Robert Lewandowski's place in UEFA Champions League history alongside the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Raul is assured. - © 2019 DFL
Robert Lewandowski's place in UEFA Champions League history alongside the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Raul is assured. - © 2019 DFL

Where does Robert Lewandowski rank among the great Champions League No.9s?


Robert Lewandowski has reached 85 UEFA Champions League goals in fewer games than any other player - but where does the Bayern Munich No.9 rank among the competition's greatest strikers? takes a look…

Ground rules

Let’s first establish the criteria. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are way out in front in terms of goals scored alone. Ronaldo has 140 Champions League strikes, 15 more than his great career rival Lionel Messi. The Manchester United man is the only one of the two who could today be described as an out-and-out striker, though. Ronaldo's journey from the right-hand side of United’s midfield to the left wing of Real Madrid’s attack before becoming a focal point for the record European champions has also seen him collect five Champions League titles.

Ronaldo (l.) and Lewandowski (r.) have never been teammates but the respect between them is mutual. - 2017 Getty Images

Messi has averaged 0.81 goals per game at Europe’s top table - to Ronaldo’s 0.77 - winning the competition four times in the process. To describe the former Barcelona ace as a striker, though, would perhaps be a bigger injustice for a player who has redefined attacking play in soccer’s final third than simply leaving him out of this particular equation altogether.

Finally, Alfredo Di Stefano scored 49 goals in helping Real to five European Cups between 1956 and 1960; Ronaldo’s countryman Eusebio managed just three fewer and helped Benfica inherit Real’s crown in 1962. But with the modern Champions League only founded in 1992, they don’t qualify any more than the legendary Lionel.

So, who is the greatest striker in Champions League history? Let’s get cracking…

1) Cristiano Ronaldo
Manchester United, Real Madrid, Juventus
Goals: 140
Games: 182

A five-time winner of the competition - once with Man United and four times with Real - the Juventus attacker has scored a barely fathomable 140 goals from 182 games at a ratio 0.77 per appearance. Lewandowski coming second to the competition’s all-time record goalscorer on this list is, in itself, something to celebrate. The Poland captain has also stolen his Portuguese counterpart’s thunder before now…

Back in 2013, Lewandowski obliterated Ronaldo’s Real with one of the most remarkable performances in the competition’s history, hitting all four goals for Borussia Dortmund in a 4-1 victory at Signal Iduna Park. Typically, Ronaldo got Real’s consolation that night, but it’s no surprise he and Madrid captain Sergio Ramos were reportedly keen on the club adding Lewandowski to their ranks.

Ronaldo (No.7) could only watch on as Lewandowski (l.) plundered a hat-trick in Borussia Dortmund's 4-1 win over Real Madrid in April 2013. - imago sportfotodienst

“If you’re playing at one of the best clubs in Europe, in the world, you know you can be happy,” Lewandowski explained to the BBC at the time. “And I’m happy being at Bayern Munich. Because what we have here is a high level. And if you play here it’s simple – you have to be focused on your game, give the fans what they want and what the team needs.”

2) Robert Lewandowski
Clubs: Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich
Goals: 85
Games: 104

Lewandowski may not have scored as many Champions League goals as Ronaldo – 85 to CR7’s 140 – but he has 22 more to show for his efforts across his first 104 outings than CR7 did at the same juncture. The reigning two-time FIFA Men's Best Player has also hit 85 goals faster than Ronaldo (121 matches) and Messi (107 matches), thanks in no small part to the quickest hat-trick from the start of a game in tournament history, and boasts the superior strike rate (0.82).

In the decade since arriving in Germany from Lech Poznan, Lewy has never missed more than six consecutive games with injury. Dessert for starters and the main course for dessert might be part of the fittest man in football’s secret, but his appetite for goals is simply insatiable.

After Ronaldo (seven) and Messi (five), Lewandowski is only the third player to score 10 or more goals in three or more different Champions League campaigns. He was just two short of matching Ronaldo's 17-goal single-season goals record in 2019/20. However, with 12 strikes going into the 2021/22 quarter-finals, don't be surprised if he eats it for breakfast this season.

3) Karim Benzema
Clubs: Lyon, Real Madrid
Goals: 76
Games: 136

That’s the podium accounted for, but what about the rest? Benzema’s 76 goals in the competition leave him behind Ronaldo, false-9, withdrawn right-winger, positional revolutionary Messi, and the free-scoring Lewandowski - but ahead of Raul.

Lewandowski’s position ahead of him is safe, though, Benzema's peak years having come alongside Ronaldo’s at Real.

Watch: The evolution of Robert Lewandowski

4) Raul
Clubs: Real Madrid, Schalke
Goals: 71
Games: 142

“If I had to pick one [idol], it would be Raul. I’ve always liked him.” Those were the words of Lewandowski back in 2015, confirming the Spaniard’s status as one of the most influential players of his generation.

After nearly 15 years as the focal point of Real Madrid’s attack – which took in three Champions League triumphs – Raul moved to Schalke. Even at 33, Raul was still a force to be reckoned with, scoring five goals and assisting three more as the Royal Blues went all the way to the competition’s semi-finals in 2011.

Watch: He may have done most of his best European work for Real Madrid, but Raul scored some stunners for Schalke!

5) Ruud van Nistelrooy
Clubs: PSV Eindhoven, Manchester United and Real Madrid
Goals: 56
Games: 73

Rounding out the top six Champions League marksmen is Van Nistelrooy. A Champions League goalscorer with PSV Eindhoven, Manchester United and Real, the Dutchman later turned out for Hamburg, scoring 12 goals in 33 Bundesliga appearances across two years at the Volksparkstadion.

“If I’d just played for thiiiis much longer, I might have stayed ahead of Lewandowski” – Ruud van Nistelrooy scored 17 goals in two years for Hamburg following a glittering European career with Manchester United and Real Madrid. - 2010 Getty Images

Honourable mentions

Thomas Müller - Bayern - 52 goals in 132 games
Thierry Henry
– Monaco, Arsenal, Barcelona – 50 goals in 112 games
Andriy Shevchenko – Dynamo Kyiv, AC Milan, Chelsea – 48 goals in 100 games
Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United – 48 goals in 120 games