Will Messi catch Cristiano Ronaldo in total Champions League goals?
After netting against Benfica on Wednesday, Lionel Messi is 13 goals behind Cristiano Ronaldo’s all-time Champions League scoring record.
Right now, any discussion about Champions League scoring exploits tends to revolve around Erling Braut Haaland. On Wednesday, the striker plundered another two goals in Manchester City’s 5-0 annihilation of FC Copenhagen, to take his career tally in the tournament to a frankly absurd 28 in 22 appearances.
The plethora of Champions League records that Haaland has set about breaking is, to be honest, already becoming a little hard to keep track of: the quickest to 25 goals, the youngest to 25 goals, the most goals in a player’s first 20 appearances… Soccer stats specialists Opta have noted that the 22-year-old has a better goals-per-game record in the competition - 1.27 - than 98 teams. At Haaland’s current rate, one finds one’s gaze already turning to the all-time individual record for Champions League goals.
Ronaldo the Champions League record holder
At the moment, that tally stands at 140 and belongs to Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the two men whom Haaland and Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappé are seemingly in the process of succeeding as the game’s long-term dominant duo. The other man, of course, is Mbappé's club-mate Lionel Messi, who lies second in the career Champions League goal charts, with 127.
Champions League: all-time top five scorers
Haaland further down the line... and Messi before then?
While Haaland clearly has the potential to become the Champions League’s most prolific marksman at some point in the long-term (well, actually, maybe medium-term) future, Messi could conceivably displace Ronaldo before then. After all, it’s not utterly implausible to suggest that we’ve seen the last of the Manchester United forward in Europe’s elite club competition.
Ronaldo fails to find Champions League club
Now 37, Ronaldo isn’t in it at the moment. Following United’s failure to finish in the Premier League top four last season, he spent the summer angling for a move to a club that could offer him a way back into the Champions League, but didn’t get one. Having been relegated to a substitute’s brief under new boss Erik ten Hag, it’s been reported that he will be allowed to leave United in January. But after finding no takers among Champions League clubs in the close season, will he unearth one in the winter window? His first club, Sporting CP, are in this season’s competition and are well placed to make February’s last 16 - for which Ronaldo would be eligible, despite appearing in the Europa League for United. However, he’d have to take a humongous pay cut to make that return happen, you’d imagine.
Other mooted destinations, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, would hardly solve his Champions League conundrum. And even if he were to remain at United beyond the end of his contract, which expires in June 2023, the Red Devils are far from a cert to make it back to European soccer’s top table next season. They currently sit sixth in the Premier League.
Messi remains a UCL regular
Messi, 35, appears to be guaranteed regular Champions League soccer for the time being. Top of Group H and closing in on knockout-stage qualification, PSG have reportedly offered him a one-year extension to his contract, which runs until the end of the season. If he remains with the Ligue 1 holders, who lead this season’s French top flight, playing in the Champions League is all but a given. That’s also the case if, as it has been said he might, Barcelona president Joan Laporta lures him back to the Camp Nou next term. After spending big in the summer transfer window, a much-strengthened Barça are top of the LaLiga table.
Maybe not this season, but...
Much depends on whether Ronaldo gets a return to the Champions League later this season, or in 2023/24. Even in a decidedly ropey United side, he still managed six goals in seven games in the competition last season, one better than Messi’s five in seven. So, whoever he played for, it’s not unreasonable to imagine that Ronaldo would keep his tally ticking over at a decent enough clip.
Were Ronaldo unable to secure a return to the Champions League, however, Messi could foreseeably surpass his record within the next couple of years. In the last five seasons, he has averaged just over six goals a year in Europe; at 13 behind Ronaldo as things stand, that’s a scoring rate that would allow him to overtake the Portuguese at some point during 2024/25, assuming he hadn’t opted to retire - or perhaps leave Europe - by that stage.
To achieve the feat next season, Messi would need to average eight goals a year across 2022/23 and 2023/24. To do it this term, he would require a personal-best single-campaign tally. The forward, who on Wednesday became the first player to score against 40 different clubs in the Champions League, has two goals in the competition so far this season, and has never hit more than 14.