The UEFA Champions League has played host to the vast majority of the very best players in the world since changing from the European Cup in 1992/93. 

As such, creating an all-time Champions League XI is like selecting from the best players in the world from the last 30 years – a very trying task, indeed. 

Still, as it’s required that we boil it down to a starting XI, here’s who our picks would be. Prepare for some of the greatest soccer players of all time to miss the cut!

Edwin van der Sar (Goalkeeper)

Standing nearly two metres tall, Dutch shot-stopper Edwin van der Sar established an imperious Champions League career en route to winning the trophy twice. 

Claiming the crown with Ajax in 1994/95 and then with Manchester United in 2007/08, Van der Sar also managed to keep 51 clean sheets in 98 games of Europe’s top competition. 

This puts him a mere eight clean sheets back of rankings leader Iker Casillas but in 79 fewer games, and it gives the Dutchman a far superior 52 clean sheet percentage – better than any other top-20 goalie for clean sheets.

Paolo Maldini (Left Back)

Paolo Maldini was the defensive centrepiece of AC Milan’s dominance through the 90s and 00s, consistently proving himself to be the best left back in world soccer. 

The Italian amassed 116 appearances in the continental competition, scoring three goals, setting up six more, and raising the trophy three times. He also holds the joint record for appearances in the Final with eight.

Carles Puyol (Centre Back)

Few centre backs in the modern history of European soccer are as revered as Carles Puyol. The ridiculously consistent Spaniard ended his career with 100 caps for Spain and 115 appearances in the Champions League. 

Pivotal to the return of Barcelona as a European superpower in the 00s and 10s, the club captain would become a La Liga champion six times and a UCL champion three times. He also managed to notch a couple of goals along the way.

Sergio Ramos (Centre Back)

After proving himself in the UEFA Cup with Sevilla, Real Madrid swooped in to pick up Sergio Ramos, who would prove to be one of the most influential defenders in the club’s history. 

Goalie Iker Casillas may have worn the captain’s armband for much of Ramos’ time with Los Blancos, but it was the versatile defender who invariably commanded the line, ousted opposition attacks, and even scored a bunch of goals.

By his 142nd appearance in the competition, Ramos had already scored 17 goals and ten assists, often popping up in the most pivotal moments – like the 2015/16 Final against local rivals Atlético Madrid. 

The Spaniard’s now back with Sevilla, but the club he helped raise four UCL trophies with is currently at +450 in the sport betting to win Europe’s grand prize once again. 

Philipp Lahm (Right Back)

Philipp Lahm was the embodiment of industrious German football throughout his career, stewarding Bayern Munich to eight Bundesliga titles and a long-awaited Champions League win in 2012/13.

That year, everything fell into place for the German giants, which was particularly helped by Lahm enjoying his best European campaign, putting up five of his total 19 assists. 

Xavi (Central Midfield)

Hailed as one of the most intelligent midfield maestros to ever play the sport, Xavi anchored everything Barcelona did in possession, keeping the ball with ease and sending perfect through balls to gift goals to attackers.

Xavi ended his career as one of the most successful UCL players of all time, scoring 11 times and setting up 31 more in 151 appearances to help raise the trophy four times. 

Now, as the manager of Barcelona, Xavi’s looking to the new wunderkind midfield duo Pedri and Gavi to try to replicate the success that he and fellow midfielder Andréas Iniesta found. 

Although, as it stands, Barça are out at +2000 in the soccer betting to add another UCL trophy to the cabinet. 

Zinédine Zidane (Attacking Midfield)

Always in consideration for the conversation of the best soccer players of all time in his attacking midfield role, Zinédine Zidane was relentless with the ball at his feet.

A Ballon d’Or and World Cup winner, perhaps Zidane’s finest moment came in 2001/02 when he scored what would be the decisive goal in the Champions League Final against Bayer Leverkusen, having just been pivotal (getting a goal and an assist) in defeating Barcelona in the Semi-Finals. 

Clarence Seedorf (Central Midfield)

In his day, Clarence Seedorf was hailed as one of the best and most reliable midfielders in the world. He played for three of the most historic clubs in Europe – Ajax, Real Madrid, and AC Milan – and won the UCL title with all of them.

This achievement, which was secured in 2002/03 with AC Milan, set Seedorf as the first player to win the Champions League with three different teams. By the end of his career, he’d won that trophy five times. 

To this day, the Dutchman born in Suriname is the only player to achieve this feat, which only adds to his incredible tally of 125 games, 11 goals, and 27 assists in the competition.

Thierry Henry (Left Wing)

Boasting 50 goals and 22 assists, Thierry Henry stands eighth on the all-time scoring list of the Champions League, collecting that tally during his time with AS Monaco, Arsenal, and finally, Barcelona. 

It would be with the Camp Nou residents that the famed Frenchman would finally get his hands on the UCL trophy, playing from the left side to score five goals and tee up three more while also proving to be a constant menace in the Final against Manchester United. 

Cristiano Ronaldo (Striker)

Cristiano Ronaldo boasts Champions League records that none in the current crop of star players in soccer look set to break any time soon. 

The Portuguese superstar has five Champions League winners’ medals draped next to his five Ballon d’Or trophies, which are mere reminders of his records for appearances (183), goals (140), assists (48), and goal streak (11 consecutive games with a goal). 

At a time of Spanish dominance, Ronaldo was the main man behind Manchester United’s run to the title in 2007/08 and shot in the Final of 2008/09. Then, he moved to Real Madrid to achieve eternal glory. 

With Los Blancos, the former winger transformed into one of the most venomous and complete strikers the game has ever known, winning the Champions League in 2013/14 and then three years running from 2015/16 to 2017/18. 

Lionel Messi (Right Wing)

The only player who has ever been able to go nose-to-nose with Cristiano Ronaldo for talent in modern soccer, Lionel Messi, naturally, saved many of his best showings for Europe’s prestigious competition. 

With 163 caps, 129 goals, and 45 assists, the Argentine was the driving force behind the four Champions League trophies that he won with Barcelona, but during his time at Camp Nou, La Liga often took precedence for the club. 

The Rosario native does hold one mighty record over Ronaldo, though: Messi ended his career in Europe as the record eight-time Ballon d’Or winner.

*Credit for all images in this article belongs to Alamy*

Ben is very much a sports nerd, being obsessed with statistical deep dives and the numbers behind the results and performances.

Top of the agenda are hockey, soccer, and boxing, but there's always time for the NFL, cricket, Formula One, and a bit of mixed martial arts.