5 greatest captains in UEFA Champions League history

Steven Gerrard (airborne) is one of the best captains in Champions League history.
Steven Gerrard (airborne) is one of the best captains in Champions League history.

The UEFA Champions League has been graced by many world-class players and legendary captains over the years.

Though the role of a captain in football is not as pronounced as in a few other team sports, a good captain can lead his troops by example when the chips are down. Be it making a last-ditch tackle or forcing extra time with virtually the last kick of a match, Champions League captains have done it all.

On that note, here's a look at the five greatest captains in UEFA Champions League history:

#5 Javier Zanetti (Inter Milan)

Javier Zanetti led Inter Milan to the 2010 UEFA Champions League title.
Javier Zanetti led Inter Milan to the 2010 UEFA Champions League title.

Javier Zanetti is perhaps one of the most underrated captains in the history of the UEFA Champions League.

But it cannot be denied that the former Argentine player played a key role in Inter Milan's historic continental treble-winning campaign in 2009-10. Zanetti rallied his troops in that epic Champions League semi-final second leg at Camp Nou when Barcelona threw the kitchen sink at Inter.

With Inter up by two goals but a man down with 60 minutes to play, the Nerazzurri were up against it. But Zanetti and co fought and defended as if their lives depended on it. Inter lost on the night, but went through on aggregate. A few days later, Zanetti would become the first non-Italian captain to win the treble.

Answer: Inter icon Javier Zanetti.Retweet to say happy birthday to the 2010 #UCL winner!Great memories, Javier!

The versatile Zanetti did not produce a goal contribution that campaign, but he made sure his troops lived to fight another day. The rest, as they say, is history.

#4 Peter Schmeichel

Peter Schmeichel with the 1999 Champions League trophy
Peter Schmeichel with the 1999 Champions League trophy

Peter Schmeichel is one of the most accomplished goalkeepers to have graced the Champions League. An eccentric but brilliant keeper, Schmeichel was renowned for dashing forward when his team chased goals late in the game.

The Euro' 92 winner was the chosen one to captain Manchester United in the 1999 Champions League final against Bayern Munich. That was because the club's regular captain Roy Keane was unavailable due to injury.

Schmeichel had pulled off a miraculous save to deny Ivan Zamorano in the Champions League semis that year. But he was beaten early in the final as Bayern Munich took an early lead.

However, a combination of fine saves from Schmeichel, Bayern's profligacy and a touch of good fortune meant United still trailed by that single goal entering injury time. The rest, as they say, is history.

Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored in quick succession to break Bayern hearts as United became the first English team to win the continental treble.

On this day in 1999 we made one of the best @ChampionsLeague comebacks of all time! Who you backing tonight? @realmadrid or @LFC? 🏆 #UCL #GGMU

Schmeichel would later talk about that triumph:

"I can’t remember what went through my head. I have to be completely honest I was celebrating inside that we have comeback with the first goal and I stopped myself and was thinking enough is enough because we were going to golden goal and I have never played in that format before."

#3 Steven Gerrard

Steven Gerrard led Liverpool to the 2005 Champions League title.
Steven Gerrard led Liverpool to the 2005 Champions League title.

Steven Gerrard is one of the greatest captains in the history of the Champions League.

A Liverpool legend, Gerrard inspired his men from the dead in the epic 2005 final termed the 'Miracle of Istanbul'. The Reds looked down and out at half-time as AC Milan were three goals to the good.

But the Liverpool captain led from the front to launch a stirring fightback. It was Gerrard who started the comeback by scoring a fine header. That gave belief to his teammates that the match wasn't a lost cause.

After Vladimir Smicer pulled another goal back, Gerrard won the penalty which Xabi Alonso scored off a rebound to restore parity.

Goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek then pulled off a stunning double save off Andriy Shevchenko as Liverpool went on to seal an improbable triumph.

5⃣ Steven Gerrard began the second-half comeback in Istanbul with a fine header as Liverpool sensationally recovered from three goals down at half-time to lift the trophy in 2005🏆@LFC | #UCL

Gerrard would lead Liverpool to another Champions League final against the same opponents two years later. But this time, there wasn't a repeat of Istanbul. Nevertheless, Gerrard had already done enough to etch his name as one of the most inspirational captains in the Champions League.

#2 Paolo Maldini

Paolo Maldini
Paolo Maldini

Paolo Maldini is widely regarded as one of the best full-backs to have graced the game. Though he didn't make as many goal contributions as modern-day full-backs do, Maldini was a rock at the back for AC Milan, the only club he ever played for.

During a legendary career spanning two and a half decades, Maldini would lead Milan to three Champions League finals in five years. The Rossoneri won two of them, and were only denied a third because of an improbable comeback.

His last triumph in the competition in 2007 was his fifth Champions League title (fourth in the Champions League era).

3⃣THREE DAYS TO GO3⃣Paolo Maldini triumphed in a #UCLfinal for the fifth time with Milan in 2007.

Maldini produced a 'Man of the Match' performance in Milan's triumph in the 2003 final against Juventus, putting up a defensive masterclass.

Two years later, against Liverpool, Maldini scored a rare Champions League goal as the Rossoneri led 3-0 at half-time. But Liverpool denied Maldini and Milan with an improbable second-half comeback culminating in a shootout win.

In 2007, against the same opposition, though, Maldini and Milan were not to be denied again.

#1 Sergio Ramos

Sergio Ramos has won four Champions League titles.
Sergio Ramos has won four Champions League titles.

In terms of big-game players, there aren't many better than Sergio Ramos in Champions League history.

He may have a chequered disciplinary record, but his prowess at either end of the field cannot be disputed. Ramos is one of the most prolific goalscoring defenders in Champions League history, with 15 goals.

Two of those strikes came in as many Champions League finals. His first in the dying moments of the 2014 final against Atletico forced extra time, wherein Real Madrid scored thrice without reply to win their La Decima.

Two years later, against the same opponents, Ramos was at it again. The 35-year-old's 15th-minute strike gave Madrid a one-goal lead at half-time. After Atletico scored to force extra time, a penalty shootout ensued, in which the Real Madrid captain would score again.

⚪️ Sergio Ramos at Real Madrid:🎽6⃣4⃣0⃣⚽️9⃣1⃣🏆2⃣1⃣#UCL

The Man of the Match in the 2016 Champions League final would lead his team to two more triumphs in as many years. That made Madrid not just the only team to successfully defend their title in the Champions League era, but also win three titles on the trot.

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Edited by Rohit Mishra
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