The European Cup was created by Gabriel Hanot, the editor of French sports daily L’Equipe. In December 1954, Hanot suggested creating a tournament among European clubs and met with the backing of the recently created European governing body, Uefa. The idea was born when the British press celebrated – somewhat excessively in the eyes of their continental counterparts – the victories Wolverhampton Wanderers had recently achieved over Spartak Moscow and Budapest Honvéd FC.
The following year, in September, the competition got underway.
After 60 years of the European Cup and its successor, the Champions League, L’Equipe has put together a list of the 100 all-time greatest players to grace the stage. Real Madrid, who won the first five European Cups and lead the ranking with 10 triumphs in total, provide the numbers one and two.
Top of the list is Alfredo di Stéfano. The Blond Arrow is widely regarded as Real Madrid’s finest player of all time and was a key part of the team that won the first five European Cups, scoring 49 goals in 58 games in the competition. In second place is Francisco Gento, the only player in the history of the tournament to have won it six times. Completing the podium is Milan great Paolo Maldini, who hoisted old big ears on five occasions.
Behind them are contemporary superstars Leo Messi (fourth) and Cristiano Ronaldo (fifth), who have smashed all scoring records in Europe and have six titles between them (Messi four, Ronaldo two).
Six Madrid players feature in the top 10 of the list: Di Stéfano, Gento, Ronaldo, Ferenc Puskas (7th), Héctor Rial (8th) and Raúl González (10th). In total, 26 of the players selected by L’Equipe have represented Real Madrid. Barcelona supply 17 players and Milan, 15.
In compiling the list, L’Equipe used both individual and collective statistics. For every game played before 1992 a player was awarded four points, and for every game after that date (when the Champions League and its extended format were introduced) two points. For every European Cup triumph a player is awarded 75 points, with 40 for playing in a final and another 40 if a player was that season’s top scorer. Points were also awarded for every goal scored and dependent on the player’s position, so a goal from a defender is worth more than a striker.
Di Stéfano earned 1,296 points, Gento 1,270 and Maldini, 1,132.