Football Features

Champions League-era players you (probably) forgot won the Treble

By Ben Green

Players you (probably) forgot won a Champions League-era treble copy

Published: 13:43, 16 June 2023

Manchester City have joined an exclusive club of Treble winners,  and the players will be forever etched in football folklore. 

Erling Haaland, Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan — these names will always be associated with City’s historic achievement, their legacies crystallised in the pantheon of sporting achievement.

Of course, they are not the first to achieve a Treble in football. We all remember David Beckham and Roy Keane from Man Utd’s 1998/99 success; Lionel Messi and Xavi from Barcelona’s 2008/09 triumph; Javier Zanetti and Wesley Sneijder from Inter’s 2009/10 achievement.

Go back far enough and you’ll find Ronald Koeman winning a trio of gongs for PSV in the pre-Champions League era; Johan Cruyff for Ajax in 1971/72; Billy McNeill for Jock Stein’s ‘Lisbon Lions’ in 1966/67. Haaland, De Bruyne and Gundogan now sit in that company.

But, what of the not-so-memorable names? Those that sat on the fringes but featured just enough to accumulate three winners’ medals in a single season?

Here, we honour those players. So, without further ado, here are the players you (probably) forgot won a Champions League-era treble…

Wes Brown – Man Utd (1998/99)

Wes Brown went on to become a pretty big name at Old Trafford, racking up over 350 appearances for Man Utd. Sir Alex Ferguson’s magnum opus for the club came in that 1998/99 campaign, and it just so happened to be Brown’s breakthrough season.

The talented tyro actually featured pretty extensively in the Champions League groups for the club, so dedicated fans will definitely remember his involvement. But he remained on the bench throughout the knockouts, bar Juventus at home in the semis where he wasn’t in the squad at all.

It’s because of that that Brown features on our list. Across a campaign that consisted of 63 games for Ferguson’s side, Brown appeared 21 times, many of which were from the bench. In 1999/00, Brown didn’t feature in a single game through injury, so it wasn’t until this century where he really started to become a prominent name — but yes, he was there in 1998/99.

Victor Sanchez – Barcelona (2008/09)

Pep Guardiola’s first Treble came in that historic 2008/09 season at the Camp Nou, his maiden campaign in the dugout. Among the most influential in his dressing room were Messi, Xavi, Samuel Eto’o and Andres Iniesta — a who’s who of Ballon d’Or candidates (and winners). But, for every Thierry Henry there was a Victor Sanchez, someone who was with Guardiola from the very beginning at Barcelona B.

Promoted to the first team upon Guardiola’s shift from L’Atletic to Blaugrana, Sanchez appeared 12 times that campaign, including thrice in the Champions League: both group-stage fixtures against Basel and the full 90 minutes against Shakhtar Donetsk. He also turned out in La Liga and the Copa del Rey to claim all three winners’ medals and forever sitting among footballing royalty.

Jose Manuel Pinto – Barcelona (2008/09)

Jose Manuel Pinto is a pretty well-known Barcelona name, such was his presence on the touchline and the way he endeared himself to Culers. But he turned out just 11 times in that 2008/09 season, none of which came in Europe. He also made just two La Liga appearances, both of which were token gestures in the final two games of the season as Victor Valdes rested his gloves ahead of the Champions League final.

Ricardo Quaresma – Inter (2009/10)

After missing Jose Mourinho’s first Champions League triumph with Porto by just one season, Ricardo Quaresma followed the Special One to Inter and boy oh boy was he glad he did. Despite making just 13 appearances in 2009/10, the King of Trivela ended the campaign with more trophies than he scored goals (1) during his two-year spell in Italy.

The forward would go on to add the European Championships to his trophy haul in 2016, scoring the winning penalty against Poland in the quarter-finals before replacing the injured Cristiano Ronaldo in the final. The treble winner is also a European champion.

David Suazo – Inter (2009/10)

Having snatched David Suazo from Cagliari after a tug-of-war transfer battle with eternal rivals Milan, Inter didn’t really get the full experience from the Honduran legend. In four seasons, he featured just 40 times — four of which came in that famous Treble-winning season, spread across all three competitions — and netted only 10 goals as injuries held him back. Still, Suazo won’t mind too much as he claimed his three winners’ medals from that campaign.

Rene Krhin – Inter (2009/10)

The mop-haired youngster was called up to the first team that season by Mourinho, who handed him his debut on matchday three of Serie A as a substitute for Wesley Sneijder. Krhin described the occasion as a “dream come true”.

The 48-capped Slovenia international would go on the appear five times in total for the Nerazzurri  in 2009-10. He ultimately didn’t hang around too long at the San Siro, leaving that following summer for Bologna. Inter briefly re-purchased him in 2014, but he never really established a consistent first-team berth in Lombardy.

Davide Santon – Inter (2009/10)

Another up-and-coming youngster who caught Mourinho’s eye. Davide Santon was seen as the next big full-back from Italy during his embryonic years in the sport, with Marcello Lippi famously comparing him to “a young Paolo Maldini” in 2009.

Those were big words, and while Santon was never quite able to walk in the footsteps of Italy’s pre-eminent defender, he forged a pretty decent career at Inter and Roma via Newcastle. In that 2009/10 season, he made 15 appearances, and even appeared against Barcelona in the groups of the Champions League.

Sandro Ramirez – Barcelona (2014/15)

That’s the calibre of player Everton fans thought they were getting when they signed Sandro Ramirez in 2017: a young Treble-winning forward who was looking to fashion a career away from the Camp Nou. Of course, it didn’t quite work out at Goodison Park and Ramirez hasn’t been able to replicate the spark from that 2016/17 season for Malaga — his first post-Barca.

Still, he has 2014/15 to remember, where he made 12 appearances for Enrique’s side and scored in each competition: in Europe against Ajax, in La Liga against Athletic Club and Levante, and in the Copa del Rey against Huesca.

Munir El Haddadi – Barcelona (2014/15)

A prominent La Masia alum, but a Treble winner? Munir racked up enough appearances in that season by Enrique to claim all three medals, and left fans purring at the possibilities. He wasn’t quite Messi in the end, nor was he Gai Assulin, but rather someone in the Bojan category, one who has forged a pretty nifty — if not spectacular — career for themselves away from the glittering Camp Nou heights.

Alvaro Odriozola – Bayern Munich (2019/20)

Possibly the greatest career move any player is ever likely to make. Just like Patrick Vieira left Inter in January 2010 before they claimed a Treble a few months later, ending the Frenchman’s only chance of winning a Champions League, Alvaro Odriozola joined Bayern in January 2020 and went on to win a Treble.

What makes this loan move so good is that Odriozola scarcely featured, just five times in fact. He merely popped his head in, put his feet up with a cushy sinecure on the sidelines and returned to Madrid a few months later with a suitcase stuffed full of silver. What an absolute chad!

Joshua Zirkzee – Bayern Munich (2019/20)

Joshua Zirkzee was hailed as the next big thing out of Bayern’s academy, and as such, he made 12 appearances in 2019/20. The teenage star featured more prominently in the second half of the season under Hansi Flick and even managed to make a Champions League appearance, coming against Tottenham. He’s now at Bologna, and whatever the 22-year-old goes on to achieve in his career, he will always have those three medals.