The Champions League is back in full swing after a thrilling first set of matches last night, whilst there’s even more action coming our way this evening- including defending champions Real Madrid beginning the defence of their crown, as they look to become the first side to retain Europe’s elite trophy in the modern era.
Since the revamp of the competition in 1992, we’ve been blessed to see some of the finest players in the world grace the European stage and put their names down as legends of the game. In the spirit of the opening Champions League game-week, we’ve decided to run down the biggest legends to ever feature in the Champions League.
If you think we’ve missed anyone out, let us know in the comments below!
A legend for club and country, Iker Casillas rose through the youth ranks with Real Madrid and went on to make an astonishing 510 La Liga appearances. For Spain, he was capped 167 times and won a wealth of honours and he’s the most-capped player in Champions League history, featuring 160 times- including UEFA Super Cup appearances. Casillas has won three Champions League titles, in 2000, 2002 and 2014, and now plays for Porto.
With a staggering five Champions League titles to his name, Paolo Maldini is one of the most respected footballers of all-time. Maldini spent 25 Serie A seasons with AC Milan until his retirement in 2009, holding the record for most appearances and boasting 174 appearances in UEFA competitions. Nicknamed ‘Il Capitano’, there isn’t many central defenders better than the Italian great.
Famed for his wonderful free-kicks, there is much more to the Brazilian than his set-pieces. Roberto Carlos won three Champions League trophies with Real Madrid and is recognised as one of the best players to ever grace Los Blancos’ famous jersey. He also boasted 112 appearances for Brazil, winning the World Cup with his nation in 2002.
Last year, Zinedine Zidane lifted the trophy as Real Madrid manager and it capped off a superb history in the competition for the French football icon. Scorer of the winning goal in Real’s 2002 Champions League success, which is widely considered to be the best strike in the history of the competition, Zidane has lifted the famous trophy as a player and a manager- whilst his side is considered to be one of the favourites for glory again this term.
Spending 14 years with German giants Bayern Munich, Oliver Kahn is regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in footballing history. The only goalkeeper to win the ‘Golden Ball’ at the World Cup, Kahn lifted the Champions League once in his career, in 2001, and appeared in the competition over 100 times.
Dutch legend Clarence Seedorf represented three of Europe’s biggest sides in his career, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and AC Milan, but it’s at the latter where he is held at the highest regard. Remarkably, Seedorf won the Champions League with three different clubs; Ajax, Real Madrid and AC Milan, and overall boasts five titles- winning two with Los Blancos and Milan. With 105 appearances in UEFA competitions, Seedorf is an icon of the modern game.
If one player optimises Barcelona and Spain’s success in the modern era, it has to be Xavi. Barcelona lifted four Champions League titles with Xavi in the side, as part of a sensational 25 haul of trophies the Spanish maestro won with the club. He featured in 173 matches in UEFA competitions and will be remembered as one of the finest players of his generation.
Before the days of the ‘BBC’ at Real Madrid, there was just one man: Raul. Leading the line during the Galacticos era at the Santiago Bernabeu, Raul won three Champions League titles with the Spanish giants before moving to the Bundesliga to join Schalke. For years, Raul was the top-scorer in the competitions history and will go down as one of the finest strikers in world football.
The face of football in the mid-2000’s, it’s remarkable that Ronaldinho won the Champions League just once with Barcelona- as the Catalan side’s dominant years in European football came after the Brazilian left the club. However, he did enough in the tournament to be remembered as one of the greats and his style of play was the inspiration for an entire generation of football fans. His statistics and honours in European football may not grab your eye immediately but, watching him play, it’s clear he’s one of the greats.
One of only two players on this list to still be playing at his prime, Lionel Messi filled the void after Ronaldinho’s departure from Barcelona and has established himself as arguably the greatest player of all-time. Second in the all-time scoring charts in Champions League history, after taking his tally to 86 following a hat-trick against Celtic last night, Messi has won four Champions League titles in the past ten years with Barcelona- a truly remarkable feat.
All-time scorer in Champions League history with 93 goals, and likely to become the first player to break the 100 mark this season, Cristiano Ronaldo has been a key-part of Real Madrid’s European success in recent years; having won two of the last three Champions League trophies. Prior to that, he won the tournament with Manchester United in 2008 and is preparing for a special clash tonight against his boyhood club; Sporting Lisbon.