimovic joined Barcelona in 2009 but his relationship with Pep Guardiola turned sour and he was shipped back to Italy, joining Milan. He scored against Barça in 2011/12 and did the same after joining PSG the following summer, while 10 goals in 2013/14 represented his best ever campaign in the competition.
8= Andriy Shevchenko (48)
Shevchenko broke onto the Champions League scene with a first-half hat-trick at the Camp Nou as Dynamo Kiev swept Barcelona away 4-0 in 1997/98. He top-scored the following season with eight goals as Dynamo made the semi-finals, where they were beaten by Bayern Munich.
Shevchenko signed for Milan that summer and scored their winning penalty in the shootout against Juventus in 2003, securing the club's sixth European crown in what was his finest moment in the Champions League. The Ukrainian went from ecstasy to agony two years later, though, this time missing a pivotal penalty in the final against Liverpool, while we was once again a runner-up with Chelsea in 2008.
7. Thierry Henry (50)
Henry helped Monaco reach the semi-finals of the Champions League in 1997/98, scoring seven goals in nine appearances to earn a move to Juventus. He struggled to settle with the Italian giants, though, and was reunited with Arsene Wenger at Arsenal after just half a season in Turin.
Henry became Arsenal’s record goalscorer in October 2005 with a double against Sparta Prague; the Gunners reached the final that season and Henry netted five goals, including a wonderful solo effort against Real Madrid. He eventually won the competition at Barcelona in 2009, contributing six strikes in 12 outings.
6. Robert Lewandowski (53)
Lewandowski came to the fore in 2012/13, scoring 10 goals in 13 matches for Borussia Dortmund – including their crucial 87th-minute winner against Ajax in the opening group game. He then became the first player to score four goals in a Champions League semi-final as Dortmund edged out Real Madrid 4-3 on aggregate, but Jurgen Klopp's side lost out to Bayern Munich in the Wembley final.
Lewandowski joined the Bavarians in 2014 and has subsequently won four Bundesliga titles, but the Champions League has hitherto proved elusive. Not that the Pole hasn't done his bit: 53 goals in 80 games means only five players have outscored him in the tournament since 1992.
5. Ruud van Nistelrooy (56)
Despite his prolific record in the Champions League, which included three top-scoring seasons, Van Nistelrooy never won Europe's biggest prize. He notched five goals for PSV in the 1998/99 group stage, including a hat-trick against HJK Helsinki in November 1998, before moving to Manchester United in summer 2001.
His first season at Old Trafford brought 10 Champions League goals as United reached the last four, with the Dutchman then netting 12 the following season despite the fact that Alex Ferguson's men were eliminated a round earlier. His scoring rate remained impressive at Real Madrid, Van Nistelrooy striking 13 times in 19 European assignments.
4. Karim Benzema (60)
Benzema has won the Champions League on four occasions and is the competition's third-highest scorer among active players. He made his name in the tournament with Lyon, bagging his first professional goal in the final group game of 2005/06, before swapping Ligue 1 for La Liga and Real Madrid in 2009
The Frenchman's first hat-trick for the Spanish giants came in a 4-0 group stage victory over Auxerre in 2010, while he found the net seven times in 2012/13 as Madrid reached the semi-finals. During Los Blancos' four victorious seasons, the oft-maligned Benzema contributed 21 goals.
3. Raul (71)
Raul won three Champions League titles and top-scored twice in the competition for a Real Madrid side at the height of their Galactico era. He was the first player to score in two Champions League (as opposed to European Cup) finals and reached the 50-goal mark in the competition before anyone else.
Raul played for hometown club Madrid for 18 years before joining Schalke in 2010, where he continued finding the net in Europe’s premier club competition, adding five more to the 66 he scored for the Spanish giants.
2. Lionel Messi (112)
On Messi's Champions League debut, Barcelona lost to Shakhtar Donetsk. But since that ignominious beginning, the Argentine has plundered 112 goals in 135 Champions League games, lifted the trophy four times and scored in two finals.
It wasn’t until 2007/08 that the Flea started to shine in continental competition, his six goals helping Barça to the semi-finals, where they lost to Manchester United. They had their revenge the following season, with Messi scoring in the final – his ninth strike that season – to beat Alex Ferguson's side 2-0. He scored four against Arsenal in 2010 and five against Bayer Leverkusen in 2012, while his brace against Chelsea in 2017/18 made him only the second man to pass the 100 mark.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo (126)
Messi and Ronaldo were neck-and-neck for many years but Ronaldo has started to pull away from his long-term rival, coinciding with Real Madrid’s recent success in the competition. The Portuguese's first goals in the tournament came in March 2007 as Manchester United hammered Roma 7-1, and he scored in the final the following season as the Red Devils beat Chelsea on penalties.
Ronaldo has dominated the Champions League since his 2009 move to the competition's most successful club, scoring a record 17 goals in 2013/14 and becoming the tournament’s all-time top scorer in 2015. The Juventus frontman is now seeking to become only the second player (after Clarence Seedorf) to win the Champions League with three different clubs.
Gallery: Ranked! The 25 top goalscorers in Champions League history [FourFourTwo]
What happened on the night before the 1998 World Cup Final in Paris? And how distracted were the team because of it?
Suzanne, via email
Ronaldo had a seizure and I was one of the first to arrive in his room. I saw Cesar Sampaio pulling his tongue out from his throat, Roberto Carlos looking desperate right next to him… it was a horrible scene that was obviously still on our minds the next day. We all thought he shouldn’t play, but the doctor disagreed. I am no doctor.
Ronaldo came into the dressing room and told [coach Mario] Zagallo that he was fine and willing to play. We were stunned, but how could we say no to the best player in the world? Maybe it would have been better with Edmundo – he was also in great shape and we wouldn’t have been so worried or distracted. But France deserved to win. They played superbly against us. © Provided by Future Publishing Ltd. Cafu: "It's true that Milan were celebrating at half-time against Liverpool in Istanbul"
Who was better: Ronaldo or Romario?
Carla Almeida Barbosa, via Facebook
These are two geniuses and two world champions. Romario got my attention because of his quickness of thought in the penalty box. Once you pause to think, he's already ahead of you. I suffered a lot playing against him; I was afraid to hit him too hard and give trouble to the whole team.
With Ronaldo it was different because I was already a starter for Brazil – I didn’t have to play against him so much. But he was just as special as Romario.
What was it like to play under the famously attack-minded coach Zdenek Zeman at Roma? Did you ever do any defensive drills at all, or was it all about going forward? © Getty Credit: David Cannon/ALLSPORT
Aziz, via Twitter
Man, those were some wacky training sessions! But it was perfect for players who liked a tough physical workout, and I was always one of those. I was never better than when it came to physical preparation. We did do some defensive drills, but tactically they were shocking; our offside trap was set almost in the middle of the pitch. It was suicide! Zeman didn’t care and wanted us to play like that in league matches.
During training we told him we wanted to change things; we asked nicely, of course – he was the boss. We explained that the defence would be hugely exposed. That attitude made us score four, five goals in each match, but generally we’d also concede two or three despite having great defenders. The better teams knew exactly how to exploit that, but Zeman couldn’t care less – even if we were up against Juventus, Milan or Inter, he just wanted us to bomb forward.
Just how great was the Roma team that won the Italian league title in 2001? Should they have won more trophies?
Viviano Rossi, via Facebook
That team definitely deserved much more. From the early rounds of matches, we knew the 18-year title drought would end. We hammered Juventus, Milan and Inter, and beat Lazio so many times I can’t even remember. There were so many broken records. It’s hard to know why we couldn’t be as strong in the seasons that followed, but we still managed to be runners-up in 2002 and finish third in 2003. We were fighting against giants, too. The league in that era was very, very strong. © Provided by Future Publishing Ltd. Cafu: "It's true that Milan were celebrating at half-time against Liverpool in Istanbul"
During your time at Roma you earned the nickname Il Pendolino (‘The Express Train’). When was the last time you caught a train?
Harvey Macauley, Leicester
It was exactly two years ago, when I travelled from Milan to Rome! That nickname was fair; I was very fit in those days. I could probably run as fast as the train. Almost!
What happened when you were stripped of the Brazil captaincy before the 2002 World Cup? Were you relieved when Vanderlei Luxemburgo left and you were reinstated?
Sam Bath, via Twitter
It actually happened after Luiz Felipe Scolari arrived. I was the captain in every match of the World Cup qualifiers until Scolari took over and gave the armband to Emerson – a great player who he knew well since their days at Gremio. Scolari came to me to explain and I said it was fine; that all I wanted was to be a world champion again. He didn’t expect to hear that, and we became friends.
During every training session he would come to me and ask my opinion. We shared a lot of ideas. And then, shortly before the World Cup, Emerson got injured and the captaincy was given back to me. It was very natural. I asked Scolari not to drop Emerson – we wanted him with the group. But I lost that one; he brought Ricardinho in. It was just like a family. We discussed days off, schedules. He was very friendly off the pitch and very demanding on the pitch.
When you decided to climb on the podium to lift the 2002 World Cup, did you worry about falling off? It looked pretty precarious. That could have been embarrassing… © Getty (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)
Naomi James, via email
For sure! It was made of glass and I was wearing my boots. It could have cracked at any moment! But I was just blind – I told Sepp Blatter and Pele to hold me up there because I was a world champion. When I felt it was steady enough, all I could think of was lifting that trophy as high as I could. It was the best moment of my life.
Which World Cup victory felt better: 1994 in the USA or 2002 in South Korea and Japan?
Matt Abbott, via Twitter
No contest – 2002. In the first I was led, but in the second I was leading. To be the captain – to be responsible for so many different things happening at so many different times – makes a big difference.
How close were you to moving to Japan before joining Milan?
Luigi Mazzanti, Rome
I was definitely going to Yokohama. I was 32 years old and thinking of the future – I was interested in one last big contract. I had a pre-contract with them and they had already sent me part of the money.
But then Milan told me they wanted me, 15 days before my presentation in Japan was due to take place. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I’d refused a club like Milan. I called Yokohama, explained what had happened and asked how I could send that money back. They were very understanding; they even sent me a letter to thank me for reimbursing them. I told them that Milan would pay me less money, but that the experience is unparalleled.
I expected to play for a couple of years – it ended up being five. Most people said when I arrived that I was going to play 10 matches per season; after all, they’d just won the 2003 Champions League – they were a great side. But during pre-season I was like a rocket. I didn’t go to Milan for a stroll; if I wanted to enjoy myself I would go to Japan. I stayed in the team for three-and-a-half years. When I wanted to rest, Carlo Ancelotti would say: “Nooo, Marcooo.” © Provided by Future Publishing Ltd. Cafu: "It's true that Milan were celebrating at half-time against Liverpool in Istanbul"
What was the situation with you being accused of having a forged Italian passport? Was that the most difficult situation you faced in your career?
Ben Wilkinson, via Facebook
Not at all – I knew it was just because of one small detail. There was a typo in my passport. My surname was wrong. Italian Justice had some issues with Roma president Franco Sensi. Because Sensi had the passport made, this little mess appeared. I went to court, explained myself to the judge for five hours, and a week later they dismissed the case.
Is it true that a lot of the Milan players were celebrating ‘victory’ at half-time in the 2005 Champions League Final?
Louis Walmsley, via Twitter
It's true, yes. We scored three great goals against a Liverpool team that was one of the most tactically aware sides I have ever faced – we thought it was our day, and we relaxed. When they scored the first two, we felt the impact. When they netted the third we just couldn’t believe it.
It wasn’t Milan’s fault; Liverpool deserved that comeback. I have big admiration for Liverpool: maybe another team wouldn’t show so much character to get level after trailing 3-0 at half-time. Actually I realised it was all lost even before the penalty shootout started, when [Andriy] Shevchenko missed that clear opportunity right in front of [Jerzy] Dudek during extra time.
How much did revenge for Istanbul in 2005 play a part in the 2007 Champions League victory over Liverpool in Athens? © Getty (Photo by Newpress/Getty Images)
Ross Grosvenor, via Twitter
We didn’t play thinking of revenge at all. It was a very experienced team. I was 36, [Paolo] Maldini 38, [Alessandro] Costacurta 41 and Serginho 35. We knew it was our last chance to win that trophy, but we were very calm. Not many teams could play with that tranquility.
After Pippo [Inzaghi] scored with [Andrea] Pirlo’s assist, I knew this time it was ours: in the 2005 final that kind of opportunity would definitely have been squandered.
What was it like working for owner Silvio Berlusconi at Milan? When was the angriest he ever got? Or did he invite you and the Rossoneri squad to some of his parties?
Paolo Lombardi, via email
I went to one of his parties, but it was in a restaurant. He's such a character. I used to call him ‘the doctor’. He loves Brazilian players and we got along very well. He really embraced my family and me; he even wanted me to start a special academy for full-backs at Milanello. His private business is his private business. With us he was like a daddy. He knows a lot of football and had suggestions, but was never invasive. He knew how to behave.
Of all the fantastic players you played with for the Brazilian national team, which one was your favourite?
Danny Kay, via Twitter
Rivaldo. He did amazing things in 1998 and in 2002. He’s so shy, he has no idea of how fantastic he was. When I heard Rivaldo was fit before any match, I knew that was a big step towards Brazil being able to beat anyone.
© Getty (Photo by liewig christian/Corbis via Getty Images)
Is there any player you wish you could have played with but didn’t get the chance?
Kay Finlay, Ayr
Zinedine Zidane and Diego Maradona. I did get to play with Pele in a friendly in 1990, so that’s pretty substantial compensation! There's nothing like playing with the biggest icon in our sport. I was shaking. Pele was always very generous with me.
Is it really true that you’re a fan of Liverpool’s Jon Flanagan? Are there any other English players you like the look of?
Cheekyric, via Twitter
Sure! I paid him a visit not long ago; we had lunch and took some pictures together. He's very fit and has everything required to be one of the best full-backs in the world. The English players that I like the most are those from my generation. I am a big fan of Frank Lampard – his movement is so elegant. Steven Gerrard is also a great example of character for me.
© Getty (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)
Did you ever consider playing in England during your career? Did you get a concrete offer from a Premier League side?
‘Venky32’, via Twitter
I never did. It would have been great to play in England. I would have loved to play for Liverpool, Manchester United or Chelsea.
Were you surprised to be chucked out of the Brazil dressing room last year after going in to offer consolations following the 7-1 defeat to Germany? It seemed a bit harsh!
Michael Raynor, via Facebook
The only memory from that day is the shock of that defeat. It's incomprehensible. Brazil were tactically pathetic, and Germany were tactically perfect. They took advantage of our mistakes and didn’t waste a single chance. We have a lot to learn from them – they are much more disciplined than us. But it was a match in which one team didn’t get anything right and the other got everything right. I’d never seen anything like it and I don’t think we will see another game like that any time soon.
© Getty (Photo by Phil Noble - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
What do you make of the current Brazil national team? Do you think Neymar makes a good Seleção captain?
Conor Riggs, via Twitter
Brazil have what it takes to be great again in 2018. Most of the team are young, but they already have plenty of experience. The shocking defeat in the World Cup has made us more aware that we need to improve tactically, and those players have it in them to do that. They are surely on the rise.
However, I’m actually against Neymar being captain. He doesn’t have the profile of a leader. We need to take responsibility off him. We have to let him enjoy himself. He doesn’t have to talk to the referee, to be the middleman between players and the coach. That's what a captain's for. He's the biggest icon in Brazilian football in 10 years, but for now he has to play, not lead.
How long will your record of being the most capped Brazil player (142 games) stand?
Paulo Oliveira Rocha, via Facebook
It will take a while, but Neymar can get there eventually – he has three more World Cups ahead of him yet. What won’t happen quite so soon is anyone playing in three consecutive World Cup finals – that one's mine! I’m just kidding. If that does happen then I'll be there to celebrate.
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Related: The 25 best players never to win the Champions League [FourFourTwo]
Champions League non-winners
The World Cup may still be the most popular event on the footballing calendar, but it has long since been surpassed in terms of quality and entertainment by the Champions League.
This, increasingly, is the competition that footballers want to win most – but plenty of top-class players have failed to fulfil that objective...
25. Michael Owen
Given the way in which his career fizzled out at Newcastle, Manchester United and Stoke, it's easy to forget just how good Owen was in his pomp - which came much earlier than most footballers. The former England international was at his devastating best between the ages of 18 and 25, winning the Ballon d'Or in 2001 after helping Liverpool to a treble of UEFA Cup, FA Cup and League Cup.
The Champions League proved elusive for the Reds during that period, though, and Owen was also unable to triumph on the biggest stage of all during a single-season stay at Real Madrid. He was part of United's matchday squad for the 2011 final against Barcelona - much to the dismay of Dimitar Berbatov, who missed out - but was an unused substitute in a 3-1 defeat.
24. Sol Campbell
Campbell was unfortunate to ply his trade in the same era as Rio Ferdinand and John Terry; had his career not coincided with that pair, he would surely have even more than 73 caps in his possession. At club level, too, the centre-back arguably deserved more than just two Premier League titles and a Champions League runners-up medal.
The closest Campbell came to continental glory was in 2006, when he gave 10-man Arsenal the lead in the final against Barcelona. The Catalans' superior quality and man advantage - Jens Lehmann was sent off in the 18th minute - ultimately told, though, and the former Tottenham stopper moved on to Portsmouth a few weeks later.
23. Laurent Blanc
A key part of the France side that triumphed at the 1998 World Cup on home soil and the European Championship two years later, Blanc won league titles with Auxerre and Manchester United, domestic cups with Montpellier and Barcelona, and the Cup Winners’ Cup with the Catalan giants.
He was, however, unable to claim the Champions League title with any of his nine employers – a set of clubs which also included Napoli, Marseille and Inter. Blanc was later sacked as Paris Saint-Germain manager because of his inability to take them to the next level in Europe.
22. Phillip Cocu
The current PSV manager made 79 appearances in the competition, initially with the Dutch side and then during his six-year spell with Barcelona.
Cocu left the Camp Nou just before Barça's recent European dominance, however, with the Blaugrana winning the first of their four trophies in the 21st century two years after his 2004 departure. The midfielder won five league titles during his playing days, but the Champions League eluded him.
21. Robert Pires
When Jens Lehmann was shown a red card just 18 minutes into the 2006 Champions League final between Arsenal and Barcelona, Pires was the unfortunate casualty forced to make way for substitute goalkeeper Manuel Almunia. Arsene Wenger’s side took the lead despite their numerical advantage, but two second-half goals turned the game on its head and sent the trophy back to the Camp Nou.
That was the closest Pires came to winning the tournament, with his four pre-Arsenal years at Villarreal yielding a single quarter-final appearance in 2008/09 – in which the Yellow Submarine were downed by the Gunners.
20. Alexis Sanchez
Sanchez’s decision to swap Arsenal for Manchester United in 2018 made sense at the time, but it's fair to say his move to Old Trafford has been rather disastrous. Still, the Chilean was a brilliant player in his peak, as he demonstrated after joining Arsenal in 2014 - a year before former club Barcelona lifted the trophy.
The Blaugrana suffered elimination in the semi-finals in two of his three seasons at the Camp Nou; at the Emirates, meanwhile, Sanchez never made it beyond the round of 16, while he and United were eliminated at the quarter-final stage by Valencia last season and Barcelona this.
19. George Weah
The top scorer in the 1994/95 Champions League with seven goals, Weah was unable to stop his Paris Saint-Germain team losing the semi-final 3-0 on aggregate to AC Milan. The Rossoneri were clearly impressed with what they saw, though, snapping up the Liberian that summer.
Unfortunately for the striker, his time in Milan came in the hiatus between their two main eras of European dominance: triumphing in 1989, 1990 and 1994, and then again in 2003 and 2007, the seven-time winners missed out on the continental crown during Weah’s five goal-strewn years at San Siro.
18. Alan Shearer
Manchester United twice failed to sign Shearer, who instead chose Blackburn in 1992 and boyhood club Newcastle four years later. Had he opted to join Alex Ferguson's side, there's a good chance the ex-England international would have helped United win more than one Champions League before his retirement in 2006.
Shearer was unable to prevent Blackburn crashing out in the group phase in 1995/96, his final season at the club. And while Newcastle fans would welcome any sort of appearance in the Champions League these days, they didn't make it into the knockout rounds while Shearer was still spearheading their attack.
17. Cesc Fabregas
Cesc Fabregas must have thought he was certain to win a Champions League when he returned to Barcelona. Having beaten his Arsenal team in the 2006 final, the Catalans won it again in 2009 and 2011, the summer in which Fabregas moved back to his boyhood club.
However, in his three seasons at the Camp Nou, Barcelona were beaten in two semi-finals and a quarter-final. Fabregas returned to London in summer 2014, after which Barcelona promptly won the Champions League again. He was also unable to triumph on the continent during his time at Chelsea, and Monaco? Well, the less said, the better right now.
16. Gabriel Batistuta
Batistuta would probably have had a better chance of winning the Champions League had he left Fiorentina earlier than the year 2000, by which time he was 31. But the Argentine remained loyal to La Viola despite the fact they only participated in Europe’s foremost competition once during his time at the club.
When he finally left Florence, Batigol spent three campaigns at Roma, winning the Scudetto alongside fellow forwards Francesco Totti and Vincenzo Montella in 2000/01. He played in the Champions League in each of the following two seasons, but the capital club failed to make it beyond the second group stage on either occasion.
15. Giorgio Chiellini
Only four players have made more appearances for Juventus than Chiellini, who could move above Giuseppe Furino and Gaetano Scirea and into third place next season. The veteran defender will also hope to get his hands on the Champions League in 2019/20, a piece of silverware which has eluded him throughout a 14-year stay in Turin.
The Italian has participated in two finals since joining Juve from Livorno, but the Italians were soundly beaten by Barcelona (3-1 in 2015) and Real Madrid (4-1 in 2017). Chiellini will hope that Cristiano Ronaldo can fire the Bianconeri to glory next term, although the Portuguese was powerless to prevent Ajax overcoming the Serie A champions in this season's quarter-final.
14. Hernan Crespo
Argentina’s third-highest goalscorer of all time, Crespo played for some of Europe's best clubs and even netted two goals in a Champions League final.
Unfortunately for the striker that brace came in 2005, when Liverpool famously came back from 3-0 down to beat Milan on penalties. The Rossoneri won it two years later, but by then luckless loanee Crespo was at city rivals Inter – who also clinched the Champions League... the year after the Argentine had departed. Right man, right places, wrong time.
13. Eric Cantona
The catalyst behind much of Manchester United's success in the 1990s, Cantona had hung up his boots by the time Alex Ferguson finally got his hands on the trophy in 1999. The Frenchman had only just turned 33 when United beat Bayern Munich at the Camp Nou, and it's curious to wonder whether the Red Devils would still have triumphed in Europe with Cantona in their squad.
Despite his brilliance in the Premier League, the engimatic attacker largely struggled to translate his domestic form to the continental stage. He scored twice in four games in 1993/94 but then failed to find the net the following campaign, before striking three times in 10 matches as United reached the semi-finals in 1996/97, his final season as a player.
12. Ruud van Nistelrooy
With 56 Champions League goals to his name, Van Nistelrooy is the highest-scoring player never to have won the tournament. To make matters worse, the Dutchman has been top scorer in the tournament on three different occasions.
The striker joined Manchester United two years after their historic 1999 treble and left two seasons before their next European win. He also failed to achieve any continental glory during his four years with Real Madrid; like Manchester United, they won it two summers after his departure.
A veritable goal machine at domestic level, Van Nistelrooy won five titles in nine seasons across three countries, but perhaps the continental stage demanded a striker with different abilities.
11. Pavel Nedved
Nedved was part of a team that reached the Champions League final, but Juventus were edged out by Milan in an all-Italian clash in 2003.
The Czech Republic international played no part in the dour Old Trafford showpiece, though, as suspension prevented him from appearing. That was the closest he ever came to winning the tournament, having also represented Sparta Prague and Lazio in Europe’s premier competition earlier in his career.
10. Patrick Vieira
Impressive from an early age, Vieira turned out 76 times in the Champions League, for three different clubs in Arsenal, Juventus and Inter.
The former France international failed to pick up a winner’s medal, though, leaving the Gunners 12 months before they reached the 2006 final and then departing the January before Inter won it in 2010.
9. Lilian Thuram
Like Nedved, Thuram was also a runner-up in 2003, although the Frenchman did actually play for Juve in that game. The right-back did his own job well, keeping Milan at bay for 120 minutes in a 0-0 draw, but the Old Lady lost on penalties thanks to shootout flubs from David Trezeguet, Marcelo Zalayeta and Paolo Montero.
Thuram was also a member of the Parma team which lifted the UEFA Cup in 1999, later joining Barcelona shortly after they won the Champions League in 2006.
8. Michael Ballack
Finishing runner-up with one team is bad enough, but to do it with two must be galling. That's exactly the fate which befell Ballack: first in 2002 with Bayer Leverkusen, then six years later with Chelsea.
The midfielder was on the wrong side of one of the competition's greatest ever goals in his first final defeat, as Zinedine Zidane converted with a magnificent volley; in 2008 he was forced to watch on as John Terry and Nicolas Anelka's fluffed spot-kicks handed the trophy to Manchester United. The German at least scored his own penalty that night.
7. Fabio Cannavaro
One of the all-time greats for Italy, Cannavaro won the 2006 Ballon d'Or and amassed a haul of 138 international caps, second only to another name on this list. At barely 5ft 10in, he's also a standard riposte to anyone who insists that a centre-back needs to be tall enough to threaten the average door-frame.
Yet despite playing for Parma during the peak of their European powers in the late 1990s, and subsequently Inter, Juventus and Real Madrid, a Champions League medal is missing from the World Cup winner's collection.
6. Roberto Baggio
For a player with so much talent, it's slightly surprising that Baggio won only four major trophies in his career: Serie A with both Juventus and Milan, as well as a UEFA Cup and Coppa Italia with the former.
The Italian, who also represented Vicenza, Bologna, Inter and Brescia in his career, made his Champions League debut for Milan in 1996/97, and reached the quarter-finals with their city rivals two years later.
5. Francesco Totti
A one-club man who made 786 appearances for his boyhood side, Totti made his Roma debut in March 1993, before Harry Kane was born. In October 2014, he became the oldest goalscorer in Champions League history when he bagged against CSKA Moscow at the age of 38 years and 59 days.
The World Cup winner made his debut in the competition in 2001/02 but didn’t take part in a knockout tie until 2006/07, the season in which Roma were thrashed 8-3 on aggregate by Manchester United in the quarter-finals. The Giallorossi also reached the last eight the following year, but Totti never made it beyond that stage in the Champions League.
4. Dennis Bergkamp
The final Arsenal game before Bergkamp’s retirement was the 2006 Champions League final, when the Dutchman was an unused substitute in the Gunners’ defeat by Barcelona. He was also part of the Arsenal side that reached the last eight in 2003/04, when Chelsea ran out 3-2 winners on aggregate in a London derby.
By that stage Bergkamp had already tasted success on the European stage at both Ajax and Inter, with whom he won the UEFA Cup in 1992 and 1994 respectively. Yet the continent’s biggest prize proved elusive for a player who frequently sat out Champions League away games due to his fear of flying.
3. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
The Swede holds the unwanted record of making the most Champions League appearances (124) without ever lifting the trophy. Now 37 years old and in MLS with LA Galaxy, Ibrahimovic has run out of time to get his hands on Europe’s biggest prize.
He's therefore another nearly man: he left Inter a year before they won it in 2010, before doing exactly the same thing at Barcelona the following summer. He also represented Ajax, Juventus, Milan and PSG to no avail.
2. Gianluigi Buffon
Signed from Parma for a world-record fee for a goalkeeper in 2001, Buffon is second only to Alessandro Del Piero in Juventus' all-time appearance list.
The goalkeeper was on the wrong end of three final defeats with the Turin-based giants, making two penalty shoot-out saves in 2003 and then watching Barcelona run out 3-1 winners in 2015 and Real Madrid triumph two years later. Now at PSG, next season could be his final chance to remove his name from this list.
His namesake Cristiano has five winner's medals to his name, but Brazilian great Ronaldo never won the Champions League despite playing for some of the most illustrious clubs in Europe.
PSV, Inter, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Milan are among the forward's former teams, but the man who was named the best player in the world in 1997 and 2002 was never able to scoop European club football's top prize. What’s more, he never even played in a Champions League final. But he's still Ronaldo.
Why Manchester United’s 1998/99 treble winners are still easily the best team in English club history.
Why Manchester United’s 1998/99 treble winners are still easily the best team in English club history