After Cristiano Ronaldo moved to Saudi Arabia and Lionel Messi moved to the United States, this year’s Champions League edition will be the first, in 21 seasons, in which two stars who have dominated football for more than a decade will not participate.
The two football legends are the best scorers in the history of the continental competition, with Ronaldo scoring 140 goals and Messi 129 goals in the competition. They also have 8 Champions League titles (Ronaldo 5, Messi 3). In the list of players who participated most in the competition, “The Don” occupies first place with 183 matches (2003-2022), and Messi takes third place with 163 matches (2005-2023).
Ronaldo in European Champions League
Ronaldo played in the Champions League with 3 different clubs: Manchester United (59 matches), Real Madrid (101 matches) and Juventus (23 matches). He also won the Champions League with two clubs, one with United and four with Royal. The records do not stop there, as Ronaldo also holds the record for the most goals in one season, with 17 goals in the 2013-2014 season, and he has 7 Champions League golden shoes to his name, including 6 that he won in 6 seasons in a row.
Messi in the Champions League
As for Messi, he played most of his matches with Barcelona (149 matches), winning all three of his Champions League titles, before spending two seasons at Paris Saint-Germain (14 matches). Messi also holds the record for the most goals in a single match in the Champions League, by scoring 5 goals against Bayer Leverkusen in 2012, along with Luiz Adriano and Erling Haaland. Ronaldo and Messi also played in what is arguably the greatest team in Champions League history.
One final gathering of players
Ronaldo was a key factor in Madrid’s success in the current decade, as the team won 4 titles and the Portuguese international player won the Golden Boot in each season in those rounds. Meanwhile, Messi scored in the 2010-11 season final against Manchester United in Barcelona’s 3-1 win at Wembley Stadium. There was also the team that participated in the final of the 2014-15 season, when Barça beat Juventus 3-1 in Berlin. The two faced each other in the Champions League final only once, in 2009 at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, where goals from Samuel Eto’o and Messi gave Barcelona a two-goal victory over Ronaldo’s Manchester United.
This raises the question: What happened in the Champions League last time before the debut of the two stars?
For that, we had to go back to the 2002-2003 season, and in that edition, Barcelona dominated its groups, winning 11 out of 12 matches it played in the group stage, before losing to Juventus in the quarter-finals.
While Manchester United, Valencia and Ajax reached the quarter-finals before being eliminated. In the semi-finals, we will witness a purely Italian confrontation between the two rivals and arch-neighbors Milan and Inter Milan, while the second semi-final confrontation was between Real Madrid and Juventus.
In the final, the “Rossonaires” faced “Juventus,” and Milan won the title thanks to a 3-2 penalty shootout after the original and extra time ended in a goalless draw. Milan captain Paolo Maldini won the Man of the Match award, and was the only player that season to participate in all 17 possible matches in the competition.
Top scorer in the tournament
Dutchman Ruud van Nistelrooy, the Manchester United striker, won the Golden Boot, after scoring 10 goals in his first appearance with the “Manu” in the Champions League.
Most goals scored
Argentine Pablo Aimar, Valencia player, and Portuguese Rui Costa, Milan player, shared first place for the players who created the most goals, with 5 assists each.