Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar: The Champions League's greatest ever goalscorers ranked 

  • Kobe Tong

From Cristiano Ronaldo to Lionel Messi and beyond, the Champions League has played host to some of the greatest goalscorers of all time across its decorated history.

Those legendary European nights under the floodlights with the iconic anthem blaring is enough to make any world-class striker want to ply their trade at a club competing in UEFA’s flagship competition.

In fact, so many brilliant centre forwards who would rightfully be considered amongst the most lethal in history have tested themselves in the Champions League that naming the greatest of all is no easy task.

Legendary Champions League goalscorers

Yes, you could literally just look at the list of players with the most goals in the tournament’s history, but there’s more to ranking and rating goalscorers than simply looking at the gross total of strikes.

How many games did it take for them to amass their tallies? What teams did they score the goals for? Did they score in key matches very often? Were they even number nines? The list goes on…

However, we’re always up for a difficult task at GIVEMESPORT, so we’ve decided to use our trusty medium of Tiermaker to rank the greatest goalscorers in Champions League history.

As we stride towards the business end of the 2021/22 campaign on the back of the quarter-final and semi-final draw, the time felt right to take a walkthrough of the tournament’s greats.

Soccer Football – Champions League – Final – Bayern Munich v Paris St Germain – Estadio da Luz, Lisbon, Portugal – August 23, 2020 The Champions League trophy on display inside the stadium before the match, as play resumes behind closed doors following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Miguel A. Lopes/Pool via REUTERS

How we’re making our decisions

Taking every player to have scored 35 or more goals in the competition since its 1992 rebranding, we’ve organised the contenders in tiers ranging from ‘Overrated’ to ‘GOAT’ with three rungs in between.

While the final decisions are ultimately a matter of opinion, we will be factoring in all of the aforementioned questions that consider the player’s goal-per-game ratio, big-game performances and more when making our picks.

Plus, bear in mind that we’re talking about the greatest Champions League goalscorers ever, so anybody included in the list, even if they finish near the bottom, are all deserving of the upmost praise.

In other words, they’re exactly the type of goalscorer that you’d want to get in your Virgin Bet FIVES over in the Premier League…

Nevertheless, the decisions here are based purely upon the forwards’ Champions League output and is not necessarily a reflection of their goalscoring ability elsewhere in the world of football.

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Let’s start easy: Who are The Hornets?

 Ranking every star with 35 or more goals

But enough with the disclaimers and housekeeping because we know you’re here to see the greats of European football going head-to-head and you can check out our final selections down below:

Overrated

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thierry Henry

Have we lost our minds? No, no, we haven’t because don’t think for one second that we’re saying either Zlatan or Henry are anything less than two of the greatest goalscorers of the 21st century.

In fact, we wouldn’t dream of saying that they’re ‘overrated’, period, but the simple fact of the matter is that their Champions League scoring records are indeed overhyped – and that’s not necessarily their fault.

What if we were to tell you, for example, that the most goals Henry ever scored in a Champions League season was seven and that his goal-per-game ratio is worse than Roy Makaay and Mário Jardel?

As for Zlatan, his rate of 0.39 goals per game leaves Raheem Sterling and Jari Litmanen breathing down his neck with only a single season in which he managed to score more than five Champions League goals.

Are we judging them harshly? Yes, absolutely, remember the context, but the data suggests that fans need to dial down their Champions League hype for two legendary strikers who weren’t necessarily at their most lethal in Europe.

Arsenal’s Thierry Henry and Sol Campbell (R) take part in a training session at London Colney, southern England, May 11, 2006, ahead of their Champions League Final soccer match against Barcelona in Paris on Wednesday. REUTERS/Mike Finn-Kelcey

Reliable finisher

Thomas Muller, Raul, Andriy Shevchenko, Alessandro Del Piero and Edinson Cavani

Straight off the bat, we’ve got to cut Muller and Del Piero some extra slack because they have the remarkable distinction of scoring more than 35 Champions League goals despite often not playing as an out-and-out forward.

But even then, Del Piero still boasts a better scoring rate than Henry from his second striker position and Muller ousts everyone from Samuel Eto’o to Luis Suarez despite alloying his goals with countless assists.

Meanwhile, we’ll happily admit that you can make some of the same accusations against Raul that we threw in Henry and Zlatan’s direction, but that’s where the previous tier’s title of ‘overrated’ truly is important.

Do you really hear fans getting weak at the knees about Raul all the time? No, not really and a lot of that is down to the Real Madrid icon effortlessly ticking over as a regular supplier of goals for the ‘Galacticos’.

Well, that and the fact that he scored in two finals, of course…

Then, in Shevchenko, we have a finisher who was really knocking on the door of ‘simply lethal’ status by almost averaging a goal every two games with three seasons where he found the net nine times or more.

Finally, Cavani might only just sneak into the Tiermaker with 35 goals to his name, but the fact that he achieved the feat in just 70 games while basically never playing for a team with a viable chance of winning is crazy.

Soccer Football – Champions League – Group A – Paris St Germain v Galatasaray – Parc des Princes, Paris, France – December 11, 2019 Paris St Germain’s Edinson Cavani celebrates scoring their fifth goal from the penalty spot REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Simply lethal

Mohamed Salah, Didier Drogba, Karim Benzema, Filippo Inzaghi, Neymar and Sergio Aguero

Is Neymar better than Raul? Absolutely not. Does Salah get the better of Henry? Not in our eyes, but the moral of the story is that they all have a run on the previous picks when it comes to Champions League goalscoring.

Salah is only really held back by lukewarm numbers for FC Basel, Chelsea and AS Roma because his output of 34 goals, including one in the 2019 final, across just 53 games for Liverpool is simply brilliant.

And if anything, it’s par for Salah’s course when you consider his extraordinary goalscoring exploits in the Premier League that always make him a tantalising prospect on Virgin Bet FIVES.

Meanwhile, say what you like about Neymar as a player overall and there’s plenty to say, but we can’t ignore a staggering turnover of 41 goals in just 75 games from a player who isn’t even an out-and-out striker.

Believe it or not, Drogba was actually one of the closer calls with a goal-per-game ratio below that of Cavani and Raul, but we’ll openly admit to his one-man-team heroics in the 2012 final narrowly swinging it.

Then, for all of Manchester City’s woes in the Champions League, Aguero looks pretty comfortable rubbing shoulders with the equally-deadly goalscorers of Benzema and Inzaghi with more than 0.5 goals per match.

Soccer Football – Champions League – Group C – Manchester City v Atalanta – Etihad Stadium, Manchester, Britain – October 22, 2019 Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero celebrates scoring their second goal REUTERS/Andrew Yates

Out of this world

Robert Lewandowski, Lionel Messi and Ruud van Nistelrooy

Roll out the red carpet, polish the throne and lift up the crown because we’re talking about Champions League royalty here: the most lethal of lethal finishers in UEFA’s premier tournament.

First and foremost, Lewandowski swaggers into the tier no questions asked with the finest goal-per-game ratio of anyone in the list at a mind-boggling 0.82 with 32 goals coming from the last three seasons alone.

Meanwhile, Messi speaks for himself as the second-most prolific scorer in the competition’s history with an outrageous 125 strikes, featuring the joint-most hat-tricks and one five-goal haul.

Finally, Van Nistelrooy might be the ‘weakest’ inclusion in this category, but the rate at which he found the back of the net in the Champions League is a testament to his status as one of the finest finishers ever.

With 10 and 14-goal harvests from Champions League seasons, Van Nistelrooy has a goal-per-game ratio to match the greatest goalscorer in the competition’s history. Speaking of which…

Real Madrid’s Van Nistelrooy (L) celebrates his goal with David Beckham during the first leg of their Champions League last sixteen soccer match against Bayern Munich at Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium February 20, 2007. REUTERS/Andrea Comas (SPAIN)

GOAT

Cristiano Ronaldo

Obviously. Look, at the end of the day, we could look through record books and stats sheets until we’re blue in the face, but it all comes down to the fact that Ronaldo is the Champions League’s greatest ever goalscorer.

With a simply staggering record of 140 goals in just 183 games across three clubs, including more goals in finals anyone else, we would have lost our marbles if we placed Ronaldo – a shoo-in for any exciting Virgin Bet FIVES line-up – anywhere other than top spot.

Even though Messi and Lewandowski boast marginally better goal-per-game ratios, they’re ultimately still playing second fiddle to a man whose European splurge features a Puskas Award winner and countless deciders.

Soccer Football – Champions League – Group F – Manchester United v Villarreal – Old Trafford, Manchester, Britain – September 29, 2021 Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring their second goal REUTERS/Phil Noble

And breathe.

Who is the greatest in your eyes?

With so many world-class goalscorers scrapping it out to be named as the greatest goalscorer in Champions League history, we had to be ruthless and make some tough decisions along the way.

When even the entry requirement for the Tiermaker is ranking amongst the most prolific players in the competition’s history, the simple fact of the matter is everybody who we included deserves a round of applause.

Yes, we think there’s a standout contender for ‘GOAT’ status and yes, we think a couple of strikers are overrated in the Champions League annals, but anyone bagging 35 goals or more is doing something right.

So, rest assured that our own opinion is by no means the definitive one and you can let us know how you rank and rate the most lethal finishers in Europe’s premier competition across our social channels.

This article is brought to you by Virgin Bet. To get involved yourself, head to Virgin Bet FIVES. Across Monday to Friday, you’ll be given five random players for the weekend’s fixtures; each time one scores, you get free cash, up to £50. Go to Virgin Bet for full terms and conditions. 18+ and please gamble responsibly. begambleaware.org

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