Since the inception of the UEFA Champions League, there have been several winners of the competition across different countries. In each of the winning teams, there is at least one player who stood out.
Some of the best Champions League-winning teams had great midfielders. These players shone for their respective teams and led them to victory. Some as captains, others as leaders of their team: dictating and coordinating matches from the midfield position and scoring important goals too.
It is an uphill task to completely list all the best Champions League winning midfielders. Hence, we have highlighted some of the most outstanding ones.
Paul Scholes is a reference point when discussing the best midfielder ever to feature in the Champions League. During his days as a midfielder with Manchester United, Scholes was regarded by many as a special player.
His long-range passing, shooting, and technical ability were a rarity, especially amongst English players. Xavi Hernandez was so impressed with Scholes ability that he reportedly said:
“In the last 15 to 20 years the best midfielder that I have seen, the most complete is Scholes.”
It was against Xavi’s Barcelona that he had one of his best Champions League performances. Scholes was part of the Manchester United team that dumped Barcelona out of the 2007/08 competition on their way to victory.
Barcelona will not forget in haste how his thunderous strike from outside the 18-yard box earned Manchester United a 1-0 aggregate win in the semi-final. Manchester United went on to defeat Chelsea in the final. That was Scholes’s second Champions League win, having won the trophy in 1999 too.
So far, no other player has managed to win the UEFA Champions League with three different teams besides Seedorf. He won the Champions League with Ajax, Real Madrid, and AC Milan (twice). Seedorf was known to be very resourceful and played in various positions in midfield. Whether defensively or offensively, he made a difference for his teams.
Arguably, his most outstanding season as a midfielder in a Champions League winning team was in 2007. Alongside Gattuso and Pirlo, Seedorf shone in Midfield for AC Milan. After clinching the 2003 Champions League medal and overcoming the heartbreak of the 2005 final loss to Liverpool, Seedorf led Milan to victory in 2007.
This he did in style by clinching the UEFA Best Midfielder award and earned a place in the UEFA Team of the Year for his performance. It was also a kind of redemption for him as his AC Milan team defeated Liverpool in the final 2-1.
Zidane is a midfielder with elegance and grace. The one who makes difficult things look so easy. As an attacking midfielder, he was skillful and could breeze past opponents as if they do not exist.
His technical ability was second to none and was always on display in several matches. Perhaps, the most compelling evidence of his technical ability was laid bare in the final of the 2001/02 UEFA Champions League.
That goal, a volley from around the 18-yard box with his weaker left foot, remains one of the best goals in the history of the Champions League. It was the winning goal for Real Madrid, the one that ensured that he lifted his only UEFA Champions League trophy.
His performance that year earned him the UEFA Club Footballer of the Year award. This consolidated his UEFA Club Midfielder of the Year award which he won in 1998 when his Juventus team lost the final to Real Madrid.
Xavi Hernandez is a four-time UEFA Champions League-winning midfielder. Alongside Iniesta, they formed one of the best duos in the history of the competition. Some will say the trio, with the addition of Sergio Busquet.
The 2008/09 and 2010/11 seasons were arguably the best of the four triumphs. Led by Pep Guardiola, Xavi helped Barcelona dominate their opponents in ways untold. So much so that critics termed the team “boring”.
Many refer to him as the midfield “maestro” and that is because he dictated and coordinated play like none other. With short, precise, and accurate passes, Xavi made sure that opponents were starved of the ball for a longer period of matches. At the conclusion of the 2008/09 Champions League won by Barcelona, Xavi has voted the UEFA Club Midfielder of the Year.
Frank Lampard whose Chelsea team was defeated in the semi-final of that season by Barcelona did not hide his admiration for Xavi. When quizzed on the best Champions League opponents he ever faced, Lampard said:
“The two players I always remember having the hardest time against were Xavi and Iniesta. These two, as a pair, were something special. It was different from anything else I came up against.”
For most football fans and players alike, it is nearly impossible to separate Iniesta from Xavi. This is because they spent the majority of their careers playing alongside each other at both club and national team levels.
Like Xavi, Iniesta is one of the best Champions League-winning midfielders. During his 16-year stay with Barcelona, he won 4 UEFA Champions League trophies. He scored the last-minute goal against Chelsea that sent Barcelona through to the 2008/09 UEFA Champions League final, which they won.
In the 2010/11 tournament, Iniesta had the most assist of any player. In 2014/15 he earned a place in the UEFA Champions League Team of the Season. Both tournaments were won by Barcelona. Iniesta at his prime was nearly unplayable: he had close control of the ball that beats imagination and he rarely loses the ball, even in tight spaces.
Sergio Ramos kept rivalry aside when he said: “He (Iniesta) is someone touched by a magic wand. He makes the difference and does things that no one else can do.”
It is also important to note that Andres Iniesta is the best Football Midfielder (by numbers of team accolades won).
Several other players could have easily made this list of best Champions League winning midfielders. The likes of Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso masterminded the “Miracle of Instanbul” when Liverpool defeated AC Milan in 2005 final.
Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard, and Wesley Schneider also had a remarkable impact on their respective teams on their way to lifting the UEFA Champions League trophy.
Nonetheless, the 5 Midfielders highlighted here are indeed worthy of being the best Champions League-winning Midfielders in football history.
A passionate football fan and the founder of Soofootball.com