It’s Europe’s most prestigious competition. It’s the trophy that everyone covets, the ears that everyone dreams of picking up, the glorified jug that everyone longs to drink out of it.
And every single man on this list, except for *spoiler* two (prayers thrown up) has lived through those fantasies on at least one occasion. Here are the top 20 appearance makers in Champions League history.
20. Arjen Robben – 110
(PSV Eindhoven 10, Chelsea 19, Real Madrid 11, Bayern München 70)
Arjen Robben’s Champions League journey has been folkloric at times. With his missed extra time penalty against Chelsea in 2012, when Bayern were destined to win because they were hosting the final, Robben was the arch-villain of Bavaria.
In an inconceivably ill-timed international friendly held just three days later at the Allianz Stadium, the Dutchman was booed by a section of the fans. That was May 22nd 2012. A year and three days later he was scoring the redemptive goal against Borussia Dortmund that finally got Bayern the trophy. 110 appearances. One trophy.
20. Karim Benzema – 110
(Lyon 19, Real Madrid 91)
Yes, the same amount of appearances as Robben, but Karim Benzema’s four trophies give him priority. Naturally.
Yes, four Champions League trophies. That’s twice the number of La Liga titles he’s won. Ridiculous. And, despite everything that’s happened to Real Madrid in 2018/19, who would bet against a fifth in six years? It’s also worth pointing out that the Frenchman is the competition’s fourth-highest goalscorer of all time.
18. Petr Cech – 111
(Sparta Praha 12, Chelsea 94, Arsenal 5)
An architect of the aforementioned Arjen Robben arc, it’s Petr Cech at number 18. There are many unsung heroes from that fateful night in 2012 for Chelsea, including the man standing a-gasp in the right of the above frame, David Luiz, but even though the Czech custodian was at the forefront of everything that evening, he remains under-appreciated.
There’s a reason Didier Drogba attributes his greatest moment as a player to this greatest of players between sticks. Having announced his proposed retirement at the end of this season, the 36-year-old will never grace this stage again, but he’s definitely made his mark.
17. Philipp Lahm – 112
(Stuttgart 7, Bayern München 105)
The man who could play in 10 positions, all at once. A one-man army, a jack of all trades and a master of most, Philipp Lahm’s crowing European moment came in 2013 at Wembley, following that goal from Robben.
A true great.
17. Thierry Henry – 112
(Monaco 9, Barcelona 26, Arsenal 77)
Here’s a picture of Thierry Henry being peppered by photographers trying to get a picture of him holding the Champions League trophy.
With 50 goals, Henry is the seventh highest scorer of all time. He was a good player, and he doesn’t need me to vouch for him to be remembered thusly. And he could still emulate his compatriot Zinedine Zidane with managerial success. I mean, sure it looks unlikely right now, but there’s plenty of time. Pleennnty of time.
15. Carles Puyol – 113
Here’s Carles Puyol speaking at a corporate promotional event for the competition. Maybe it’s not as good as a teary-eyed picture of him holding the trophy aloft, but it hopefully serves as a welcome break from those – trust me, there will be more.
Winner of three Champions League titles, with three different incarnates of that wondrous Barcelona generation, Puyol was the overarching leader in all of those successes. A titan of the European game, he ruled with an iron fist, but a soft heart. His passion for winning was only matched by his compassion for his fellow professional. Truly missed in this day and age.
14. Sergio Ramos – 118
Everything I said about Puyol, except for the compassion part. Oh, and swap three for four. While it would be harsh to suggest that Puyol’s comparative lacking (or indecision to stoop to) sh*thousery was the key missing ingredient that prevented him from making his treble a quadruple, I’m sure Sergio Ramos would.
13. Zlatan Ibrahimovic – 119
(Ajax 19, Juventus 18, Internazionale Milano 22, Barcelona 10, AC Milan 16, Paris Saint-Germain 33, Manchester United 1)
Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The first of our two sorry members on this list to have not lifted the coveted trophy, and it wasn’t from a lack of trying. Unfortunately, he seemed cursed. The season he left Inter for Barcelona coincided with the season Jose Mourinho upended La Blaugrana against the odds to surge to victory. Poor Zlatan.
Still, at least he took it well.
13. Xabi Alonso – 119
(Real Sociedad 8, Liverpool 39, Real Madrid 47, Bayern München 25)
This is Xabi Alonso staring wistfully at the big-eared beauty in the build up to the final in 2005. I think you’ll agree this is better than any celebratory snaps I could’ve shown you from the aftermath of that chaotic night in Istanbul.
And that wasn’t the first time his wishes were granted, with another triumph following nine years later with Real Madrid.
11. Gianluigi Buffon – 120
(Parma 6, Juventus 111, Paris Saint-Germain 3)
The second member of that sorry club. Yes, I could’ve opted for that infamous image of Gianluigi Buffon strolling forlornly passed the Champions League trophy, tears glistening, but I’m not that cruel.
Instead, I’ll look to the future, because the future could still hold glory for the Italian stallion. We’re rooting for you, Gigi. I mean, PSG was definitely a tough assessment of this support, but we’re still sort of behind you!
11. Roberto Carlos – 120
(Real Madrid 107, Fenerbahçe 13)
Roberto Carlos was many things throughout his illustrious career. Three-time Champions League winner was one of them, as was assister of the finest goal (yes, still) in the competition’s fabled history – that majestic Zinedine Zidane volley in 2002.
Was it the best cross he’s ever put in his life? No. But was it the perfect challenge for the world’s most perfect player at the perfect time? Without question.
9. Paul Scholes – 124
A two-time winner, Paul Scholes could always be counted on by his United teammates to pull the rabbit out of the European hat when it was necessary.
Having said that, the recently appointed Oldham manager didn’t have the best of luck when it came to finals – he was suspended for the triumph over Bayern in 1999, and limped off injured in 2008. Still, two medals, and a load of memories.
8. Clarence Seedorf – 125
(Ajax 11, Real Madrid 25, AC Milan 89)
One of the best players in Champions League history, definitely one of the most successful, with almost certainly the best photo in Champions League history. Clarence Seedorf remains the only player to win the title with three separate clubs.
The first came with Ajax in the dying embers of their glory days, the second came with Real Madrid in 1998, the final two with AC Milan in 2003 and 2007. Staple.
7. Lionel Messi – 129
Speaking of the best players in Champions League history, insert Lionel Messi. He boasts four trophies, and is still very much hungry for more, having not tasted success since 2015.
He also boasts one of the greatest individual performances in a final ever seen, when he almost singlehandedly dispatched of Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United side in 2011. He’ll surely be adding to this appearance tally this campaign, and he’ll be hoping the trophy cabinet has room for expansion too.
6. Andres Iniesta – 130
Andres Iniesta is the one man who Messi is guaranteed to supercede in this list, so he best enjoy his sixth place stature while he still can.
Seeing as there were few happier players in the game than when Iniesta was in his European pomp, I’m sure he won’t begrudge his former teammate. Obviously, Iniesta was present for every single one of those four aforementioned triumphs, he is the most decorated player in Spanish history. So that’ll be probably help him get over it.
5. Ryan Giggs – 141
The one thing better than corporate promo pictures of past winners with the Champions League trophy? All of those things but with FIRE.
And Ryan Giggs, as a proud Welsh Dragon, deserves all the fire he can get. The two-timer (that’s UCL trophies we’re talking about) is the competition’s 30th highest scorer, joint level with Jean-Pierre Papin – not bad company.
4. Raul – 142
(Real Madrid 130, Schalke 12)
Raul Gonzalez Blanco did some incredible things in European football, including the garnering of three trophies and the scoring of 71 goals – the third most of anyone ever.
Did any of them come in a Schalke shirt? No, probably not, but we’ve seen enough Madrid players from those glory years at the turn of the century looking happy, so how about some love for Gelsenkirchen?
3. Xavi – 141
Am I running out of words to describe the players from this Barca generation, and how they went about winning four titles? Maybe.
But, for Xavi, the second one-name wrecking ball in quick succession, I’ll scrape the barrel. Mr Hernandez, also known as the second most decorated player in Spanish football history, was the first (and only) Blaugrana representative to play 150 games in the competition. He was the preeminent midfielder of his time. He was a Leonardo da Vinci painting of a player. There, barrel scraped.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo – 157
Of all the pictures Cristiano Ronaldo has taken alongside this trophy, this has got to be one of the worst. But it is still one of the most significant, because as he handily (excuse the pun) points out in said image, it was his fifth time posing for such a picture.
That fifth victory took him level with Paolo Maldini, Alfredo di Stefano and six others in second place on the all-time individual winners list. Oh, and he’s miles ahead in the goalscoring charts, with a whopping 121 efforts from those 157 outings. Oh, and he will join Seedorf in winning the trophy with three different teams if he can do it with the Old Lady in 2019.
1. Iker Casillas – 173
He may be unlikely to add to his trophy haul, but Iker Casillas is destined to notch at least two more appearances to that mammoth total of 173.
A last-16 victory over Roma would earn him at least two more, taking him to 177, and could just see him elude Ronaldo in this prestigious list. That proposed total would require the Portuguese international to reach the final this year, and then achieve the same feat next year, before coming back just once more in his career. Whatever happens, it promises to be a fascinating race.