We've had to shunt Ronnie out of position in this ridiculous team

Real Madrid’s all-time greatest Champions League & European Cup XI: Carlos, Di Stefano, Ronaldo…

Real Madrid’s reputation as the biggest and most successful club in the history of football is largely built upon their long love affair with the European Cup, right from the competition’s early years to the modern-day Champions League era.

The Spanish giants have won the competition a record 14 times – twice as many as closest challengers AC Milan – with eight of those triumphs coming after the competition was rebranded to the Champions League in 1992.

Needless to say, some legendary players have represented the club on the European stage. We’ve put together Real Madrid’s all-time greatest Champions League/European Cup XI and arranged them in an ultra-attacking 4-3-3 formation.

GK: Iker Casillas

“Iker Casillas is one of the great symbols of Real Madrid. The Madridistas are especially proud of one of our eternal captains today, captain also of the Spanish national team,” club president Florentino Perez said in a moving speech that marked the ‘keeper’s retirement back in 2020.

“Today, Iker Casillas bids farewell as a professional player, having contributed to further enlarging the myth and Real Madrid legend.

“He came to our club as a boy, at just nine years old, and here he has grown up, he has formed and has become a benchmark for all football fans.”

Couldn’t have put it better ourselves. Casillas was just 19 when he kept a clean sheet against Valencia in the 2000 final and was club captain by the time he won it for a third and final time – La Decima – 14 years later.

RB: Dani Carvajal

Another local boy that came through the fabled La Fabrica academy, Carvajal is unlikely to bother many polls of all-time great right-backs, but he’s been a loyal and dependable servant for his boyhood club and one of only a small group of players that was with Real Madrid for all five of the Champions League wins from 2014 to 2022.

Not only that, but he was entrusted to start all five finals. Lisbon, Milan, Cardiff, Kyiv and Paris. Each and every night ended with Carvajal getting his hands on the trophy.

CB: Sergio Ramos

The man that scored arguably the biggest and most important goal in Real Madrid’s history – that injury-time equaliser against Atletico in 2014 – and their captain when they won three in a row from 2016 to 2018.

One of the first names on the teamsheet.

CB: Manolo Sanchis

Son of Manuel Sanchis, who was a part of Madrid’s 1966 European Cup-winning side, Manolo went on to eclipse his father’s achievements.

Arguably the only player in this team whose European achievements are dwarfed by what he achieved domestically, the sweeper was one of the best players in the world in the 1980s and a key part of the unforgettable La Quinta del Buitre side that dominated Spain but famously fell short on the continent.

But unlike his old homegrown team-mates like Emilio Butragueno and Michel, Sanchis was still going strong – a grizzled, wily veteran – when Madrid put together a new great team in the late 90s. He featured alongside Fernando Hierro as Madrid kept a clean sheet in the 1998 final, beating Juventus 1-0, and came off the bench to see out the 3-0 final victory over Valencia two years later.

LB: Roberto Carlos

The only player in this XI that started in the triumphant finals of 1998, 2000 and 2002. We had to get at least one representative from that curious turn-of-the-century era, in which Madrid finished 4th, 5th and 3rd alongside their European successes.

Club icon Raul would have been a more than worthy representative, but unfortunately for him the competition for places up top is just too stacked. So we’re going with Roberto Carlos, a player that redefined what it was to be a world-class left-back.

Marcelo actually won more Champions Leagues with Madrid and was obviously an exceptional player on his day, but we can’t look past his Brazilian compatriot – Roberto Carlos was just that bit better at his peak.

CM: Luka Modric

With apologies to those who like a semblance of balance in their teams, and actual defensive midfielders like Casemiro and Claude Makelele, we had to get Modric in this team somehow. But we also had to feature the five men ahead of him, so we’re sticking Modric in here as a lone pivot.

Like Carvajal, the Croatian started in all five of Madrid’s Champions League final victories from 2014 to 2022. Unlike Carvajal (and with all due respect to the right-back), Modric has undoubtedly been one of Madrid’s outstanding individuals during this unprecedented era of European success.

Not only one of the greatest midfielders of his generation, but simply one of the greatest midfielders of all time.

READ: Remembering when Luka Modric was voted La Liga’s worst signing

AMC: Ferenc Puskas

One of football’s first international greats, Puskas was among the standout players of not one but two of the greatest teams in history – Hungary’s Mighty Magyars side of the 1950s and Real Madrid’s Europe-conquering side of that same era.

A Galactico before the word even existed, Puskas joined Los Blancos in 1958 and immediately lived up to his reputation as one of the greatest players in the world. The forward won three European Cups, but his crowning glory was undoubtedly in the 1960 final, in which he scored four goals (Di Stefano got the other three) in a 7-3 mauling of Eintracht Frankfurt. He also scored a hat-trick in the 1962 final, which Madrid lost 5-3 to Benfica.

AMC: Alfredo Di Stefano

“Alfredo Di Stefano is maybe the greatest player I have ever seen,” the great Bobby Charlton recalled.

“I watched him in a match when Manchester United played against Real in the semi-final of the European Cup in Madrid the year before the accident. In those days, there was no substitutes’ bench; if you weren’t playing, you were in the stand. I felt like I was looking down on what looked like a Subbuteo table—I was that high up—but I couldn’t take my eyes off this midfield player and I thought; Who on earth is that?

“He ran the whole show and had the ball almost all the time.”

Di Stefano scored 49 goals in 58 European Cup matches, including a record seven in finals. The superstar of the team as Madrid won each of the first five European Cups from 1956 to 1960.

FWR: Cristiano Ronaldo

It’s probably unfair to shunt the European Cup and Real Madrid’s all-time top goalscorer into a position he barely ever featured for the club, not least in the Champions League, but he started out on the right at Manchester United and can do a job there.

Ronaldo, of course, won Ol’ Big Ears four times with Los Blancos, scoring 105 Champions League goals (including 50 in the knockout stages and three in finals). Shoo-in.

QUIZ: Can you name every Champions League final goalscorer since 2000?

ST: Karim Benzema

Had we put this team together a few years back, we might’ve missed out Benzema, stuck Ronaldo up top, and gone with an extra midfielder for a bit more of a balanced structure.

But we couldn’t look past Benzema after his ridiculous, talismanic role in Madrid’s most recent Champions League win. Having played a wonderfully selfless role in support of Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, which saw him win it four times, Benzema then flourished and peaked as the main man in his latter years.

The Frenchman scored 15 goals in 2021-22, including hat-tricks against PSG and Chelsea and a further three goals over two legs against Manchester City en route to the victorious final against Liverpool. His efforts that year rewarded with a richly-deserved Ballon d’Or and – more importantly – a place in this XI.

FWL: Paco Gento

The reason Ronaldo has to lump it on the right. Gento was the classic ‘outside left’ of the 1950s and 1960s and undoubtedly features near the very top of any list of Madrid’s all-time greats. He made 600 appearances for the club, scoring 183 goals, and is the most decorated player in the great club’s storied history with 12 La Liga titles and six – ! – European Cups.

The legendary Spanish winger was the only player who represented the club for all six of their European triumphs from 1956 to 1966. He’s won the competition more times than any other player in the competition’s history.

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TRY A QUIZ: Can you name Real Madrid’s top scorers in La Liga since 2000?