Football Features

How the Champions League record books would look if Ronaldo and Messi never existed

By Harry Edwards

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo Champions League records

Published: 14:39, 14 August 2020

The Champions League without Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi would be infinitely poorer.

But here’s a list of players whose competition legacies would be (hypothetically) richer had the pair never kicked a ball.

Most Champions League goals: Raul (71)

Currently held by: Cristiano Ronaldo (130)

Starting with the big one, the greatest individual battle between Ronaldo and Messi in recent years has been their quest to become the Champions League’s all-time record scorer.

Having been close to each other for quite some time, Ronaldo opened up a commanding lead and, thanks to his brace in Juventus’ recent last-16 tie against Lyon, currently sits 15 clear of Messi, though the Argentinian can still add to his tally in 2019/20.

But third on the list, and first in a world without Ronaldo or Messi, is Real Madrid legend Raul. A goalscorer extraordinaire, and the spearhead of the Galacticos lineups, Raul scored 66 Champions League goals for Los Blancos, winning the competition three times (which is another record excluding Messi and Ronaldo). The Spaniard would add another four with Schalke before calling time on his European career in 2012. Of those currently playing, Robert Lewandowski is closest to usurping Raul in the non-Messi and Ronaldo world, scoring 66 goals so far.

Most Champions League assists: Ryan Giggs (31)

Currently held by: Cristiano Ronaldo (40)

Moving onto the goal creation, and Ronaldo once again leads the way, with 40 assists in his Champions League career, a stat that some may find surprising. He sits five clear of Lionel Messi, and nine ahead of the man who would lead in our counterfactual world: Ryan Giggs.

The former Manchester United man recorded 31 assists in 145 Champions League appearances across an 21-year career in which he won the competition twice (in 1999 and 2008).

His best campaign was 2006/07, when the Welshman recorded seven assists. Only three players have recorded more in a single season.

Most goals in a single Champions League season: Jose Altafini (14 in 1962/63)

Currently held by: Cristiano Ronaldo (17 in 2013/14)

En route to helping Real Madrid secure the long-elusive La Decima, Ronaldo scored a ridiculous 17 goals in the Champions League. It puts him clear of second-placed Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored 16 in 2015/16 and third-placed Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored 15 in 2017/18.

But if only mere mortals were eligible, coming in with 14 goals is former AC Milan goalscorer Jose Altafini, whose tally in one of the early European Cup seasons secured the Italian side the trophy. Altafini is level with Messi’s best return, his 14 goals in 2011/12.

Again, that is in danger of being beaten this season. Lewandowski currently has 13 goals in the 2019/20 campaign. Just three potential games remain in 2019/20, due to the condensed nature of the knockout stages, so Lewandowski has a harder task of breaking Ronaldo’s record. But if anyone can do it, it’s the 53-goals-this-season Polish striker.

Most Champions League group stage goals: Karim Benzema (47)

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Currently held by: Lionel Messi (68)

Given how many goals they’ve scored, it’s no surprise to see one of Messi and Ronaldo leading the way in the group stage. In this particular round of fixtures, Messi has the upper hand, having scored a whopping 68 goals in the opening stages of the Champions League (five more than Ronaldo).

But without the duo, that record would belong to Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema and his 47 Champions League group-stage goals. Four of those came in 2019/20 with the Frenchman bagging braces against Galatasaray and PSG while the 47 also accounts for 72% of his total Champions League tally.

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Most Champions League knockout phase goals: Robert Lewandowski (22)

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Currently held by: Cristiano Ronaldo (67)

While the rest of the stats largely cover the Champions League in both its current name and the former European Cup, this particular record is for the modern era only as the European Cup was once an all-knockout tournament.

Surprising no one, Ronaldo stands on his own as the record scorer in knockout stages with 67 goals including four in finals. His two against Lyon in 2019/20 were not enough to help Juventus get past the French side and could allow Messi to close the gap, with the Argentinian second on 46.

But sitting in third is Polish goalscoring machine Lewandowski, who has added three to his tally in 2019/20 so far to overtaking surprise leader, and teammate, Thomas Muller.

Most Champions League matches won: Iker Casillas (101)

Currently held by: Cristiano Ronaldo (106)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering he’s won the competition five times, Ronaldo has recorded the most victories in the Champions League, and is one of just two players to have won at least 100 games.

In second place, or first without Ronaldo or Messi, is recently retired Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas. A three-time Champions League winner with Real Madrid, Casillas was a key part of the early Galacticos side before helping to win La Decima. In total, 88 of his wins came with Real Madrid, before Casillas added a further 13 with Porto.

Messi currently has 84 wins.

Most Champions League hat-tricks: Four players (3)

Currently held by: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo (both 8)

If you want pure evidence that Messi and Ronaldo run the Champions League, look no further than the hat-tricks standings. Both currently sit on eight, a competition record, with Ronaldo once scoring three in a single campaign.

Sitting directly below them, well five hat-tricks away, are a quartet of players to have managed three. These are Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gomez (Football Index buy price, 27p), Filippo Inzaghi and Luiz Adriano (Football Index buy price, 17p).

Most Champions League home goals: Raul (49)

Currently held by: Cristiano Ronaldo (69)

Ronaldo’s brace against Lyon took his total tally for home Champions League goals to 69, moving him clear of Messi on 68.

But without the pair, that record would belong once again to Raul, who scored 49 of his 71 Champions League goals at either the Santiago Bernabeu or the Veltins-Arena while representing Real Madrid and Schalke.

Most Champions League away goals: Robert Lewandowski (30)

Currently held by: Cristiano Ronaldo (57)

Raul may be the home king without Ronaldo and Messi but when it comes to goals on the road, Lewandowski leads the way. The veteran striker has scored 30 Champions League away goals but, of course, he is still some way away from Ronaldo’s record of 57 and Messi’s 45.

Most Champions League penalties scored: Ruud van Nistelrooy (11)

Currently held by: Cristiano Ronaldo (17)

‘Penaldo’ they called him as Ronaldo equalised for Juventus against Lyon from the spot.

The strike was, quite remarkably, his 17th goal from a penalty in the Champions League, more than any other player (not including shootouts). The Portuguese forward sits five ahead of Messi and six clear of the man who would otherwise be top dog, Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Van Nistelrooy represented three different teams in the Champions League including qualifying, playing 81 games and scoring 60 goals for Manchester United, Real Madrid and PSV. Eleven of those goals came from the penalty spot including three for Manchester United in the 2001/02 campaign. One of those was a stoppage-time equaliser against Nantes.

Most Champions League opponents scored against: Raul (33)

Currently held by: Lionel Messi (35)

It is a record Ronaldo would have hoped to have equalled this season, but Messi still leads the way in terms of having scored against the most Champions League opponents. In total, 35 teams have felt his wrath at one point or another. Only five teams have stopped Messi from scoring. Inter, Rubin and Atletico have all kept him out on four occasions. The other two are Udinese (1) and Benfica (2).

But if Messi did not exist, then once again Raul would be the record-holder by virtue of having found the net against 33 different teams, the same as Ronaldo. There were 10 teams Raul failed to score against, but special props have to go to Lyon for keeping him off the scoresheet in six games, his worst record against a club in the Champions League.

And the one major record they are still chasing…

Most Champions League appearances: Iker Casillas (181)

The Champions League is not just Ronaldo and Messi’s, however, and there are a fair few records that don’t belong to them. Some, understandably, they’ll never reach, such as clean sheets and some they won’t want, including red and yellow cards.

But another that will be in their sights is that of the most Champions League appearances. It is currently held by Casillas, who played 181 times in the competition for Real Madrid and Porto. Ronaldo will be looking to break that record next season, currently on 174 appearances, but Messi is slightly further back on 141, perhaps the result of injuries and managers deciding to rest him.