In football’s top competition, it is fitting that this piece is being written on the even of the 2020 Final.
Because one player, a certain Polish frontman who plays for a German club, could be about to earn his place in the top status in my list.
As it stands, these are the highest goalscorers in Champions League history:
Cristiano Ronaldo 130
Lionel Messi 115
Robert Lewandowski 68
Karim Benzema 65
Ruud van Nistelrooy 56
Thierry Henry 50
Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Andriy Shevchenko 48
Filippo Inzaghi 46
Didier Drogba and Thomas Muller tied on 44
Of course, the top two on this list are arguably the two best players the world has ever seen and it’s no surprise that no-one since Kaka (AC Milan) in 2007 has been the competition’s outright top scorer other than the genius duo.
However, that is about to change this term with Lewandowski going into Sunday’s final with 15 already – a class act in a class of his own at times.
While it is not just goals which you can judge a striker on, their insatiable appetite for them can prove the difference between the all-round top marksmen and, simply, the elite.
A personal favourite of mine, as a Manchester United fan, was always van Nistelrooy.
The Dutchman is considered one of the best technical strikers to ever play the game and was a key goal-scoring asset to three of Europe’s clubs with spells at PSV Eindhoven and Real Madrid either side of his United adventure.
The peak of his success came in the 2002-2003 Champions League season when he set the record for most goals in a single tournament (12) with United.
Although van Nistelrooy never won Europe’s biggest prize, he made an indelible mark on it. He notched five goals for PSV in the 1998/99 group stage, including a hat-trick against HJK Helsinki in November 1998, before moving to United in summer 2001.
His first season at Old Trafford brought 10 Champions League goals as United reached the last four, with the Dutchman then netting 12 the following season, despite the fact that Alex Ferguson’s men were eliminated a round earlier.
His scoring rate remained impressive at Real, Van Nistelrooy striking 13 times in 19 European assignments.
He will always have a place on my list.
There again so will Alessandro Del Piero (42).
Del Piero scored six in the 1995/96 Champions League as Juventus lifted the trophy, beating Louis van Gaal’s Ajax in the Rome final. He netted in the final a year later too, but his goal wasn’t enough to prevent Borussia Dortmund from winning a maiden European Cup.
In 1998, Del Piero finished as the competition top scorer with 10 goals – including a hat-trick in the semis against Monaco – as Juventus reached a third consecutive final. He and the Bianconeri made it that far once again in 2003, but despite converting his penalty in the shootout against Milan, Del Piero was on the losing side for the third time.
At his best though, he could be unplayable.
And what of Shevchenko who survived the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown as a child and went on to bring his native Ukraine to the football forefront with incredible performances for Dynamo Kyiv.
He led them to some fantastic achievements, including a 4-0 thrashing of Barcelona in a 97-98 Champions League match in which he scored a hat trick. He top-scored the following season with eight goals as Dynamo made the semi-finals, where they were beaten by Bayern Munich.
Shevchenko, of course, went onto be a prolific scorer for AC Milan and was named the 2004 European Player of the Year, a season after scoring their winning penalty in a final shootout against Juventus in 2003, securing the club’s sixth European crown.
He was a runner-up twice more with Milan (2005) and Chelsea (2008).
So, all the three listed above make my list, as does Raul who holds several distinctions, as well as being a three-time winner with Real. He was the first player to score 50 Champions League goals and, surprisingly, he never received a red card in his 17 years on the pitch.
In 2011, he even went onto score five goals playing for Schalke and helping them advance to the semi-finals.
How can I complete a top six, though, without Ronaldo and Messi who have taken the art of scoring to a whole new level.
Four-time winner Messi and five-times champion Ronaldo have outscored all of European football’s modern cult heroes, young up-and-comers and juggernauts to shine and score plenty of spectacular goals.
Henry and Ibrahimovic would make my top eight but I was only asked for five and I’ve given you six so I better wind my neck in!
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