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Let’s be honest, the Champions League is the crème de la crème of domestic football. It’s the one trophy that everyone wants to win, and the biggest stage to perform on, while the rest of Europe are watching. For some of football’s greatest legends, the Champions League trophy was the only one which evaded them. But for these five, there’s a reason why they are the greatest players in the competition’s history.
It was a close call for first and second place, but when it comes to the Champions League, Ronaldo is the GOAT. He is the all-time top goalscorer with 127 as things stand, and in 2015 he broke the record for the most goals scored in a single season in European competition (17). Not only that, but he was also the first player to reach 100 career goals in the tournament. But Ronaldo isn’t just a proven goalscorer, he also holds the record for the most Champions League assists (39). In May 2018 when Real Madrid beat Liverpool in the final, Ronaldo became the first player to win five Champions League titles (under its current branding).
Anything Ronaldo can do, Messi can do just as well (if not better). The latest odds on the Champions League favour his Barcelona side to fare well this season. The pint-sized Argentine may not have scored as many goals in the European competition, but he holds the record for the most goals scored for a single club in the Champions League with 114. It took Messi just 123 games to net his century of goals, a feat he achieved in March 2018 against Chelsea. Messi has won four Champions League titles with the Catalan giants and has been the top goalscorer on six separate occasions - sitting one place behind Ronaldo on both counts.
Before the Messi v Ronaldo debate, there was one man who was head and shoulders above the rest - Raúl. Often described as ‘one of the most important players in the history of Real Madrid’ and the ‘greatest Spaniard of all time’, Raúl set the bar for many of today’s records to be broken. He was the first player to score 50 goals in the Champions League, going on to amass 71 goals in 142 appearances, which places Raúl third in the all-time standings. He won three titles and also scored in two finals.
There are two sides to the defender’s character: the brilliant and the boisterous. For all of his strong leadership skills and panenka penalties he so often contributes, there is his disciplinary record which sees Ramos the most-carded player in Champions League history. Captaining Real Madrid, he has won four Champions League titles. Most memorably, it was his 93rd-minute equaliser against bitter rivals Atlético which forced extra time as Los Blancos won La Decima in 2014. When all is said and done, he is one of the greatest centre backs the world has ever seen.
You don’t get loyalty like Maldini anymore. Il Capitano was an absolute rock at the back for AC Milan for 25 seasons, the whole length of his career, before retiring at the age of 41. He won the old European Cup twice, before it was rebranded as the Champions League, going on to secure it a further three times. He tops the list for the most appearances in a Milan shirt in Europe (168), as well as the most appearances in the competition’s history. In the 2007 final, Maldini became the oldest player to lift the trophy as captain, as Milan avenged Liverpool for their loss two years previous.