Ronaldo, Zidane, Gerrard: Who are the greatest big-game players in football history?

  • Kobe Tong

Cristiano Ronaldo is inevitable.

Regardless of how poorly Manchester United played during their Champions League clash with Villarreal, was anyone actually surprised to see Ronaldo scoring a stoppage-time winner?

Of course not because the fact of the matter is that Ronaldo scores crucial goals for fun and it’s for that reason that so many supporters consider him to be the most clutch footballer in history.

Ronaldo’s big-game brilliance

You know, when the chips are down and the team needs an inspirational moment more than ever, you can always rely on a certain breed of footballer to really rise to the occasion.

And while we can probably agree that Ronaldo is the prime example of this phenomena, the United superstar isn’t alone in his knack for producing the goods in pivotal moments and key games.

Ronaldo’s last-minute WINNER! Man Utd 2-1 Villarreal (Football Terrace)

As such, on the back of Ronaldo’s dramatic winner at Old Trafford, we wondered what the most ‘clutch’ XI in the history of football would actually look like. Intriguing, right?

Now, for our definition of clutch, we’re looking at players who have a proven track record of producing both key moments either late on in games or in the most important matches of all.

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Big-game players

And if anything, the more inordinately outrageous their statistics are in those crucial games compared to standard week-on-week fixtures, the more likely they are to be selected.

However, above every other criterion, your humble writer simply wondered: which players would I want on my team if my life depended on a winning goal being scored in the final seconds of a game?

Or to put things in a different way in case we’ve completely misunderstood the internet term: the opposite of ‘choking’.


The most clutch XI in football history

But enough with the disclaimers and housekeeping, let’s get straight into the action and name the greatest ‘clutch’ XI in football history right here, right now:

GK: Peter Schmeichel

United would never have won the treble and Denmark might never have bagged the Euro 1992 crown if it wasn’t for Schmeichel’s penalty saves from Dennis Bergkamp and Marco van Basten.

Marry that to clean sheets in the 1992 League Cup final and 1994, 1996 and 1999 FA Cup climaxes, as well as a superb display in the 1999 Champions League finale, to see why Schmeichel takes his place.


RB: Sergio Ramos

Right-back was a tough spot to fill, hence Ramos playing in his position of old, but we simply couldn’t leave out a defender with two Champions League final goals to their name.

Ramos has produced stoppage-time equalisers in the final of both the Champions League and UEFA Super Cup, while also marshalling clean sheets in three major finals for Spain.


CB: Diego Godin

In the space of just a few weeks, Godin scored an equalising goal at Camp Nou that secured the La Liga crown for Atletico Madrid and a Champions League final strike that almost won them ‘Big Ears’.

Then, fast-forward mere days and Godin was planting an 81st-minute header past Gianluigi Buffon at the World Cup that kept Uruguay in the tournament at Italy’s expense.


CB: Franco Baresi

Baresi led AC Milan to clean sheets in every European Cup final that he won; played every second of Italy’s 517-minute run without conceding at the 1990 World Cup and kept a clean sheet against Inter Milan with a broken arm.

Even the one flaw in Baresi’s big game record, which saw him miss a penalty in the 1994 World Cup final, isn’t without brilliance as the Italian legend kept Romario and Bebeto quiet for 120 minutes.


LB: Ashley Cole

Without Cole’s heroic goal-line clearances against Napoli and Barcelona, as well as his shootout conversion against Bayern Munich, Chelsea might never have won the 2012 Champions League title.

Marry that to another penalty finish against Portugal at Euro 2004 after a frankly herculean display against Ronaldo, Luis Figo and Deco to see exactly why Cole is deserving of the left-back slot.


CM: Zinedine Zidane

How about three World Cup final goals to get things started? Zidane’s 1998 brace essentially won the trophy for France; his Panenka penalty in 2006 was outrageous and lest we forget that volley in the 2002 Champions League final.

Chuck in the ‘Golden Goal’ that took France to the Euro 2000 final and pretty much every non-head-butted touch of his 2006 World Cup tournament for good measure and Zidane swaggers into our line-up.


CM: Steven Gerrard

A pretty obvious one, this, because Gerrard holds the remarkable distinction of being the only player in history to score in the finals of the FA Cup, League Cup, Champions League and UEFA Cup.

And frankly, that statistic alone is doing him an injustice because said FA Cup final is named after him due to two stunning goals and said Champions League final might be the greatest comeback in football history.


CM: Andres Iniesta

Iniesta is the only player in history to collect the Man of the Match award in the Champions League final, European Championship final and World Cup final. All that, and he scored the winner in the latter.

But it gets even better, because Iniesta helped to turn the tide for Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League with his half-time introduction and scored that iconic last-minute equaliser at Stamford Bridge.


FW: Fernando Torres

Whether it’s scoring for Chelsea in the Europa League final or giving Gary Neville a ‘scoregasm’ with that goal against Barcelona, Torres’ penchant for clutch performances is severely underrated.

Besides, we’re talking about a player who scored the decider in the Euro 2008 final, provided the pre-assist for Iniesta’s World Cup winner and found the net in the Euro 2012 climax to secure the Golden Boot.


FW: Didier Drogba

With vital strikes in two League Cup finals and four FA Cup climaxes, Drogba holds the unbelievable record of having scored nine goals in the ten curtain-closers that he played for Chelsea.

However, above everything else, Chelsea fans will always adore Drogba for scoring the game-saving equaliser and game-winning penalty that secured the Champions League title in 2012.


FW: Cristiano Ronaldo

For starters, nobody has scored more goals in Champions League finals than Ronaldo and he now boasts an astonishing record of 41 game-winning strikes in the competition as a whole.

Marry that to an extra-time Copa del Rey final winner over Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona and a last-gasp goal to break the international goal-scoring record to really appreciate Ronaldo’s pressure performances.


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Who’s your favourite clutch player?

If my life really was on the line with the fourth official holding up the board for an extra five minutes in the dying embers of a major final, then you can bet that I’d be calling upon this XI to save me.

From the World Cup final exploits of Zidane to the Champions League pedigree of Ramos, these players either make a habit out of last-minute winners or producing the goods in the biggest games.

However, as much as we’re delighted to have made an entire XI out of the phrase, we’d be lying if we said that anybody other than Ronaldo was the GOAT when it came to clutch footballers.



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