There has been a long debate about who is the best champion’s league player in the history of the Champions League. I have gone through many online articles, and every article ends up with the name Ronaldo or Messi. I don’t want to get into the debate as UCL Finals are approaching. I want to share the list of those guys who are best after both of these giants.
19. Paul Scholes
Only five players have appeared in more Champions League matches than Paul Scholes (all of them are on this list), yet his career in Europe lasted an incredible 19 years.
He participated in his first Champions League final at 33, after being suspended for the 1999 final in Barcelona, and ended up winning his second European Cup when Manchester United triumphed against Chelsea on penalties.
With 25 goals in the competition, he is well ahead of fellow midfielders Clarence Seedorf, Xavi, and Andres Iniesta.
18. Ruud van Nistelrooy
Ruud van Nistelrooy is the only player on our list who has never won the Champions League, but there was scarcely a more feared striker in the competition from 1998 to 2009.
He hasn’t played in club football’s most prestigious event in four years, but he is still the club’s second-highest goalscorer with 60—11 behind Real Madrid star Raul.
In 2002-03, the Dutchman scored 14 Champions League goals, but Real Madrid defeated his Manchester United team in the quarterfinals.
17. Alessandro Del Piero
In his 19-year career with the Bianconeri, the Juventus legend won only one European Cup. His six goals were second only to Ajax’s Jari Litmanen in 1996 when he won the championship.
Juventus finished runners-up in the next two seasons and again in 2003. When he finally retired from European football this spring, he was ranked 10th all-time (Champions League and European Cup) with 44 goals, only three behind the legendary Eusebio.
Kaka appeared in 63 Champions League matches throughout his six seasons with AC Milan, scoring 24 goals and assisting 15 others. That’s 39 goals for the Rossoneri, and he won the European Cup in 2007 after placing second to Liverpool the previous year.
Unfortunately, after joining Real Madrid in 2009, his career has stalled, with only five Champions League goals in the last four years.
15. Andriy Shevchenko
Andriy Shevchenko is the only player to have scored more goals in the Champions League than Raul, van Nistelrooy, and Lionel Messi, making the Ukrainian’s record in the competition even more astounding than 23 of his 59 goals came when he was with Dynamo Kiev.
But it was at AC Milan that he finally got to raise the Ol’ Big Ears, scoring six goals in ten matches as the Rossoneri finished runners-up to Liverpool in 2004-05. A transfer to Chelsea ended his illustrious career, with only four European goals for the London club.
14. Samuel Eto’o
He narrowly missed out on next season’s Champions League after his current club Anzhi Makhachkala finished third in the Russian Premier League behind CSKA Moscow and Zenit St. Petersburg. Still, Samuel Eto’o won two European Cups at Barcelona and another at Inter Milan during his illustrious career at the continental level.
The Cameroon international has scored 28 Champions League goals in all, but what truly distinguishes him is that he did so in two finals: in 2006 against Arsenal and 2009 against Manchester United.
13. Steven Gerrard
Steven Gerrard performed one of the most brilliant Champions League performances in the tournament’s history in the 2004-05 season, but he will most certainly leave without a Premier League trophy.
With Liverpool behind 3-0 against AC Milan in Istanbul, the club captain started the comeback with a goal nine minutes into the second half, then won the penalty for Xabi Alonso’s equalizer six minutes later. On penalties, the Reds won their sixth European Cup.
Gerrard led Liverpool to another Champions League Final two years later, but this time Milan prevailed, winning 2-1 in Athens.
12. Edwin van der Sar
Edwin van der Sar kept eight clean sheets in 11 matches to help Ajax win the European Cup for the fourth time in 1994-95. In 2008, he won another Champions League title with Manchester United, defeating Chelsea on penalties, and he appeared in two more finals, in 2009 and 2011.
He became the second-oldest player to play in a Champions League final, after only Dino Zoff, in the match against Barcelona in 2011.
11. Andrea Pirlo
The Champions League exploits of Andrea Pirlo appear to be far from ended.
The Italian international, who won the European Cup with AC Milan in 2003 and 2005, appears to have only improved with age. At 34, he is still the most important player for Antonio Conte’s Juventus. He won his second consecutive Scudetto with the Bianconeri this spring, ensuring he will be a member of a Champions League contender again next season.
10. Luis Figo
Luis Figo won trophies wherever he went, including Sporting Lisbon, Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Inter Milan. However, in his illustrious 20-year career, he only won the European Cup once, with Real Madrid in 2002.
He had been crowned FIFA World Footballer of the Year the previous January. In May of that year, at Hampden Park in Glasgow, he finished off the most memorable period of his career with a Champions League Final victory over Bayer Leverkusen.
9. Andres Iniesta
Andres Iniesta had appeared in 91 Champions League matches by the time he was 29 years old and had won the competition three times—in 2006, 2009, and 2011.
The Spain international is one-third of club football’s most exciting trio, together with Xavi and Lionel Messi, as part of a Barcelona squad that is favored to win the championship each season.
He was voted Champions League Best Player last season despite Barcelona losing to eventual champions Chelsea in the semi-finals.
8. Zinedine Zidane
Zinedine Zidane won the UEFA Champions League Final Man of the Match, La Liga Best Foreign Player, and UEFA Club Footballer of the Year in 2001-02.
He scored the game-winning goal in the 2002 European Cup centerpiece against Bayer Leverkusen in Glasgow, but it was his only time lifting the trophy. Over his ten seasons in the most prestigious club competition in European football, he was one of its key draws, making 89 games for Juventus and Real Madrid.
7. Ryan Giggs
When he finally hangs up his boots, Ryan Giggs will have played in more Champions League matches than any other player in history. The 39-year-old, who is presently tied with Raul on 142 outings, will undoubtedly make a few appearances in the competition next season thanks to his new one-year deal.
He has appeared in four finals, winning the European Cup competition in 1999 and 2008. He has also scored 29 goals in 20 seasons.
6. Clarence Seedorf
Only Xavi, Paolo Maldini, Ryan Giggs, and Raul have made more Champions League appearances than Clarence Seedorf, who has 131. He was a member of the Ajax team that won the European Cup in 1995, and he also won the trophy with Real Madrid in 1998, and AC Milan in 2003 and 2007.
He won the Best Midfielder award in the competition in 2007, at the age of 31.
Ryan Giggs’ Champions League appearance record will endure for approximately a year since Barcelona playmaker Xavi has 136 matches in the competition.
Xavi is still only 33 years old, despite appearing to have been around for a long time, and is crucial to Barcelona’s continuous success. He won the European Cup in 2006, 2009, and 2011, yet he has realized that individual accolades are ephemeral. But his status among the best Champions League midfielders is not questioned.
The Champions League is likely most closely associated with Raul’s name than any other. Real Madrid star made 142 appearances in the competition after making his tournament debut in 1995, collecting a record 71 goals.
Three times (1998, 2000, and 2002), he won the European Cup, scoring in each of the finals.
3. Paolo Maldini
Paolo Maldini only scored three goals at the top level of European club football, but after making his debut in the old European Cup in 1985, he played 140 matches in the competition—all in the Rossoneri shirt of AC Milan.
He was a member of Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan juggernaut in 1989 and 1990, together with Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit, and Marco van Basten, and he added championships in the new Champions League in 1994, 2003, and 2007.
Without question, the now-44-year-old is the finest defender to have ever appeared in the event.
2. Sergio Ramos
In the Champions League, there have been many greater players than Ramos, but few more influential. Between 2014 and 2018, the Real Madrid captain led a team to four competition victories. Simply put, he’s a jerk.
Ramos scored two headers in four minutes against Bayern in the 2014 semi-finals. Ramos’ 93rd-minute equalizer in that year’s final prompted extra time, which Real won 4-1 to achieve La Decima.
Ramos also scored his team’s lone goal in the 2016 final, when Real defeated Atletico in a penalty shootout. Injuring Mohamed Salah and elbowing Loris Karius just before the Liverpool goalkeeper’s first blunder in the 2018 final cemented Ramos’ position as football’s greatest shithouse, and no assessment of his career is complete without addressing his use of the dark arts.
1. Iker Casillas
Nobody else could be the highest-ranked goalie on this list.
Casillas holds the record most Champions League appearances, which should come as no surprise given his career at the top of the game.
After beginning Real Madrid’s 3-0 triumph against Valencia in 2000, at the age of 19, he became the youngest goalie ever to play in and win a Champions League final.
He guided his team to La Decima fourteen years later.
That was their first European trophy since defeating Leverkusen with that Zidane strike in 2002, but it signaled the start of an extraordinary period of Champions League triumph for Real Madrid.
Between 2008 and 2012, he was awarded the World’s Finest Goalkeeper every year and is regarded as “the best of my period” by Gianluigi Buffon.
- 1 19. Paul Scholes
- 2 18. Ruud van Nistelrooy
- 3 17. Alessandro Del Piero
- 4 16. Kaka
- 5 15. Andriy Shevchenko
- 6 14. Samuel Eto’o
- 7 13. Steven Gerrard
- 8 12. Edwin van der Sar
- 9 11. Andrea Pirlo
- 10 10. Luis Figo
- 11 9. Andres Iniesta
- 12 8. Zinedine Zidane
- 13 7. Ryan Giggs
- 14 6. Clarence Seedorf
- 15 5. Xavi
- 16 4. Raul
- 17 3. Paolo Maldini
- 18 2. Sergio Ramos
- 19 1. Iker Casillas