The UEFA Champions League and its predecessor, the European Cup, is the most coveted trophy in European club soccer. It’s one of the hardest trophies to win and equally difficult to defend the following season.
Since the inception of the European Cup in 1955, and right through to the name change in 1992 to the Champions League, many players have won this most important of titles, but very few have won the trophy more than once.
For certain clubs, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Manchester United, Liverpool, and AC Milan, we’re looking at you here; then the chances have been much higher.
It’s no surprise that only 19 players have won the biggest trophy in Europe five or more times since 1955, and even less surprising that only the truly elite teams have achieved it.
Today we’ll look at which players have truly dominated the Champions League and European Cup over the decades for their clubs.
It’s often the case that a team dominates for a few years, then seems to struggle, and the pattern for that is evident throughout. When these players win a European trophy, they’re hungry for more.
Here are the 10 players with the most Champions League titles.
10. Ferenc Puskas – 3 Titles
- Club: Real Madrid x3
One of soccer’s first global superstars, Ferenc Puskas, was a Hungarian striker whose time at Real Madrid made him one of the most lethal strikers in history.
With 375 league goals for Budapest Honved and 244 for Real Madrid, Puskas had a strike rate of a goal a game.
His international record is equally astonishing, scoring 84 goals in 85 games for Hungary during his 11-year international career.
On the European stage, Puskas was devastating; a three-time European Cup winner, the Hungarian scored seven goals in two of the finals he played in.
As a coach, Puskas would later lead Panathinaikos to the 1971 European Cup final, where the teams lost to a Cruyff-inspired Ajax team.
Remembered by Hungarians and Madrid fans as one of the greatest players of all time, Ferenc Puskas’ record at the club, international, and European level is beyond compare.
9. Johan Cruyff – 3 Titles
- Club: Ajax x3
Being voted the European player of the Century in 1999 should have come as little surprise; during an outstanding playing career and a management career that basically changed soccer forever, Johan Cruyff was one of the most important players in world soccer.
A plate whose skills perfectly matched the idea of “total football,” Cruyff and Ajax won the European Cup for three consecutive seasons.
The recurring theme of a club suddenly finding its stride and dominating the competition is evident again here, as Ajax won the trophy from 1971 to 1973.
Beating Panathinaikos, Inter, and Juventus, respectively, Ajax swept aside teams with their swashbuckling, intricate, and often devastating passing play.
Cruyff became the best player on earth, at the heart of everything Ajax did, and would eventually leave Ajax for Barcelona after the final of the clubs’ three European Cups.
It says a lot that it took Ajax another two decades before they again lifted the coveted European Cup, and even Cruyff himself didn’t win the trophy again as a player.
He did, however, lift the trophy as a manager when in 1992, he led Barcelona to the final, where they defeated Sampdoria.
8. Franz Beckenbauer – 3 Titles
- Club: Bayern Munich x3
Germany’s greatest-ever defender and one of the most influential players of the past 70 years, Franz Beckenbauer, was a Bayern Munich Icon.
While at Bayern, Beckenbauer won everything there was to win, including three consecutive European Cups, from 1974 to 1976.
After being held to a 1-1 draw against Atletico Madrid in the 1974 final, Bayern would go on to win the replay 4-0, marking the start of the Bavarian club’s rise to European dominance. Twelve months later, the German club would retain their title, beating English powerhouse Leeds United 2-0.
It might not seem like a massive feat for a club of Bayern Munich’s stature to win three consecutive European Cups. However, the German club hadn’t even been selected for the Bundesliga at its inception a mere decade earlier.
Winning their third European Cup in 1976 against Saint Etienne vindicated a club that would become one of the greatest in world soccer.
7. Lionel Messi – 4 Titles
- Club: FC Barcelona x4
It might surprise some that the greatest soccer player of all time has only won four Champions League trophies. Still, considering the multitude of other awards and accolades bestowed on
Lionel Messi, it’s hard to grumble. All four of the incredible Argentines Champions League wins have come while part of the Barcelona team that swept aside all competition.
Widely regarded as the greatest soccer player that’s ever kicked a ball, Lionel Messi is currently at PSG, and after a slow start, the Argentine forward is showing signs of returning to his best form.
Given that PSG is entirely focused on making the Champions League a priority, there is every chance that Messi could add to his tally of four trophies.
6. Clarence Seedorf – 4 Titles
- Club: Ajax, Real Madrid & AC Milan x2
Clarence Seedorf is a Champions League anomaly; a four-time Champions League winner, the Dutchman is the only player to have won the competition with three different clubs.
A winner with Ajax in 1995, Seedorf would go on to win the Champions League with Real Madrid in 1998, before twice winning with AC Milan, in 2003 and 2007, respectively.
Widely and rightly considered one of the greatest Champions League players of all time, Seedorf always seemed to find the right club at the right time.
Moving from one team to another, always making a difference, and seemingly winning the most significant European trophy around almost at will.
With his record standing for over 16 years already, it’s unlikely that Seedorf’s record of winning the trophy with three different clubs will be broken any time soon. If Cristiano Ronaldo finds one final move to a Champions League team, it’s not impossible, but Seedorf is part of Champions League legend for now.
5. Cristiano Ronaldo – 5 Titles
- Club: Manchester United, Real Madrid x4
After winning the first of his five Champions League trophies with Manchester United in 2008, Cristiano Ronaldo would become the most coveted soccer player on the planet.
It was inevitable that the Portuguese legend would end up playing in the white jersey of Real Madrid, and it was at Madrid that Ronaldo would win another four European trophies.
In a period of dominance that swept all opposition aside, Madrid would win the Champions League in four out of five seasons and make the club the most successful Champions League winners of all time.
On his way to winning five Champions League trophies, Ronaldo has become the most successful player in the history of the competition, winning an incredible 113 Champions League games.
Another record is Ronaldo’s 183 appearances in the competition, as are his 140 goals and 42 assists. It’s literally a competition designed purely for the incredible Portuguese.
He may just be the second-greatest player of all time, but he is most certainly the best Champions league player of all time.
4. Alessandro Costacurta, Paolo Maldini – 5 Titles
- Club: AC Milan x5
Two of the greatest defenders Italy has ever produced should are also in the select club of players that have won the Champions League five times.
Center-back Costacturta and left-back Maldini were part of the greatest AC Milan teams ever seen. And their record in European competition is almost unparalleled.
What’s even more incredible is that the first victory for these two giants of Italian soccer first won the trophy in 1989 and won their last 17 years later in 2007.
Most players’ careers don’t last that long, let alone winning the most challenging club competition in the world.
If it hadn’t been for the heroics of a Liverpool side that came back from 3-0 down in the 2005 Champions League final, Maldini and Costacurta would have been tied for the most number of Champions League victories.
Having played in eight finals, Maldini could have been the greatest Champions League player of all time.
3. Luka Modric, Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos, Marcelo, Casemiro, Dani Carvajal, Isco, Gareth Bale – 5 Titles
- Club: Real Madrid x5
One of the most dominant European teams of the past thirty years, this five-time Champions League winning group will be remembered as one of the best squads of all time.
With many of the team now either moved on or in their twilight years, it’s going to be difficult to make it to a sixth title, but rule them out at your peril.
With galacticos such as Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, and the mercurial Luka Modric, this group of players consistently defied the odds, winning Champions League finals that should have been beyond them.
Often starting slowly, Real Madrid would grind out results in the group stages, often losing to an opposition that would usually be steamrollered.
As the tournament progresses, with Modric pulling the strings and Benzema scoring for fun, the juggernaut that is Real Madrid slowly hit their groove.
Making it to final after final and putting their names in the history books for good measure, this group is the closest we may see to the five consecutive wins that Di Stefano and Co. won in the 1950s.
2. Alfredo Di Stefano, Rafael Lesmes, Marquitos, Hector Rial, Juan Alonso, Jose Maria Zarraga – 5 Titles
- Club: Real Madrid x5
It’s telling that on multiple occasions, a team of stars will win the Champions League many times as a group.
A team that stays together, especially when the players are as talented as Di Stefano, Lesmes, Marquitos, Rial, Alonso, and Zarraga, can often dominate a competition for several years.
From 1955 until 1960, Real Madrid absolutely dominated the European Cup and beat their modern contemporaries into the second spot simply because they retained the trophy each year. Winning five Champions League trophies is almost impossible; winning five on the bounce is staggering.
While it’s not impossible for the current Real Madrid players, who sit on five Champions League victories, to record another win, Di Stefano and Co. have a long way to go to be surpassed.
The final of the 1960 European Cup, where Real Madrid beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3, remains the highest-scoring European Cup final of all time.
1. Francisco Gento – 6 Titles
- Club: Real Madrid x6
Not only has Francisco Gento won the European Cup an unparalleled six times, but he is also one of only two players to have appeared in eight finals.
One of the most beloved players in Real Madrid history, Gento would even become the club’s Honorary President in 2014.
Playing as an outside left, Gento would play for Madrid for a staggering 18 seasons, making 427 league appearances.
With a trophy haul that’s scarcely believable, Gento won 12 La Liga titles to go with his six European Cups, and it’s unlikely that the Spaniard’s haul will ever be beaten.
Spanish soccer mourned in 2022 when Francisco “Paco” Gento passed away peacefully in his sleep at the age of 88, but with a club record such as his, he won’t be forgotten.
A truly remarkable career, and one that had he achieved these results in the modern age, Gento would have been one of the biggest stars in world soccer.