Some of the best soccer players in the world have made their mark on the Champions League, so we’ve compiled a ranking of the 25 greatest players in the competition.
The Champions League is soccer’s biggest stage outside of the World Cup, and it always delivers for the fans. Every year since 1993, the tournament has matched European powerhouses against each other in search of hoisting the prestigious cup. Teams like Real Madrid, AC Milan, Bayern Munich and Barcelona have become the kings of the competition, consistently making it far into the competition, if not winning it all.
The Champions League has provided an opportunity for players, not just clubs, to establish their claim to “legendary” status. Champions League matches can bring the best out of some players, and those that answer the call and put on exquisite performances etch their names into the history books.
For the purposes of this ranking, a combination of titles, appearances, iconic moments and the overall quality and consistency of performances will be employed to order the players. Also, only players that have participated in the current Champions League, not the European Cup, will be considered.
Unfortunately, because this is only a top 25 list, some legendary names will be left off, so how about a couple honorable mentions to kick off the list.
Zlatan is the first name on the honorable mentions list. The Swede has played in 123 Champions League matches with six different clubs. Throughout those 123 appearances, Zlatan has scored 49 times, good enough for ninth all-time in the competition. Unfortunately, Zlatan has never raised the cup with any of his teams, and that keeps him out of this top 25.
Buffon is another legendary name that is left out of the top 25 due to one factor: never winning it all. The Italian keeper has appeared in 113 Champions League matches,103 of those for current club Juventus. Buffon has had plenty of amazing performances in the Champions League, and come so close (twice finishing runner-up) to winning it all. Maybe this year will be his year to finally hoist the cup, with Juve poised for another final appearance after a 2-0 win against Monaco on Wednesday.
The original, Brazilian Ronaldo may have been better than any player in history in the mid-90s. His speed, dribbling and finishing ability made him practically unstoppable, before a series of serious knee injuries derailed his career at the turn of the century. He was still one of the best in the world when he returned, this time with Real Madrid, in 2002, but injuries continued to plague him, and one of the all-time greats ended his career without a Champions League trophy.
Ronaldinho was one of the most popular players in the world in the 2000s while playing for Barcelona. The Brazilian helped Barcelona capture the trophy in the 2005-06 season when he spearheaded an attack alongside Ludovic Giuly and Samuel Eto’o. His performances that year further established his legacy in Champions League history. In terms of pure quality, Ronaldinho would certainly make the list, but the fact he only won one trophy, and only truly dominated for a couple seasons, keep him in the honorable mentions.