The European Champions League was born in the 1992/93 season when it took over from the former European Cup tournament which had been in existence since 1955. The Champions league is arguably the most-prestigious club tournament in the world with many top players transferring to new teams just to play in the event.
This list features the top-10 players in the history of the Champions League since its inception. Most of these players have won the tournament on multiple occasions and have been stalwarts of their clubs. All of these players have also starred for their homelands in international competitions and are considered to be some of the best in world soccer history.
10. Ruud van Nistelrooy
Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy was never fortunate enough to win the Champions League during his career, but it certainly wasn’t from a lack of effort. The former Manchester United, Real Madrid, Hamburg, Malaga, and Eindhoven striker managed to finish as the league’s top scorer on three different occasions, but his teams could never get over the hump. He also ranks fourth all-time on the competition’s top scoring list with 56 goals in 73 games. Van Nistelrooy managed to score .77 goals-per game throughout his Champions League career from 1998 to 2009 which ranks second-best in league history behind Lionel Messi’s .82 goals-per-game. Van Nistelrooy finished his career with 347 goals in 589 club contests and added 35 more internationally while playing with Holland.
Former Barcelona defender Xavi managed to win four Champions League winners’ medals in his career before leaving Spain to play in Qatar in 2015. He made 151 appearances in the league from 1998 to 2015, which is currently good for second all-time behind goaltender Iker Casillas with 164. The 37-year-old central midfielder has had an illustrious career with many experts considering him to be the best player ever to come out of Spain. Xavi was also a star on the international stage in 133 matches with his homeland with numerous trophies and accomplishments to his name. He wasn’t known for his scoring prowess, but Xavi‘s defensive and passing abilities were second to none and he had no problem controlling the pace of a game.
8. Edwin Van der Saar
While scorers such as Ronaldo and Messi usually get all of the glory, we shouldn’t forget the goalkeepers who help win championships. One of the best in Champions League history was Edwin Van der Saar of Holland. As of 2017, he’s the only goalie to win the tournament with two different clubs. He achieved the feat by winning the trophy with Ajax of Amsterdam in 1994/95 and then again with Manchester United in the 2007/08 season. Ajax beat Milan 1-0 in 1995 and Man United edged Chelsea in a penalty shootout in 2008 after playing to a 1-1 draw. He was the hero of that match by saving the deciding shootout penalty. Van der Saar ranks second in the champions league all-time when it comes to clean sheets at 51 and he holds the record for not allowing a goal in 52 per cent of his tournament matches.
7. Paolo Maldini
Italian central defender and left-back Paolo Maldini had already won the European Cup in 1988/89 and 1989/90 with AC Milan before the Champions League was born. He then went on to add three Champions League trophies to his cabinet in 1993/94, 2002/03, and 2006/07. He also captained his side in the last two victories. In total, Maldini played in a record eight European Cup/Champions League Finals. He played his entire 25-year career with AC Milan and didn’t retire until 2009 when he was 41 years old. Maldini also played 126 games with Italy and skippered the team 74 times. He has endless milestones and honors under his belt and will always be remembered as one of the world’s best ever and most durable defenders.
6. Andres Iniesta
Spanish international central midfielder Andres Iniesta has taken home four Champions League medals while playing with Barcelona, with his latest one coming in 2015. Iniesta is another excellent passer/playmaker who isn’t known for any goalscoring exploits. His 122 appearances in the tournament are currently ranked eighth all-time. The 33-year-old Iniesta has been with Barcelona for his entire career and is currently the team’s captain. He’s also an international sensation with 119 caps and numerous awards for Spain up to now. Iniesta’s side beat Arsenal 2-1 in 2005/06 for his first Champions League triumph and then followed it up with a 2-0 win over Manchester United in 2008/09, 3-1 over Manchester United in 2010/11 and 3-1 over Juventus in the 2014/15 campaign.
5. Clarence Seedorf
Dutch midfielder Clarence Seedorf is another player to win four Champions League Trophies. He also ranks sixth all-time in games played at 125 between 1994 and 2012. What makes Seedorf special though is the fact he won the tournament with three different clubs. He won the league once each with Real Madrid and Ajax and was victorious twice while playing with AC Milan. His first win came in 1994/95 when Ajax beat Milan 1-0 and that was followed with a 1-0 Real Madrid win over Juventus three years later. He then captured a winners’ medal twice with Milan by beating Juventus 3-2 in a penalty shootout in 2002/03 after playing to a 0-0 draw and then downing Liverpool 2-1 in 2006/07. Seedorf’s career went from 1992 to 2014 and he also played with Sampdoria, Inter Milan and Botafogo and he played 87 internationals with Holland.
4. Iker Casillas
Porto’s Spanish international goalkeeper Iker Casillas is tops all-time when it comes to games played in the Champions League with 164 under his belt. He’s also ranked number one for goalies with three titles won, with 57 clean sheets to his name, and in wins at 94. The majority of his games and all three of his championship medals came while playing with Real Madrid. He’s also starred internationally with a World Cup triumph and a pair of European Championships in a record 167 appearances for Spain. Casillas backstopped Real Madrid to a 3-0 win over Valencia for his first Champions League medal in 1999/2000 and beat Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 just two years later. His third win was a 4-1 result in extra time over Atletico Madrid in 2013/14. Casillas then moved from Madrid to Portuguese side Porto after the 2014/15 season.
3. Raul Gonzalez
Simply known as Raul to soccer fans, this former Spanish international striker ranks third all-time in Champions league appearances at 142 and third in goals with 71. He scored at a rate of a goal for every two games played in the tournament while starring with Real Madrid and Schalke between 1995 and 2011. He also scored 44 times in 102 contests with the Spanish national team, which ranks as the second-most all-time. Raul holds numerous milestones with Real Madrid and led them to three Champions League crowns in a five-year span. He was also the first player to score in two tournament finals. Raul’s first trophy was hoisted in 1997/98 with a 1-0 win over Juventus. This was soon followed by a 3-0 victory over Valencia in 1999/2000 and a 2-1 victory over Bayern Leverkusen in 2001/02.
2. Lionel Messi
Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi is a record five-time Ballon d’Or winner and one of the best soccer players in history, but he ranks just second on this list. Messi ranks as the top scorer in Champions League history when it comes to goals-per-game at .82 in 115 outings, but his total of 94 goals ranks as second. The 30-year-old Argentine international striker has helped Barcelona win four Champions League titles, which came in 2005/06, 2008/09, 2010/11 and 2014/15. He’s an international star and all-time leading scorer for Argentina with 58 goals and has won just about everything possible except a World Cup. Messi holds numerous Champions League milestones and will be going head-to-head with Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo for the tournament’s all-time scoring record for the remainder of his career.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo
There are too many Champions League records held by Real Madrid‘s Cristiano Ronaldo to mention, but we’ll list a few. The 32-year-old Portuguese international has played the fifth-most games in the tournament at 140 since his 2003 debut and is the top scorer in its history with 105 goals. However, he didn’t score his first goal until his 26th match. Ronaldo’s goals-per-game ratio is .75, which ranks third behind Lionel Messi (.82) and Ruud van Nistelrooy (.77). The former Manchester United and Sporting Lisbon star holds the record for most Champions League goals in a season with 17 and has won the league championship four times. These medals came in 2007/08 with Manchester United and in 2013/14, 2015/16 and 2016/17 with Real Madrid. He’s played in five finals and scored in a record three of them. Ronaldo, a four-time winner of the Ballon d’Or Award, holds the Portuguese record for goals at 75 and appearances with 143 and could very well be the best soccer player ever.