25 Best UEFA Champions League Players In History

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Best UEFA CHampions-league-players

Everyone loves the UEFA Champions League Competition each year and for good reason. It is simply one of the best soccer tournaments in history, if not THE best. The incredible teams make their mark here annually. Combined with the impressive UEFA Champions League players, the competition is magic each year.

The best soccer competition in the world started in 1955 named the European Champion Clubs’ Cup. In 1992 the format and the name changed into what we now know as UEFA Champions League. With the group stage first and the knockout round following in the second part of the season. 

Soccer fans state that CL is the only thing that gives meaning to Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

With the tournament’s final being the most-watched annual sporting event in the world, beating the likes of NBA finals and the Super Bowl. Despite not having the additional drawing power of half-time shows and primo marketing reels. 

Shaped into the global phenomenon it is today by the players who battle it out we decided to take on a challenging task of trying to single out the 25 of the very best UEFA Champions League players who have ever had the privilege of participating in the tournament.

The criterium is the number of titles won, goals scored, and games played. With other additional feats being taken into consideration. 

So, let’s get into the cream of the crop, or as the magnificent anthem would say: “Die Meister! Die Besten! Les grandes équipes! The champions!”

25. Ruud van Nistelrooy

CL best players
[Image via Press Association]
  • Total goals: 56
  • Total appearances: 73
  • Titles won: /

A bit out of the limelight these days but remembered by history as Ruud Van Nistelrooy is the competition’s sixth-best scorer of all time. He was the tournament’s top scorer in three seasons – 2001/2002, 2002/2003, 2004/2005, scoring 12 in a campaign once. Yet despite playing for Real Madrid and Manchester United, Ruud never lifted the trophy. 

With his time in the competition defending the colors of PSV Ruud has a goal ratio of 0.77, higher than the first man on our list! 

 

24. Andriy Shevchenko 

[Image via Wikipedia Commons]
  • Total goals: 48
  • Total appearances: 100
  • Titles won: 1 (2002/2003)

A representative of Eastern Europe, Ukraine but mostly AC Milan, Andriy Shevchenko is the competition’s ninth-best scorer in history. With the same amount of goals as Zlatan Ibrahimovic (48) but in 20 games fewer – 100. And more importantly, with a trophy to his name. 

Besides winning with Milan in 2003, Shevchenko was a runner-up with Chelsea in the 2007/2008 final played in Moscow against Manchester United. He also represented his Dynamo Kyiv in the tournament. 

 

23. Robert Lewandowski

Top scorers in Champions League history
[Image via fcbayern.com]
  • Total goals: 63
  • Total appearances: 118
  • Titles won: /

One of the best strikers in the world… ever, is the fifth top scorer in the history of the Champions League and will battle it out for the third spot with Karim Benzema in the future. Yet the Pole still hasn’t lifted the big-eared trophy and his best success in the competition is as a runner-up with Borussia Dortmund. In the 2012/2013 final against his current side Bayern Munich. 

Yet his four goals against Real in the first leg of the semi-finals remain one of the best performances in the history of the competition. A revision of this list in several years will surely see Lewa get further up. Title or no title, Lewa is certainly one of the best UEFA Champions League players in history. 

 

22. Thierry Henry 

[Image via NewsLimited]
  • Total goals: 50
  • Total appearances: 112
  • Titles won: 1 (2008/2009)

A man whose career was in a strong way defined by the seeking of the Champions League trophy and the departure from Arsenal to find it. Thierry Henry managed to lift the trophy once and make the mark in the history books by being the seventh most lethal man in the history of CL with 50 goals. 

Before lifting the trophy with Barca in 2009, Henry led Arsenal to a final in the 2005/2006 season single-handedly but his Gunners had only 10 men for the majority of the game and succumbed to Barca. 

 

21. Marcelo 

[Image via Soccrates Images]
  • Total goals: 9
  • Total appearances: 97
  • Titles won: 4 (2013/2014, 2015/2016, 2016/2017, 2017/2018)

Yes, his job was made easier by playing behind Cristiano Ronaldo but that doesn’t diminish the influence Marcelo had on the playing style of Real. Marcelo scored the third goal in the 2014 final against city rivals Atletico but was the engine Los Blancos leaned on to reach the finals so many times in his era. 

Playing as a left-back, Marcelo managed to bag nine goals and 23 assists in 97 games. He was an integral part of the side which broke the curse that the Champions League trophy is undefendable after its reformatting. And then won it again. 

 

20. Ryan Giggs 

[Image via manutd.com]
  • Total goals: 28
  • Total appearances: 145
  • Titles won: 2 (1998/1999, 2007/2008)

Only three people have run out to more Champions League matches than Ryan Giggs. The Manchester United legend played in 145 evening matches of continental soccer. He captured two big-eared trophies in his silverware ladened career. He is the only player to score in 16 CL seasons! Also scoring the final’s winning penalty against Chelsea in 2008. 

Wales has two representatives on our list of best UEFA Champions League players, more than England. Giggs scored 28 goals, more so than his other countryman on the list but in way more games and with less direct impact on finals. He is still the joint-top assist maker with 46 to his name!

 

19. Toni Kroos 

[Image via TF-Images]
  • Total goals: 9
  • Total appearances: 102
  • Titles won: 4 (2012/2013, 2015/2016, 2016/2017, 2017/2018)

Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, and Sergio Ramos were more symbols of Real’s three consecutive Champions League titles but it was Toni Kroos who held the strings in them. Especially in the final match against Juventus.

The German has four Champions League medals, with the first one coming with Bayern Munich against another German team Borussia Dortmund. Kroos, having his start at such a young age, already has 102 appearances in the top competition. 

 

18. Carles Puyol 

[Image via fcbarecelona.com]
  • Total goals: 2
  • Total appearances: 115
  • Titles won: 3 (2005/2006, 2008/2009, 2010/2011)

The magicians up front did their jobs with ease because they knew that a defensive monster was behind them. Carles Puyol lifted three Champions League trophies as Barcelona’s captain and enabled Blaugrana to become the worldwide force it is today. Prior to his captaincy, the Spanish side had just one CL title. 

With 115 caps and two goals for Barca, Puyol is an integral part of Barca’s European successes as Xavi, Iniesta, and Messi. 

 

17. Gareth Bale

[Image via AFP]
  • Total goals: 20
  • Total appearances: 63
  • Titles won: (2013/2014, 2015/2016, 2016/2017, 2017/2018)

Champions League, Copa del Rey, La Liga. In that order. Some Real fans have been questioning Gareth Bale’s dedication to the side but the Welshman has always performed for them in the continental competition. Especially when it mattered. 

In the final win over Liverpool Bale scored two goals, the second one being one of the best goals ever scored in the history of the game. Bale also broke the deadlock in the 2013/2014 final against city rivals Atletico by scoring for 2:1 in extra time. 

 

16. Andres Iniesta

[Image via Barcelona]
  • Total goals: 11
  • Total appearances: 130
  • Titles won: 4 (2005/2006, 2008/2009, 2010/2011, 2014/2015)

One of two Barcelona’s conductors, Andres Iniesta played important roles in both getting Barca to the finals and winning them. With 130 appearances in the top tournament, Iniesta proved his status as one of the best UEFA Champions League players thoroughly.

Iniesta was even chosen as the Best Player of the 2011/2012 UEFA Champions League season. A man who could rival best NBA point guards with his playmaking abilities.

 

15. Alessandro Costacurta

[Image via Claudio Villa/ Grazia Neri]
  • Total goals: /
  • Total appearances: 90
  • Titles won: 5 (1988/1989, 1989/1990, 1993/1994, 2002/2003, 2006/2007) 

Milan might be facing tough times now but Rossoneri has a scary reputation across Europe and one of the builders of that foundation was Allesandro Costacurta. The Italian defender won five CL titles with the club he started he played since he was a child and participated in 90 matches. Never scoring once in the tournament. 

He is the oldest player to win the tournament as he was 41-years-old when Milan avenged their Istanbul nightmare against Liverpool in 2007. 

 

14. Samuel Eto’o

[Image via FoxSportsAsia]
  • Total goals: 30
  • Total appearances: 78
  • Titles won: 3 (2005/2006, 2008/2009, 2009/2010)

30 goals isn’t a lot for a striker of Samuel Eto’o’s caliber but the Cameroonian performed when it was most important. Eto’o played for four clubs in his CL career, early in it for Mallorca and later for Chelsea. But he did his best work representing Barcelona and Inter. 

Eto’o scored the first goals in both the 2006 and 2009 Barca triumphs over Arsenal and United respectfully. Arguably, his most memorable performance came in Inter’s 2009/2010 successful run as he played a vital role in neutralizing his former side, Barca. Playing against his instincts under the orders of Jose Mourinho. 

 

13. Ferenc Puskas 

[Image via Wiki Commons By FORTEPAN/Magyar Bálint]
  • Total goals: 35
  • Total appearances: 41
  • Titles won: 3 (1958/1959, 1959/1960, 1965/1966)

Legendary Hungarian goalscorer has a stunning goal ratio in CL – 0.85. Puskas scored 35 times in 41 which is enough for sharing the 17th spot on the all-time top scorer list with Edinson Cavani. Puskas was twice the best goalscorer of the season in the European Cup and scored 12 goals in the 1959/1960 season.

Three titles won with Real are enhanced by the fact he is the only man who scored four goals in the competition’s final. In 1960 against Eintracht Frankfurt. He scored a hat-trick in the final back in 1962, but Benfica still beat Real. Making Puskas the only player who has lost a final after scoring a hat-trick. 

One of the best players in the history of the Champions League without a doubt. 

 

12. Clarence Seedorf

[Image via Bongarts]
  • Total goals: 11
  • Total appearances: 125
  • Titles won: 4 (1994/1995, 1997/1998, 2002/2003, 2006/2007)

Only one player in history ever won the tournament with three different teams – Clarence Seedorf. The Dutch midfield legend won his first trophy with Ajax in 1995, then he had a somewhat forgotten stint at Real Madrid and the triumph in 1998. His third and fourth CL titles came with Milan in 2003 and 2007. 

Seedorf is ninth on the list of players with most appearances in the competition with 125 caps. He netted 11 times on the mid-week elite stage. 

 

11. Gerd Muller 

[Image via fcbayern.com]
  • Total goals: 34
  • Total appearances: 35
  • Titles won: 3 (1973/1974, 1974/1975, 1975/1976)

The only man that can hold a candle to Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo when it comes to the number of seasons as the top scorer of the competition. The German legend did so in four seasons, with the Portuguese (7) and Argentinian (6) only ones with more than him.

Scoring 12 goals in the 1972/1973 season and winning the title three times in a row, Muller is one of the best Champions League players regardless of the decade he played in. Muller scored 34 goals in 35 matches in the competition for a ratio of 0.97, the best out of all top 50 marksmen. 

 

10. Iker Casillas 

Most appearances in the Champions League
[Image via Real Madrid]
  • Clean sheets: 57
  • Total appearances: 177
  • Titles won: 3 (1999/200, 2001/2002, 2013/2014)

Defending the honor of goalkeepers in this list of best UEFA Champions League players in history is the man with the most mileage in the best competition. Iker Casillas played in 177 Champions League matches, 152 while wearing the shirt of Real Madrid, and the rest with Porto. Casillas spent an insane 15,907 minutes on the pitch after listening to the CL anthem. 

The Spanish goalkeeper managed to play in the most consecutive UEFA Champions League seasons – 20! 

Casillas also managed to have the most “clean sheets” in the tournament’s history – 57. While conceding 1.15 goals per game, a ratio that declined due to his move to Porto in the later stages of his career. 

 

9. Karim Benzema

Best strikers in the Champions League
[Image via PAU BARRENA CAPILLA]
  • Total goals: 64
  • Total appearances: 118
  • Titles won: (2013/2014, 2015/2016, 2016/2017, 2017/2018)

The unsung hero of the most successful Champions League club during its second-best historic run in the competition, Karim Benzema quietly is the fourth-best scorer in the competition. With the third spot being imminently his, as he is just nine goals away from overtaking Raul. 

Benzema scored the first goal for Real in the 2017/2018 final win over Liverpool. Before coming to Madrid he was representing Lyon in the CL and made his name across Europe in the Tuesday and Wednesday games. One of the most underrated but surely best UEFA Champions League players in history. 

 

8. Sergio Ramos

Most yellow cards in the Champions League
[Image via FoxSportsAsia]
  • Total goals: 13
  • Total appearances: 123
  • Titles won: 4 (2013/2014, 2015/2016, 2016/2017, 2017/2018)

No defender has had a more visible influence on the results of his team in the Champions League, and especially in finals, than Sergio Ramos. Spanish defender won four titles and scored in two of those finals, while some more cynical fans would say he had the biggest impact on the last trophy Real won too. 

Ramos’ 93rd-minute equalizer forced extra-time in the final which brought Real to complete La Decima. The 10th CL title. Ramos was the only goalscorer in 2016 final before his team won in the penalty shootout. And with both Mohammed Salah and Loris Karius suffering injuries due to his actions in the final against Liverpool. Which very well influenced the final score. 

Additionally, proper Sergio Ramos stat is that the Spaniard holds the record for the most yellow cards in the Champions League, with 36, plus two straight red cards. 

 

7. Raul 

Best players in the Champions League
[Image via DIARIO AS]
  • Total goals: 72
  • Total appearances: 142
  • Titles won: 3 (1997/1998, 1999/200, 2001/2002)

For a long time the best goalscorer of the competition, Raul Gonzalez Blanco is now third behind the two greatest players who have ever played. With 72 goals to his name in the competition, 67 for his Real Madrid and five for Schalke, Raul’s greatness can’t be disputed. 

Still having even more appearances than the next great on this list, 142, Raul is the fifth most-capped player in the competition’s history. He still holds the record for being the youngest scorer of a Champions League hat-trick, being aged 18 years when he put three past Ferencvaros. 

Raul was the first player to make 100th appearances in the tournament, back in 2006. After reaching his toll of three titles he won with Real Madrid, scoring in the last two of the three finals he played. 

 

6. Xavi

Elite Champions League players
[Image via Barcelona]
  • Total goals: 11
  • Total appearances: 151
  • Titles won: 4 (2005/2006, 2008/2009, 2010/2011, 2014/2015) 

The conductor of Barca’s four Champions League titles, Xavi is also the third-most capped player in the history of the world’s first-class competition. The Spanish midfielder is also the sixth-best assists maker of all time with 32 passes that resulted in a goal for his teammates. 

His last game for his Barca was in the 2015 final when he came on as a substitute and lifted the trophy as club captain. 

 

5. Alfredo Di Stefano 

Legendary Champions League players
[Image via Real Madrid]
  • Total goals: 49
  • Total appearances: 58
  • Titles won: 5 (1955/1956, 1956/1957, 1957/1958, 1958/1959, 1959/1960)

One of the four players that have won the tournament five times and the only one who did it consecutively. Other than his former teammate who has six. The only man who played exclusively in the tournament exclusively in the past century with the old format that has made his spot into the top 10 all-time scorers.

With 49 goals in just 58 games, it’s needless to say that the legendary soccer player has the best goal ratio in the tournament’s top 10 at 0.84. He is just one of three men who have managed to score a hat-trick in the final, doing so in 1960 against Eintracht Frankfurt. 

 

4. Francisco Gento 

Best old Champions League players
[Image via Real]
  • Total goals: 30
  • Total appearances: 89 
  • Titles won: 6 (1955/1956, 1956/1957, 1957/1958, 1958/1959, 1959/1960, 1965/1966)

The only man in history that has lifted the trophy on six occasions. Five in a row between 1956 and 1960 while adding his final one in 1966. The Spaniard is just one of two players in 65 years that has played in eight finals!

The left-winger played in 89 games of the European Cup, a particularly impressive feat for the historic times because of the different, shorter format. With 30 goals to his name in the competition, Paco Gento will forever be one of Champions League top players regardless if he gets company in the six trophies club. 

 

3. Paolo Maldini

Best Champions League players in history
[Image via Tullio M. Puglia]
  • Total goals: 3
  • Total appearances: 135
  • Titles won: 5 (1988/1989, 1989/1990, 1993/1994, 2002/2003, 2006/2007) 

One of the best defenders of all time is certainly one of the best UEFA Champions League players. His most impressive feat – playing in eight finals of the tournament! Winning in no less than five of them with the first one coming in 1989 and the second in 2007. A lifetime away.

Maldini played 135 games in the tournament and with the 2007 win he became the oldest captain to lift the trophy as he was days away from his 39th birthday. By scoring in the 2005 final he became the oldest man to do so in the deciding match too! With his father, Cesare, having won the trophy himself in the 1962/1963 season, the Maldinis altogether have six trophies to boast about. 

 

2. Lionel Messi

Elite soccer players
[Image via ESPN]
  • Total goals: 114
  • Total appearances: 140
  • Titles won: 4 (2005/2006, 2008/2009, 2010/2011, 2014/2015) 

One of the two usual suspects whenever the adjective “best” is in use in soccer. Leo Messi is the holder of the better goalscoring ratio as the Argentinian has 114 CL goals in 140 games. A ratio of 0,81 and a goal every 101 minutes in the best club competition in the world! He is also the competition’s second-best scorer! 

Winning four trophies with the only club he has represented in his professional career, being mostly responsible for 80% of the five total CL trophies Barcelona ever won. Messi also recorded 36 assists in the tournament as well! 

Messi is the best scorer in the Champions League group stage with 68 goals to his name! This ensures he’ll remain on the list for the best UEFA Champions League players for a long time.

 

1. Cristiano Ronaldo 

Top Champions League player
[Image via ESPN]
  • Total goals: 128
  • Total appearances: 168
  • Titles won: 5 (2007/2008, 2013/2014, 2015/2016, 2016/2017, 2017/2018)

Mr. Champions League himself. While the debate exists on who of the two Ballon d’Or collectors is the GOAT, the question is so far resolved when it comes to the elite continental competition. 

CR7 is the competition’s most successful scorer with 128 goals and his record is even more impressive considering his efficiency in the knockout rounds. Ronaldo has scored 65 goals in the second stage of the tournament, more than the second Messi (42) and third Thomas Muller (21) combined! Outscoring even the six-time cup winners Liverpool!  

His supremacy is even more glaring when the record from the quarter-finals are viewed only. The Portuguese man has 41 goals in the most challenging games, while Messi has 16, and the third Andriy Shevchenko 13. Cristiano also holds the record for most goals scored in a single Champions League season – 17, back in 2013/2014. While also being the only player to score in three CL finals! Ronaldo even has the joint-most assists alongside Ryan Giggs, 46!

Ronaldo is the second man in appearances in the competition, destined to break the record in a season’s time if Juventus performs to its expectations. 

His goalscoring record is furnished with five trophies won, one with Manchester United, and four with Real Madrid, three of them consecutive! And he didn’t score until his 30th game in the competition… 

As the youngster Erling Haaland has scored eight goals in his first six games we might need to update this list of best UEFA Champions League players sooner rather than later.

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