Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are great but – in some respects – Alfrédo Di Stéfano, Bafétimbi Gomis and Gerd Müller are greater.
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Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi's ongoing battle to be the top goalscorer in European football remains perhaps the sport's greatest drama of our age, but both still need to raise their game considerably if they are to scoop certain European Champion Clubs' Cup and UEFA Champions League records.
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 shy 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 in 1960.
UEFA competition appearances
Most appearances in the UEFA Champions League/European Cup (including qualifying): 177 – Iker Casillas
Most appearances in UEFA club competitions (including qualifying): 184 – Iker Casillas
Ronaldo (124) and Messi (109) are in a field of their own when it comes to UEFA club competition goals, but have a way to go to reach Casillas's level in terms of European games.
Indeed Messi is 28th in the all-time UEFA competition appearance rankings with 133; Ronaldo – two years and 139 days older than Messi – ranks fifth with 166. Ronaldo will not overhaul his one-time Real Madrid team-mate any time soon, but he needs just eight more appearances to catch AC Milan hero Maldini's outfield record of 174.
When it comes to Europe's elite competition, Ronaldo's 162 outings put him second in the rankings (with Messi tenth on 129); however, Casillas remains 15 appearances ahead of him.
Success with different 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 for two different losing clubs, Partizan in 1966 and Ajax in 1969. Ronaldo's summer move to Juventus put him in line to match Clarence Seedorf's unique achievement of winning the competition with three different clubs.
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 our dynamic duo are to surpass Maldini's record as the oldest final scorer, they will have to be patient. 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, in which case 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 hit 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
With a treble against PSV on matchday one this season, Messi edged ahead of Ronaldo in terms of the record for UEFA Champions League hat-tricks – eight – though 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 goal 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 thus match Giggs' tally in 2020/21.
Most goals in a single European season: Radamel Falcao (18), Porto 2010/11
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 successive 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 0.75 a game – 122 goals in 162 games – and it is 0.75 in all UEFA club competitions – 124 in 166. Messi has registered more consistently (0.82 in the UEFA Champions League – 106 goals in 129 games; 0.82 in all UEFA competitions – 109 in 133).
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.
*UEFA club competitions means European Champion Clubs' Cup/UEFA Champions League, UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League, European/South American Cup, UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, UEFA Super Cup and UEFA Intertoto Cup
All stats accurate as of 20 December 2018