Diego Tristán, Sávio, Jardel...5 alternative Champions League heroes all fans fell in love with


Wednesday nights, ITV. A sofa and nowhere else to be. Raúl, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Luis Figo, Roy Makaay. The stuff of dreams and of eternal cult heroes…

Diego Tristán

They called him 'The Lizard', which doesn't immediately seem hugely complementary. But the glassy-eyed Spaniard was a swift, scuttling figure for Deportivo La Coruña in the early 2000s, so we'll give them (the faceless nickname-makers) the benefit of the doubt.

Part of a Depor side that also included Brazilian trickster Djalminha and the subtle playmaker Juan Carlos Valerón, Tristán took Europe by storm in the 2001/02 campaign. His brilliant movement and eye for goal helped the Galician side to home and away wins over Manchester United in the first group stage, and he struck three times in the next phase as Arsenal and Juventus were edged out.

That would be about as good as it got for the forward, who was hampered by injuries in the years that followed and took on a nomadic existence. But he's still embedded in our memory thanks to those explosive few months.


 

Carsten Ramelow

Perhaps the least glamorous footballer of all time, the German defensive midfielder was an ageless staple in the Bayer Leverkusen side for years. Ramelow specialised in invisibility: from his ghostly pallor and lack of eyebrows to the way he would drift around the field putting out fires before anyone else had even realised they were burning, the Berlin-born guard dog rarely gave you reason to sit up and take notice.

If you were being cruel, you'd describe Ramelow as the kind of player you'd instantly take out of your side in a game of Pro Evo 4; he was a six-out-of-ten-in-everything kind of guy. But he sticks in the mind for his friendly undertaker's grin during Champions League anthems (the only time the camera would capture him up close during a broadcast) and, memorably, for volunteering to be a human surf board for Francesco Totti:


 

Mark Iuliano

What position did Mark Iuliano play? I don't know. What were his key attributes as a footballer? No idea. What made him tick as a person? Nah, I got nothing. What I do know is this: he was there lots of times when Juventus played in the Champions League. I definitely, definitely remember his name being read out by Ron Atkinson. Not just once, either. Quite often.

To be quite honest, Iuliano is just a placeholder for a certain type of late-90s Juve defender who I would struggle to pick out of a police line-up today. It could have been Moreno Torricelli, Paolo Montero, Gianluca Pessotto, Alessandro Birindelli or Igor Tudor. I saw them all play countless times, but can I remember a single one of their faces? Not a chance.

That, really, was what was so cool about those Juventus sides. There were obvious stars like Alessandro Del Piero, Zinedine Zidane and Lilian Thuram, then just a bunch of jobbing utility men and defenders filling the gaps in the starting XI. A simpler age.

 

Sávio

I miss wingers. Not inverted ones or strikers doing a job out wide, but genuine, pin-your-ears-back-and-go, jinky wingers – fragile types who look like they could be snapped in half by a defender but come alive at the ball with their feet.

Brazilian magician Sávio was one of those. He probably weighed about 50 kilos when soaking wet and, realistically, would not even make a list of the top 100 Real Madrid players ever. But you know what? He was really, really fun, all darting runs (his legs sometimes seemed to be moving too fast for his torso to keep up), dainty touches and manic celebrations.

Sávio played in three Champions-League-winning sides but only featured in one final – and then, only as a late sub. But his nickname was The Blonde Devil, so let's not split hairs.


 

Mário Jardel

One of the deadliest – GOAL! – strikers in Europe for – GOAL! – a spell in – GOAL!... Hang on. Mário, mate, is there any chance you could stop scoring goals for a couple of minutes while I just – GOAL! – type out a few sentences about how brilliant you were?

No? Best make it – GOAL! – quick then. Twice European Golden Shoe winner, Champions League top goalscorer in 1999/2000, pretty much a goal a game for seven seasons across three clubs... and then he went to Bolton and started on a second lift and a temping global striker. Weird career in the end, but – GOAL! – boy, if you were a centre-back in the Champions League, you did *not* want to see him on the opposition teamsheet. GOAL!