The Champions League is one of the most important tournaments in the world. There have been many great players to play in the tournament and it is safe to say that every great player in history has played in it at some point or another. After all, it's a tournament for the best of the best.
Ranking this list was no easy task and many legendary players had to be left out like the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Gianluigi Buffon since they have never won the competition. The players that did make the list were ranked on wins, appearances, and legendary moments in the competition.
There are many big names on this list and in one way or another they have done something worthy to be ranked among the best in Champions League history. At club level, it simply doesn't get any bigger than the Champions League. Without further ado, let's check out the top 25 greatest Champions League players of all time!
25. Carles Puyol
Carles Puyol is often regarded as one of the best defenders and captains in the history of the sport. He won three Champions League trophies, all of them with Barcelona, were he played his entire career. Puyol had 115 appearances in the competition for Barcelona.
Puyol was a natural leader and an extremely decorated player besides his three Champions League trophies. He had 100 caps for Spain and won 18 major club titles including six La Liga trophies. A true legend of the game and one of Champions League best for sure!
24. Roberto Carlos
Roberto Carlos is known for his thunderous left leg and for being one of the most attacking full-backs in the history of the sport. He played in 128 Champions League matches and won three trophies all with Real Madrid. There will never be another left back like him.
Roberto Carlos is undoubtedly a legend and his 105 miles per hour freekicks will always be remembered by fans. At Real Madrid he won four La Liga titles besides his three Champions League trophies and in April 2013, Marca named him in their "Best Foreign eleven in Real Madrid's history"!
23. Luka Modric
Luka Modric is a phenomenal midfielder and was the first player since 2007 to win the Ballon D'or who wasn't Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. He has won four Champions League titles with Real Madrid and three of them were consecutive from 2015-2018 were he played a vital role and got into the squad of the season for all three wins.
As of March 2021, Modric has won 17 major trophies with Real Madrid including two La Liga titles, one Copa del Rey, and three Club World Cup titles. He also became the first croatian player to be included into the FIFA FIFPro World XI where he was included for four consecutive years. The croatian mastermind can be even higher on this list if he can get another Champions League trophy before he retires.
Ronaldinho is often regarded by many as the greatest player of all time. He won the 2005-06 Champions League with Barcelona and was a vital player to get the trophy. He will always be remembered for his technical skills, dribbling, and creativity that made him one of the most entertaining players to watch.
Ronaldinho is one of the most decorated players ever and has won most, if not all, of the trophies any soccer player would dream of. He is a two-time Best FIFA Men's Player, has won a Ballon D'or, a Copa America, a Copa Libertadores, and a World Cup. That's only the major trophies too, Ronaldinho is a true legend of the game.
21. Gareth Bale
Gareth Bale has won four Champions League trophies with Real Madrid and has scored some very vital goals for them in the competition. In his first Champions League win he scored six goals in eight games and in his latest trophy he scored an acrobatic goal against Loris Karius to score a winning goal in the final.
Bale is another very decorated player, not quite at Ronaldinho's level, but some very impressive trophies and awards. He is a six-time Footballer of the Year for Wales and also won Player of the Year with Tottenham Hotspur in the 20212/13 season. Bale also has the Man of the Match award in a Champions League final for his 2018 overhead kick.
20. Paul Scholes
Paul Scholes is one of the best english midfielders of all time and he is also a Champions League great. His European career lasted 19 years and he is the sixth player with the most appearances in the Champions League. He won two Champions League trophies and scored 25 goals in the competition.
Paul Scholes spent his entire career with Manchester United and made 718 appearances for the club while also winning an outstanding 11 Premiere League trophies. He also won three English League cups, four English FA Cups, five English Super Cups, and one FIFA Club World Cup.
19. Andriy Shevchenko
Andriy Shevchenko is the ninth all-time scorer in the Champions League and ninth in the order of appearances having played in the competition 116 times with three different teams. When it comes to Champions League scorers it simply doesn't get much better than Shevchenko.
Shevchenko's time at Dynamo Kiev makes him stand out from others on this list. He scored a hat-trick against Barcelona at the Camp Nou and knocked out defending champions Real Madrid with another hat-trick for the Ukranian. One of the best goal scorers the competition has ever seen for sure.
18. Ryan Giggs
Ryan Giggs is another player on this list who played their entire career for Manchester United and is regarded as one of the greatest players of his generation. His long career has seen him win two Champions League trophies and make 141 appearances in the competition. He is the only player to have played in 16 different seasons of the competition.
Ryan Giggs is one of only 28 players to have made over 1,000 appearances in their career, an incredible achievement! He won 13 Premiere League trophies, four FA Cups, three League Cups, a FIFA Club World Cup medal, a UEFA Super Cup, and nine FA Community Shield medals. Giggs is one of the most decorated players of all time.
17. Didier Drogba
Didier Drogba has some iconic moments in the Champions League no doubt. Him cursing at the cameras after being knocked out by Barcelona in 2009 is definitely one of the most remembered ones but we want to focus on his insane header in the 2012 final against Bayern Munich. That header tied the game for Chelsea and when the game went to penalties he scored the decisive one to win them the trophy.
Drogba is the all-time top scorer for Ivory Coast and the top foreign scorer at Chelsea. He is also a two-time African Footballer of the Year and the only player to score in four different FA Cup finals as of March 2021. Drogba was a truly spectacular player and him stepping up in the 2012 final gives him a spot on this list.
16. Alfredo Di Stefano
Alfredo Di Stefano is a Real Madrid legend and is the eighth top-scorer in the competition with 49 goals in 58 games. Regarded by many as one of the best footballers of all time, he won five competitions with Real Madrid but when he played it wasn't called the Champions League yet, it was named the European Cup.
Alfredo Di Stefano played a vital part in all five of his cup wins, scoring a goal in each of the finals. He scored 216 league goals in 282 games for Real Madrid and was the top scorer for a long time until the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo came about. One of the greatest players and a top European League winner and scorer.
Ricardo Kaka is widely remembered for his passing, dribbling, and goal scoring. He has 36 goals in 86 games in the competition and he won the Champions League in the 2006/07 season with AC Milan as the top goal scorer. He also helped Milan finish second in the 2004/05 Champions League with him as the top assist provider of the tournament.
Kaka is one of only eight players to have won the Ballon d'Or, Champions League, and World Cup. After spending six years with AC Milan he transferred to Real Madrid for 67 million euros which at the time was the second highest transfer fee the sport had seen. He also won the Golden Ball Award in 2009 for being the best player in the FIFA Confederations Cup.
14. Zinedine Zidane
Zinedine Zidane was an even better player than he was manager believe it or not. Zizou is widely regarded by many as one of the best players of all time and he will always be remembered for his next-level playmaking, passing, techinque, and elegance. He only won one Champions League in 2002 with Real Madrid and was a runner-up twice with Juventus.
Zidane won the Champions League in 2002 when he scored an incredible lefty volley into the top corner for what many believe is the greatest Champions League goal ever scored. He also won the Ballon d'Or in 1998 and is a three-time FIFA World Player of the Year. Zizou was a true wonder to watch.
13. Edwin van der Sar
Edwin van der Sar has been instrumental for many Champions League teams. He has two Champions League trophies and the first one came with Ajax in 1994/95 when he kept eight clean sheets in 11 matches to help the team secure them the tournament. His second trophy came with Manchester united in 2008 after defeating Chelsea on penalties.
Van der Sar is the seventh oldest player to have played in the Champions League and was Netherlands most-captained player until 2017, when that title would go to Wesley Sneijder. Considered by many the greatest goalkeeper of all time he is also an extremely decorated player having won 26 major trophies in his career.
12. Ruud Van Nistelroy
Ruud Van Nistelroy is the only player in this whole list who hasn't actually won the Champions League, to no fault of his own. He is the sixth highest goal scorer in the competition with 56 goals in 73 games and in 2002/03 he scored 14 goals with Manchester United before getting knocked out by Real Madrid.
Van Nistelroy is considered one of the best strikers of his generation and he has the numbers to back up that claim. He has been the top scorer in three separate Champions League seasons but even then was not fortunate enough to lift the trophy. He had some iconic runs in the tournament which put him on this list and with those numbers if he had actually won one he would be way higher.
11. Steven Gerrard
Steven Gerrard was the main centerpiece in the "Miracle of Istanbul" were Liverpool came back against AC Milan after being down 3-0. He scored the first goal for Liverpool and drew a penalty for the second one six minutes later. Definitely one of the best performances in Champions League history.
Gerrard took Liverpool to another final just two years after his inspirational performance but this time AC Milan got their revenge beating them 2-1 in the final. Although he only won one trophy, he had some of the best performances the tournament has seen and gave Liverpool the trophy for the first time in 21 years.
10. Samuel Eto'o
Samuel Eto'o has 30 goals in 78 games in the Champions League and is one of the few players who have scored in more than one final. He is often regarded as one of the best strikers in the world at his prime and one of the greatest African players of all time. While other players have more goals than him few had the effect he did on his team winning important games.
Samuel Eto'o won his first Champions League with Barcelona in 2006 were he scored in the final and his second in 2009 were he played with the likes of Thierry Henry and Lionel Messi and once again, scored in the final. His third and final tournament win was with Inter Milan, and all of these wins were in the space of only five seasons.
9. Clarence Seedorf
As of March 2021, Clarence Seedorf is ranked tenth for Champions League appearances but what makes him stand out over the rest is that he is the only player to have won the tournament with three spearate teams. He has a total of four Champions League trophies and is one of the tournaments best ever playmakers.
Clarence Seedorf won the competition with Ajax, Real Madrid, and AC Milan twice. He is considered one of the most successful players in the history of the competition and in 2007 he was named the best midfielder in the Champions League. He was truly a great player to watch and there is no denying his success when it comes to the Champions League.
8. Iker Casillas
As of March 2021, Iker Casillas has the most appearances in the Champions League with 177. he is the highest ranked goalkeeper on our list and it couldn't be anyone else. Casillas is the youngest ever goalkeeper to play in and win a Champions League final at 19 years and four days old. He won the tournament three times, all of them with Real Madrid.
Casillas is considered by many as the greatest goalkeeper of all time and was named the World's Best Goalkeeper every year from 2008/12. He is also one of the few players to have played over 1000 professional matches and as of March 2021, holds the record for the most clean sheets in both the Champions League and the Spain national team.
Xavi has the third most appearances in the Champions League with 151 and is a four-time winner of the competition. The "Puppet Master" was part of one of the best midfield trios ever seen with Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets. He played a vital role in the 2011 Champions League final against Manchester United.
Xavi will always be remembered for his spectacular passing, positioning, and view of the game. He is regarded by many as the best midfielder of all time. Xavi had the record for most games played with Barcelona until Lionel Messi broke it and with the club he won eight La Liga titles and four Champions League trophies.
6. Paolo Maldini
Paolo Maldini is one of the few players who have won the Champions League five times. He won the European Cup twice before it was rebranded and has a total of 140 matches in the competition, 109 after the rebrand. Maldini will always be remembered as one of the best defenders to have ever played in the tournament.
Maldini played in eight different finals and won three of them as captain. In 2003, he was named Man of the Match against Juventus in a final that finished 0-0, the only goal-less final in the history of the tournament. He had the record for most appearances in the Serie A with 647 until he was overtaken by Gianluigi Buffon.
Raul has the fifth most appearances in the Champions League with 142 and is the fourth highest goalscorer with 71 goals. He won the tournament three times and in two of those he scored in the final which put him in a small pool of players to have ever done so. Before Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, there was Raul putting up the incredible numbers.
Raul is considered as one of the most important players in Real Madrid's history and one of the greatest Spanish players of all time. He is the clubs second all time top scorer and won six La Liga, four Spanish Supercup, and two Intercontinental cups. One of the best players the Champions League and La Liga have ever seen!
4. Andres Iniesta
Andres Iniesta is seventh in appearances with 130 and has won the Champions League 4 times with Barcelona. He has one of the best goals in the history of the tournament with his late minute winner against Chelsea in the 2008/09 semi final. His outside foot finish is one of the most iconic goals but it is impossible to pinpoint just one moment for such a legendary player.
Iniesta is widely considered as one of the best players of his generation and one of the greatest midfielders of all time. His excellent passing and playmaking has cemented him as one of the best players of all time and definitely one of the greatest Champions League players of all time.
3. Sergio Ramos
Sergio Ramos is one of the most impactful players in the history of the Champions League and no one can debate that. He has won the tournament four times with Real Madrid. Ramos has so many iconic moments like his two headers in four minutes in the semi-final against Bayern Munich, his only goal in the 2016 final against Atletico Madrid, or his 93rd minute equaliser in 2011.
Sergio Ramos is an incredible player and will no doubt go down as one of the best defenders of all time. He has won 22 major titles including five La Liga titles, four Champions League titles, and won the 2010 World Cup. Ramos has been in the FIFAPro World 11 eleven times wich is more than any other defender in history.
2. Lionel Messi
Well it's almost always down to either Messi or Ronaldo isn't it? Lionel Messi has won the Champions League 4 times, is fourth in appearances with 149, and is the second highest goal scorer in the tournament with 120 goals. Messi has many iconic moments like his four goals against Arsenal in 2010, his chip over Manuel Neuer in 2015, and an insane dribble and goal past Real Madrid in 2011.
Messi has a better goals-to-game ratio than Ronaldo and is undoubtedly one of, if not the best, player to have ever played the game. He has won a record six Ballon d'Or awards, a record six European Golden Shoes, and has won a club record 33 trophies with Barcelona. Messi has broken a countless amount of records and is a legend of the sport.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo is the Champions League greatest ever player and it isn't even a question. He has the second most appearances in the tournaments history with 176 and is the all time top goalscorer with 134 goals. His first ever trophy came with Manchester United and the other four have been with Real Madrid.
Over half of Ronaldo's goals in the tournament have come in knockout games and he has won three Champions League goal of the season awards in 2014, 2017, and 2018. He has won 31 major trophies, five Ballon d'Or awards, and four European Golden Shoes. Ronaldo is the Champions League GOAT and there is no debating that.