The 2022/23 Champions League group stage campaign concluded earlier in order to accommodate the upcoming 2022 World Cup. However, that did not lead to a decrease in the quality of domestic football, with goals galore across 12 games in each of the eight groups.
Scoring goals season after season in the Champions League is no easy feat. Although many players hit their professional peaks in their mid-twenties, there are some exceptional talents that perform on the biggest stage during their teenage years and early twenties.
Erling Haaland & Kylian Mbappe are making a case for the same, with their ridiculous goal-scoring numbers not only in league football but also in the UCL.
On that note, let's take a look at five of the youngest players to score 40 Champions League goals.
#5 Cristiano Ronaldo (27 years, 7 months & 28 days)
If there is any Champions League list, Cristiano Ronaldo is bound to be a part of it.
The Portuguese icon has had a glittering career over the last two decades or so in European football and has written his name all over its most coveted competition.
While his talents may be languishing away in the Europa League this season, it is no surprise that he remains the highest goal-scorer in UCL history, with 140 strikes to his name. But this number has only been possible due to his ability to consistently find the back of the net since his early twenties.
Ronaldo played for five seasons in the Champions League with Manchester United and reached two finals during the process. However, he could only conjure 15 goals during that period. But a move to Real Madrid saw his numbers increase season after season, with the attacker scoring his 40th Champions League goal in the group stage of the 2012/13 campaign.
Ronaldo was 27 when he reached that feat, which puts into perspective the consistency he produced into his late thirties as well.
#4 Karim Benzema (26 years, 10 months & 3 days)
Karim Benzema deservedly won the 2022 Ballon d'Or recently, following his magnificent performances last season as he helped Real Madrid win the Champions League & the La Liga title.
The French star, albeit having played in the shadows of Cristiano Ronaldo for the better part of his career, is a severely underrated big-game player. It is also a little-known fact that Benzema is currently the fourth-highest goal-scorer in Champions League history, with the striker having scored 86 times in the tournament.
The 5-time UCL winner was also quick to score half of these strikes as he scored his 40th goal in the competition in the group stage of the 2014/15 campaign.
Benzema was 26 back then and has since scored more than double those goals while also becoming the talisman of the most successful club in the tournament's history.
#3 Raul Gonzalez (25 years, 8 months & 13 days)
Raul Gonzalez is the highest-appearance maker for Real Madrid across all competitions. He holds this record till date despite leaving European football in 2012.
So it is only understandable that his goal-scoring record in the Champions League was one of the best, especially during his generation. The striker certainly knew where the back of the goal lay, courtesy of which he scored 71 goals in 142 UCL appearances. However, Raul's goals dried up as he got older, especially since he scored his first 40 goals in the competition in the 2002/03 campaign itself.
However, it is worth noting that the Spaniard's contribution was much more than scoring goals as his experience, expertise, and presence of mind often helped Real Madrid defeat top teams.
#2 Lionel Messi (24 years, 4 months & 8 days)
If Cristiano Ronaldo is going to be a part of this list, Lionel Messi is certainly not going to be left behind.
The Argentine superstar has cemented his status as arguably the greatest player of all time over the last 15 years. His exploits with Barcelona during his 16-year professional career with the club were well documented before they decided to part ways with him last summer. However, his goal-scoring feats have continued at Paris Saint-Germain, with the South American icon back to his best this season after a substandard 2021/22 campaign.
Messi, despite being two years younger than Ronaldo, already has 129 Champions League goals in just 160 appearances. However, his numbers have slowed down in recent seasons, especially since his first 40 goals came more than 10 years ago in the group stage of the 2011/12 season.
Regardless, Messi could become the competition's all-time top scorer before he decides to hang up his boots and retire from the game.
#1 Kylian Mbappe (23 years, 10 months & 13 days)
Kylian Mbappe is perhaps the most prolific attacker in the history of the game since Brazil legend Pele, who was quite the phenom as a teenager itself.
But given the challenges of today's game, it is rather surprising how Mbappe has managed to avoid major injuries and continue his scoring record. Although playing in Ligue 1 has helped the cause, his goal-scoring feats in the Champions League prove that he is not necessarily a flat-track bully. Moreover, Mbappe, who has played in the competition since his AS Monaco days, has scored while playing in a number of different positions and formations.
Hence, the French star already looks like the finished article. Another piece of evidence to back that up would be the fact that he scored his 40th UCL in PSG's recent 2-1 victory against Juventus. To put things into context, Mbappe is still only 23, with his 24th birthday only a month away.
If he continues scoring at this rate, there is a good chance that he could etch his name not only in PSG folklore but also in Champions League history.