Cristiano Ronaldo has earned the moniker ‘Mr Champions League’ as a result of his love affair with the competition.
The debate over who is the better player between Ronaldo and Lionel Messi will stretch on for years to come, but there can be no arguing over who the No.1 in Europe’s premier club competition is.
Ronaldo is the all-time leading goalscorer in the Champions League with 130 goals. He’s delivered so many special moments, such as his bicycle kick against Juventus or his comeback hat-trick against Atletico Madrid.
So there are no surprises for guessing who comes out on top in our list of the best Champions League players of the century.
In the latest edition of our Tuesday Top 10 series, we’re looking at the 10 players who have shone under the bright lights of the competition.
Let’s get into it.
10. Steven Gerrard
Liverpool’s incredible comeback against AC Milan in the 2005 final wasn’t possible without Steven Gerrard taking over the game in the second half.
He delivered a masterclass, putting the team on his back and carrying them to glory.
That was his only Champions League triumph, but he would have added more had he left Liverpool for either Real Madrid or Chelsea.
Gerrard’s stunning strike against Olympiacos in 2004 was another highlight-reel moment.
9. Clarence Seedorf
The only player to win the Champions League with three different clubs.
Clarence Seedorf was a European champion with Ajax, Real Madrid and AC Milan. He won it twice with the Italian outfit, meaning he was a four-time winner.
The Dutchman’s final triumph came in 2007, 12 years after his first. Few players spend that many years playing at the highest level.
8. Iker Casillas
What were you doing at the age of 19?
Iker Casillas was winning the Champions League with Real Madrid.
The Spanish goalkeeper’s triumph over Valencia in 2000 - just four days after his 19th birthday - was the first of three at Los Blancos.
In the 2002 final against Bayer Leverkusen, Casillas replaced the injured Cesar Sanchez in goal with 25 minutes remaining.
He pulled off a number of sensational saves to prevent Leverkusen from grabbing an equaliser.
Casillas appeared in a record 177 Champions League games across his illustrious career.
“I’m sure I saw him give the ball away once.”
Sir Alex Ferguson’s joke about Xavi perfectly summed up how frustrating the Spanish midfielder could be for an opposing manager.
He was the puppet master in Barcelona’s Champions League wins in 2009, 2011 and 2015. Lionel Messi stole the headlines but the Argentinian was greatly assisted by Xavi’s wizardry in midfield.
Raul’s record in the Champions League was ridiculous.
He scored 71 goals in 142 games and won three titles with Real Madrid.
Raul set the bar for astonishing numbers. In the pre-Ronaldo and Messi era, he was the main man.
The Spaniard scored in the 2000 and 2002 finals and could be relied upon to deliver on the biggest stage.
5. Paolo Maldini
AC Milan’s one-club legend Paolo Maldini was already a two-time winner of the European Cup before it was rebranded in 1992.
He would play in six more finals over the next 15 years, which is ridiculous.
Maldini won three of those finals, alternating between left-back and centre-back.
But those positional switches didn’t affect his performances. In the 2003 final against Juventus, he was named man of the match.
4. Andres Iniesta
Earlier this year, Barcelona uploaded a 10 hour video on their YouTube channel of Andres Iniesta’s goal against Chelsea in 2009.
It was a goal for the ages, securing Barcelona’s place in the final. They went on to win, of course.
Xavi pulled the strings in that Barcelona side but Iniesta was the magician, providing the spark with his sublime touches and passing.
His IQ was on a different level and Messi and Barcelona have missed his genius since his departure.
3. Sergio Ramos
Sergio Ramos is Mr. Clutch.
Not only is the Spanish defender a world-class player and an outstanding leader, he’s also stepped up to provide crucial, game-changing moments for Real Madrid in their recent European dominance.
He scored two headers in four minutes in the 2014 semi-final win against Bayern Munich.
He scored in the 93rd minute to force extra-time in the 2014 final, which Los Blancos went on to win 4-1 to seal La Decima.
He scored Real’s only goal in the 2016 final as Real beat rivals Atletico Madrid again.
Liverpool fans still haven’t forgotten about Ramos’ actions in the 2018 final, when he hurt Mohamed Salah and Loris Karius.
But it’s unfair to label him a thug. He’s been a phenomenal servant to Real Madrid and one of the most successful players of the century.
2. Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi has endured some awful lows in the Champions League in recent years.
AS Roma, Liverpool, Bayern Munich… it’s been ugly.
Still, he’s a four-time winner of the competition and has scored 117 goals. He even has a better goals-per-game ratio than Ronaldo.
He’s delivered some incredible moments, too, such as the four-goal display against Arsenal in 2010, the dribble and finish against Real Madrid a year later and the move on Jerome Boateng in 2015.
Barcelona’s win in 2015 was the last time Messi lifted the trophy. He’ll feel a tinge of regret if he’s unable to add another one to his resume, but he’s already done enough to earn the No.2 spot on this list.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo
Yes, of course.
Players earn their money by delivering when it matters and Ronaldo has more than done so over the years.
He won his first Champions League with Man United in 2008, delivering a masterclass as the Red Devils defeated Chelsea in Moscow.
Four more trophies followed with Real Madrid and Ronaldo was the star in all four of them.
He scored 17 goals in the 2013/14 campaign, 16 goals in 2015/16, 12 goals in 2016/17 and 15 goals in 2017/18.
That level of consistency is remarkable.
The GOAT? Messi or Ronaldo.
The Champions League GOAT? It’s not even a debate.
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