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Remember the best

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Who is the greatest player ever played in the UEFA Champions League? To comprise this list, we looked at things like win rate, goals scored, assists, clean sheets, game-changing moments, and those players that have defied the Champions League odds repeatedly. So, here goes…

1. Cristiano Ronaldo-

Ronaldo is undoubtedly the Champions League’s most outstanding player – an incredible achievement considering he played alongside one of football’s greatest players, Lionel Messi. In contrast to a league season, where the best team always wins, the outcome of knockout football is influenced more by individual contributions. No player has bent the game more forcefully or as frequently as Ronaldo, who, with five titles, has won the most Champions League titles of any player.

2. Lionel Messi

Isn’t it always a choice between Messi and Ronaldo? Lionel Messi has won the Champions League four times in a glittering career. He is fourth in appearances with 140, and is the tournament’s second-highest goal scorer with 125 goals. However, he only played in three of the finals, not appearing in 2006, a small asterisk on his four titles. 

3. Robert Lewandowski

Lewandowski’s breakout performance came against Real Madrid in 2013, when he scored all four goals for Dortmund in a semi-final win. Unfortunately, the Polish striker had to wait until he was 23 to make his Champions League debut, and one wonders how many more goals he could have scored if he had started earlier. He’s the third-highest top scorer along with Benzema at 86.

4. Paolo Maldini

From 1985 to 2009, the tenacious Italian defender made 647 appearances for AC Milan, including eight European Cup or Champions League finals. He’ll be aiming to take them to the promised land as a director now instead. 

5. Toni Kroos

The Germany international was crucial in Bayern’s treble-winning season of 2012-13. He stayed with the club during Pep Guardiola’s first season when eventual champions Real Madrid defeated them 5-0 on aggregate in the semi-finals. After winning the World Cup, he joined Los Blancos, where he went on to win the Champions League four times in eight years.

6. Raul

Raul is a former Spanish international striker who ranks third all-time in Champions League appearances with 142 and fourth in goals with 71. Between 1995 and 2011, he averaged one goal every two games in the tournament while playing for Real Madrid and Schalke.

7. Marcel Desailly

AC Milan’s thrashing of Barcelona in 1994 remains one of the Champions League’s most memorable final performances, with the Rossoneri securing the most significant winning margin in a final despite being underdogs. Dejan Savicevic scored a brilliant individual goal and was a standout, but it was Marcel Desailly’s performance that inspired Milan to Champions League success.

8. Gianluigi Buffon

Buffon reached the final of the Champions League with Juventus in 2015 and 2017, but the Italians were defeated by Barcelona and Real Madrid, respectively. Regardless of the aforementioned European disappointments, Buffon has won 11 domestic league titles and the World Cup and will be remembered as one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time.

9. Ronaldo

Ronaldo and Cristiano Ronaldo have won five European Cups between them. Unfortunately for the Brazilian, Cristiano has won all of them. Ronaldo won the Ballon d’Or twice and scored 36 goals in Europe for PSV Eindhoven, Barcelona, Inter Milan, and Real Madrid, but he never made it to the Champions League final. Still, his play in the UCL makes him an iconic player for the tournament. 

10. Karim Benzema

For most of the season, Karim Benzema has served as Real Madrid’s stand-in captain and has led by example in all of his games. This season, the Frenchman became the oldest player to score consecutive hat-tricks in the Champions League knockout stages.

He has already won the competition five times and appeared in each final. Among all players, he has the most potential to jump up in the list by the time his career ends. 

11. Zinedine Zidane

The former Real Madrid manager and player, a French midfielder, is widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time. He scored a stunning left-footed volley in the 2002 Champions League final to help Real Madrid win the competition. He then added to his honours by becoming the only manager in history to win the UCL three consecutive times. 

12. Erling Haaland

Erling Haaland established himself as a future superstar by scoring a hat-trick for RB Salzburg in his Champions League debut in 2019. Since then, the colossal striker has gone on to star for Borussia Dortmund and become one of the best players in the world.

Now at Manchester City, he has the chance to add to his growing legend by spearheading their first UCL triumph. 

13. Carlos Puyol

Carlos Puyol, a charismatic leader with a strong work ethic, captained Barcelona for a decade, winning six La Liga titles and three Champions League trophies. He wasn’t the most flashy player on a team of superstars, but he was the most dedicated.

14. Didier Drogba

Didier Drogba of Ivory Coast is the African player with the most Champions League goals. In the competition, the former striker represented Marseille, Galatasaray, and Chelsea. However, he mainly played for the latter, scoring 36 goals in 76 appearances. His performance in the 2012 final against Bayern at their home ground remains one of the most iconic performances in UCL history. 

15. Iker Casillas

Former Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas has made the 2nd most appearances in the prestigious competition since its inception in 1955, appearing 177 times. The majority of these appearances have come for Real Madrid. He was the first name on the teamsheet for Real Madrid and made 150 UCL appearances. He added 27 at FC Porto near the end of his career. 

16. Manuel Neuer

When he joined in 2012 after ending his contract with Schalke, the German international had big shoes to fill, following in the footsteps of Oliver Kahn, but he did not disappoint. Neuer has dominated in goal for Bayern Munich, winning two Champions League titles. He has transformed the role of a GK with his adventurous play and can add more titles to his name. 

17. Angel di Maria

Angel di Maria, one of the most successful players in Champions League history, has played for many clubs in the competition. He had the most success with Real Madrid, but he also played for Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain.

18. Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has 48 Champions League goals in 120 Champions League games over 15 seasons but has not been able to win any Champions League medals. Interestingly, multiple teams have gone on to win the UCL title a season after selling Zlatan Ibrahimovic. 

19. Francesco Totti

Francesco Totti is another legend on our list of top players who never won the Champions League. He can be regarded as the most devoted player in football. Totti’s career lasted from 1992 to 2017, and he is remembered as the most dedicated player to the team he loved playing for, AS Roma.

20. Gerard Pique

Gerard Pique won the Champions League with Manchester United in 2008 and then went on to win the Champions League with Barcelona in 2009, 2011, and 2015.

Vatsal Gupta
A die-hard Red Devil, who has straight up not had a good time since 2012. Lives on Korean dramas and books and can often be heard talking about armchair psychological stuff.

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