From the beginning of next season the League Cup will take on a new format in Scottish football. To commemorate this switch, Craig Fowler looks back at some of the best players never to lift the trophy.
This is a bit of a mish-mash list in that I had no set rules when I sat down to compile the names.
I didn’t want it full of players that only played one season and then left, and I didn’t want a bunch of stars that played elsewhere while in their prime.
In the end, however, I’ve broken those rules on a couple of occasions, just to squeeze in a player I felt deserved a mention.
It is also weighted heavily toward modern day footballers. There will be those from a bygone era who deserve a spot and missed out, but I’m sure you’ll let me know about that in the comments.
There is a dearth of Rangers players in this team. That is because Rangers have won the trophy more than any other side (27), meaning the vast majority of Ibrox heroes got their mitts on it at some point.
John Collins (Hibernian and Celtic)
The current Celtic assistant boss was a terrifically talented midfield player who earned 58 caps for his country and netted a goal in the opening match of the 1998 World Cup against Brazil. So it’s a shame he never won all that much on the domestic front in Scottish football.
One Scottish Cup was all Collins managed to secure during a 12-year career in Scotland, before deciding to sample what Europe had to offer with a switch to Monaco.
Frustratingly, in this competition, he was the runner-up on three occasions, including Celtic’s mid-90s humbling at the hands of Raith Rovers.
He did win the competition with Hibs, which occurred a few short weeks before his players turned up at the chairman’s door and demanded his ousting from the job.
Paulo Di Canio (Celtic)
This is what I meant in the introduction, two players in and I’m already breaking the ‘no one-season wonder’ rule.
It was so odd that Tommy Burns’ 1996/97 Celtic team - led by the terrifying attacking trio of Di Canio, Jorge Cadette and Pierre van Hooijdonk - never managed to win anything, though van Hooijdonk did have a Scottish Cup winners medal from his first season with the club.
The reason they never took the title was an inability to defeat Rangers. Their rivals would win all four Old Firm derbies in a title race that was separated by five points. However, they bottled it in other competitions, losing 1-0 to a Hearts team missing four first-team defenders, and dropping out of the Scottish Cup following a semi-final replay defeat to First Division Falkirk.
Gennaro Gattuso (Rangers)
In Walter Smith’s final season at Ibrox they spent an incredible sum of money in the pre-season to take the club to that elusive next step in Europe - and yet they were left without anything to show for it at the season’s end.
Gattuso was one of those summer buys, but even though he was impressive in a Rangers shirt, few could have envisioned he would go on to enjoy the kind of career he had. Two Serie A titles, two Champions League trophies and started a pitch-side fight with a 58-year-old Joe Jordan.
Alan Gilzean (Dundee)
The striker was a legend at both Dundee and Tottenham, helping the former to the only top flight title in their history, and winning four trophies across a ten-year spell with the latter.
Despite the success of the Dundee side of the late 50s/early 60s, who were managed by Bill Shankly’s brother Bob, they never even sniffed a League Cup final. Although, oddly, they did win two in the period just before and another one not long after.
Craig Levein (Cowdenbeath and Hearts)
Injuries curtailed the success Levein could have enjoyed in football. The talented centre back had caught the eye of Alex Ferguson and the recently hired Manchester United manager was considering a transfer swoop when disaster struck. Levein hurt his knee during a reserve fixture and suffered the same injury again upon his return. He returned to play the role of Hearts captain for years but never quite lived up to his potential.
He retired trophyless in 1995 and has yet to win any major competitions in his managerial career. This is despite overseeing two of the better Hearts and Dundee United sides of the last 20 years.
This curse is perhaps the reason Hearts keep drawing Celtic and Aberdeen in cup competitions.
Maurice Malpas (Dundee United)
Given United’s propensity for winning trophies and generally being awesome around the 80s and 90s, it’s surprising to note Malpas never captured the League Cup crown.
The side won back-to-back finals a short time before Malpas first broke into the side and lost a further two with him in it. Those showdowns took place 13 years apart, which highlights his incredible career longevity.
In total he played over 800 times for United, won a league title, a Scottish Cup and reached the final of the UEFA Cup. I’m sure he’s fine with missing this one.
Frank McAvennie (St Mirren, Celtic and Falkirk)
Before he was known as a needlessly long running parody on an increasingly desperate annual sketch show, you may be interested to know McAvennie was a very good footballer.
During the first nine years of his career he scored freely for St Mirren, West Ham and Celtic, winning the Young Player of the Year award in Paisley, helping West Ham to a top three finish and helping Celtic secure the 1988 title.
Injury and a well known love of partying derailed his career somewhat. He also never won the League Cup. “The burds” probably aren’t fussed about that.
Alan McLaren (Hearts and Rangers)
Another who would not have appeared on this list had injury not cut short a promising career.
McLaren was a terrific defender capable of playing at right back and centre half. At 23 he made a big money move to Rangers and looked set to be an important player at Ibrox and Hampden over the next decade. He even marked Roberto Baggio out of a World Cup qualifier at Hampden in 1992.
Instead he was forced to retire at only 28, having failed to break 100 appearances over his five years in Glasgow. Rangers won two League Cup trophies during McLaren’s time, but the player wasn’t fit enough to feature in either.
Lawrie Reilly (Hibernian)
Led by the Famous Five forward line, Hibernian would go onto win the Scottish title in season 1950-51, though they were humbled in the League Cup final by mid-table Motherwell who recorded a 3-0 victory.
It would be the only time the legendary Hibs side would reach the final. They did capture three league titles in five years and Reilly, only 23 in that final, would have a terrific career.
He is the most capped player in Hibernian’s history and only three other strikers have netted more goals for Scotland, a tally which includes six against England.
Derek Riordan (Hibernian, Celtic, St Johnstone, Alloa and East Fife)
Ok, ok. He’s not hit the same heights as, well, everyone else on this list. But there is no doubt, when he was on his game, few players could match his shooting and goalscoring ability.
Given the talent and potential he showed it’s disappointing he only racked up three caps for Scotland and did very little of note after leaving Hibernian to join Celtic in 2006.
What’s interesting about the move is that the Hibernian team he left behind went onto win the League Cup, while he never got his hands on the trophy in his two years at Celtic Park.
He did pick up a pair of league title medals despite playing only 24 appearances across two seasons, and a Scottish Cup after sitting on the bench during Celtic’s 1-0 win over Dunfermline Athletic in 2007.
John Robertson (Hearts, Dundee and Livingston)
The modern day King of Hearts scored goals for fun, netting 214 goals while in Gorgie and finishing as the club’s all-time record league goalscorer.
However, he was the leading man in a team that was always the bridesmaid, losing the league and cup in heartbreaking fashion in 1986 and just falling short on several other occasions.
Robertson even scored in his only League Cup final as Hearts eventually succumbed 4-3 to Rangers in a thrilling match.
This particular story does have a happy ending, however, as Robertson finally got his hands on a winner’s medal when Hearts won the Scottish Cup in 1998.
Franck Sauzee (Hibernian)
The signing of Sauzee by Alex McLeish has to go down as one of the best signings in Scottish football. What I wouldn’t give to have been a fly on the wall while Eck tried to convince the former European Cup winner to swap the south of France for the Scottish second tier.
Somehow he managed it and Sauzee would be an integral part of the Hibs side that returned to the top flight at the first time of asking and finished third, best-of-the-rest, within two seasons.
In his final full season as a player Hibs would reach the Scottish Cup final, but lost to Martin O’Neill’s all-conquering Celtic side. He would then go on to manage the club, but less said about that the better.
Rudi Skacel (Hearts and Dundee United)
Had Paul Hartley not turned down the chance to re-join Hearts prior to signing for Aberdeen back in 2010 then there’s every good chance that Takis Fyssas would have featured in this list above Skacel.
You see, Romanov was insistent on bringing a former hero back to Tynecastle. Hartley seemed the ideal candidate but would not put his name to a statement basically saying he was wrong to leave the club for Celtic back in 2007.
When Hartley refused, the deal was dead, and Hearts were without their marquee signing - until Skacel became available.
The rest, they say, is history. Skacel netted into double figures in his first season back before hitting over 20 the next year, including two in the Scottish Cup final victory over Hibs. He went from being a one-season wonder to a club legend.
Oddly, such incredible heights occurred in the same campaign where he missed a penalty at Ayr United which contributed to an embarrassing exit from the League Cup. Falkirk and Livingston dumped the club out in Skacel’s other two seasons.
Gordon Strachan (Dundee and Aberdeen)
Strachan never managed to lift the League Cup as a player despite starring on such a strong Aberdeen side.
In what would normally be considered a cruel twist of fate, Strachan joined the year after they won it in 1976 and left the campaign before they next emerged victorious from the tournament in 1985. The reason it isn’t is because he still won two Scottish Premier Division titles, three Scottish Cups, one European Cup Winners’ Cup and one European Super Cup winner.
He also won it twice as a manager.
Victor Wanyama (Celtic)
The midfielder managed to help Celtic defeat Barcelona but couldn’t stop St Mirren winning the League Cup semi-final between the sides, nor Kilmarnock in the showpiece match at Hampden the year before.
Ah well, that’s football for you.