Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi’s ongoing battle to be the greatest footballer of all time is one of the most interesting dramas in the history of football.
Their achievements in the UEFA Champions League are absolutely remarkable, but both still need to raise their game considerably if they are to own certain European Champion Clubs’ Cup and UEFA Champions League records.
Cristiano Ronaldo set another record on 12 March when he became (at 34 years and 35 days) the oldest player to score a UEFA Champions League hat-trick, in a 3-0 win against Atlético. Bayern’s Claudio Pizarro had held that record, having hit three in a 6-1 win against LOSC Lille on 7 November 2012, aged 34 years and 34 days. Some of the records that both players need to achiever include;
Most goals in European Cup finals: 7 – Alfredo Di Stéfano, Ferenc Puskás (both Real Madrid)
Goals in most European Cup finals: 5 – Alfredo Di Stéfano (Real Madrid, 1956, 1957, 1958. 1959, 1960)
Most goals in a single European Cup final: 4 – Ferenc Puskás (Real Madrid, 1960)
Messi has scored only two final goals (in 2009 and 2011) while Ronaldo has four (one apiece in 2008 and 2014, and two in 2017) but is still three shy of the record shared by two Real Madrid predecessors. The Portuguese has also made six final appearances: one less than Alfredo Di Stéfano and two short of record holders Francisco Gento (Real Madrid) and Paolo Maldini (AC Milan).
Meanwhile Ronaldo’s final double in 2017 is the nearest either he or Messi have come to matching Puskás’s four-goal haul from 1960.
UEFA competition appearances
Most appearances in the UEFA Champions League/European Cup (including qualifying): 179 – Iker Casillas
Most appearances in UEFA club competitions (including qualifying): 186 – Iker Casillas
Ronaldo (127) and Messi (111) are in a field of their own when it comes to UEFA club competition goals, but have a way to go to reach Iker Casillas’s level in terms of European games. Messi is 27th in the all-time UEFA competition appearance rankings with 135; Ronaldo – two years and 139 days older than Messi – ranks fifth with 168.
Ronaldo will not surpass his former Real Madrid team-mate any time soon, but needs just six more appearances to catch Milan hero Maldini’s outfield record of 174. When it comes to Europe’s elite competition, Ronaldo’s 164 outings put him second in the rankings (with Messi eighth on 131); however, Casillas remains 15 appearances ahead of him.
Success with different club sides
Final wins with the most teams in the UEFA Champions League: 3 – Clarence Seedorf (Ajax 1995, Real Madrid 1998, Milan 2003, 2007)
Highest number of teams scored for in the UEFA Champions League: 6 – Zlatan Ibrahimović (Ajax, Juventus, Internazionale, Barcelona, Milan, Paris Saint-Germain)
Ronaldo is unique in having scored in UEFA Champions League finals for two different winning clubs – Manchester United in 2008, and Madrid in 2014 and 2017. The luckless Velibor Vasović is the only player to register in European Cup finals in two different losing causes: Partizan in 1966 and Ajax in 1969.
Ronaldo’s summer move to Juventus put him in line to replicate Clarence Seedorf’s unique feat of winning the competition with three different clubs. Zlatan Ibrahimović’s record looks even safer from Messi and Ronaldo, who would have to start moving clubs regularly – while still scoring – to make it to six. All of Messi’s strikes to date have come for Barcelona, while Ronaldo has only played for United, Madrid and Juventus in the UEFA Champions League.
UEFA Champions League final: Paolo Maldini (36 years 333 days) – Milan v Liverpool (25/05/2005)
UEFA Champions League, group stage to final: Francesco Totti (38 years 59 days) – CSKA Moskva v Roma (25/11/2014)
European Cup: Manfred Burgsmüller (38 years 293 days) – Werder Bremen v Dynamo Berlin (11/10/1988)
If Ronaldo and Messi are to surpass Maldini’s record as the oldest final scorer, they will have to wait. Ronaldo’s first chance will be in the 2021/22 final, while Messi will not be in line until the 2023/24 showpiece – and only then provided it does not take place before 23 May; otherwise he would have to wait another year.
To overtake the UEFA Champions League oldest scorer mark, Ronaldo will need to register in the competition, group stage to final, after 1 April 2023, and Messi after 22 August 2025. To become the European Cup’s all-time oldest scorer, Ronaldo will have to find the net after 22 November 2023, and Messi after 13 April 2026.
Fastest UEFA Champions League goal: Roy Makaay (10.12 seconds) – Bayern München v Real Madrid (07/03/2007)
Fastest UEFA Champions League final goal: Paolo Maldini (53 seconds) – Milan v Liverpool (25/05/2005)
Roy Makaay established a somewhat daunting target with his strike pretty much straight from kick-off against Madrid in 2007. Ronaldo’s earliest UEFA Champions League effort came in the fourth minute – for Madrid against Juventus in October 2013 – while Messi’s fastest arrived three minutes into Barcelona’s 7-0 win against Celtic in September 2016.
Maldini’s quickfire final goal versus Liverpool is also a mark neither Ronaldo nor Messi have come close to achieving; both of Messi’s final goals were in the second half, with the earliest of Ronaldo’s four coming 20 minutes into the 2017 decider against Juventus in Cardiff.
Fastest UEFA Champions League hat-trick: Bafétimbi Gomis (8 mins) – Dinamo Zagreb v Olympique Lyonnais, 07/12/2011
As well as becoming the oldest UEFA Champions League hat-trick scorer (aged 34 years and 35 days), Ronaldo’s round of 16 treble against Atlético drew him level with Messi’s all-time record of eight hat-tricks in Europe’s top club competition.
However, neither have outstripped Bafétimbi Gomis’s lightning-quick treble against Dinamo. The swiftest of Messi’s hat-tricks – his first – took 22 minutes (v Arsenal, 06/04/10), though a mere 16 minutes separated his second and fourth strikes in his five-goal salvo against Bayer Leverkusen on 7 March 2012. Ronaldo’s 12-minute treble against Malmö is his fastest to date.
Luiz Adriano broke new ground by scoring back-to-back UEFA Champions League trebles for Shakhtar against BATE in 2014/15 – five goals in the first group meeting and three in the second – but Ronaldo matched him with trebles against Bayern München and Atlético in the 2016/17 knockout phase.
Goals in most UEFA Champions League seasons: Ryan Giggs (16)
Messi scored in a 14th successive UEFA Champions League campaign in 2018/19 to equal Raúl’s record for goals in the most successive UCL seasons. Ronaldo has scored in his last 14 – and 14 in total – having failed to register in his first two campaigns, both with United. Both can match Ryan Giggs’s tally in 2020/21.
Most goals in a Single season
Most goals in a single European season: Radamel Falcao (18), Porto 2010/11
Radamel Falcao’s glorious exploits in the 2010/11 UEFA Europa League set a mark that Messi and Ronaldo have been unable to emulate. The Colombian’s haul included one goal in qualifying and 17 in the competition proper. Messi’s best year came in 2011/12 when he ended the European season with 14 strikes, while Ronaldo set a European Cup/UEFA Champions League record with 17 in 2013/14.
Best goals per game average in European Cup/UEFA Champions League: 0.97 – Gerd Müller (Bayern)
Best goals per game average in UEFA club competition*: 0.87 – Gerd Müller (Bayern)
In 2017/18, Ronaldo eclipsed Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record of scoring in nine straight UEFA Champions League games (set with Manchester United in 2002/03), taking his total to ten in the 3-1 quarter-final loss at home to Juventus.
However, when it comes to goals per match, Messi and Ronaldo cannot compete with the all-time record holders. Ronaldo’s UEFA Champions League record stands at 0.76 a game – 125 goals in 164 games – and it is 0.76 in all UEFA club competitions – 127 in 168. Messi has registered more consistently (0.82 in the UEFA Champions League – 108 goals in 131 games; 0.82 in all UEFA competitions – 111 in 135).
Gerd Müller’s 0.97 goals per game ratio (34 in 35 European Cup games) continues to look an unbreakable record. In order to reach a similar figure, Messi would need to fire hat-tricks in his next ten games in the competition, while Ronaldo would require trebles in each of his next 17.
Ronaldo and Messi are undoubtedly two of the greatest players in the history of the UEFA competitions but some of these incredible records may never be broken by the incredible duo. Which of these records do you think they may break before they retire? Share your thoughts with us and leave your opinions in the comment section.