With the UEFA Champions League in full force, we take a look back through prior Champions League seasons to find the players who have had the greatest success in modern era football. This starting 11 was chosen purely based upon performances in the Champions League and not overall talent or success in other competitions. Here is the starting 11 selection:
Oliver Kahn - Bayern Munich
Kahn, a Bayern Munich legend, debuted for the capital club in 1994 and went on to win four consecutive “UEFA Club Football of the Year: Best Goalkeeper” awards between 1998 and 2002. In 2001, the blonde-haired German guessed correctly in the shootout to win his one and only Champions League trophy.
Who missed out: Iker Casillas.
Despite being the netminder for Real Madrid since 1999, Casillas has yet to come close to Kahn's countless MVP campaigns. Casillas still remains one of this decades best goalkeepers.
Paolo Maldini - AC Milan
"Il Capitano" spent his entire 25-year career at AC Milan. Throughout his trophy-riddled career, he compiled five Champions League trophies and, at the ripe age of 39, won the UEFA Club Best Defender trophy. He played at a world class level before he hung up his boots in 2009. Although normally deployed at left back and sometimes in the center, Maldini fits in this line at right back as a versatile player and defender.
Missed out: Nemanja Vidić
Vidić once anchored Manchester United to 19 consecutive undefeated matches, breaking the CL record. At the same time tallying the least amount of goals conceded in a UEFA Champions League campaign during the 2010-11 season. Recently in 2011, Vidić's Manchester United have flopped out of the champions league to Basel and Benfica, getting stretchered off with a season ending injury as Manchester tied surprise side Basel.
Gerard Pique - FC Barcelona
Only 24 years young, the Spaniard is atop the summit of the footballing world, having picked up the 2008 CL trophy with Manchester United, followed by the 2009 and 2011 trophies with FC Barcelona. Already regarded as one of the best center backs in the world, Pique still has yet to reach his full potential and is likely to add many more trophies to his already illustrious shelf.
Missed out: Carlos Puyol
Prior to being paired with Pique, Puyol had a "best defender" season in Barcelona's Champions league season. Pique claims this spot because Puyol had one pure breakout campaign, and since then the lack of play caused by injuries has thrust Pique to the top of Barca's defensive pecking order with his consistent world class play.
John Terry - Chelsea
Although Terry has never lifted a Champions League Trophy, he remains the only three-time winner of the UEFA Best Defender award. The Chelsea stalwart was a runner up after missing the crucial penalty against rivals Manchester United in the 2008 all-English final.
Missed out: Nesta
The AC Milan legend misses out because injuries kept him out of many campaigns. He never has truly played to his world-class prime in the Champions League.
Roberto Carlos - Real Madrid
Roberto Carlos has gained fame for his seemingly impossible goals. Beyond his moments of brilliance, he is also a very consistent left-sided defender. Real Madrid’s all time most capped foreigner won three CL trophies in 1998, 2000, and 2002 and was awarded two UEFA Best Defender awards.
Who missed out: Maldini
Maldini still manages to make the list out of position due to his incredible success with AC Milan. No player has revolutionized the half back position like Roberto Carlos. He is a once-in-a-century player.
Clarence Seedorf - AC Milan
The Netherlands midfielder is the most successful player to ever grace the Champions League pitch. Success follows Seedorf wherever he goes. He has won four CL trophies, becoming the first player to win with 3 different clubs. In 2007 he won his one and only UEFA Best Midfielder Award for AC Milan.
Who misses out: Nobody
Simply put, Seedorf is the single most decorated player in Champions League history.
Deco - Porto, Barcelona
Deco first found success with José Mourinho’s Porto in 2004, going on to win his second with Barcelona in 2006. His performances on Europe’s biggest stage have earned him two UEFA Best Midfielder awards in 2003-‘04 and 2005-‘06, as well as a UEFA Club Footballer of the Year award in 2003-’04.
Who Misses out: David Beckham
The soon-to-be Sir received one best player of the tournament award in 1999. He has never been able to repeat that caliber of play again.
Xavi - Barcelona
The understated Spaniard is the midfield lynchpin of the current Barcelona team. He has picked up three titles in '06, '09 and '11 as well as the UEFA Club Midfielder of the Year in 09’. At 31, he has not yet shown signs of slowing down.
Who Misses out: Iniesta
Apples or Oranges? Coke or Pepsi? Xavi or Iniesta? I slightly prefer Xavi. Both of these players are the best midfielders of their generations'.
Kaka - AC Milan, Real Madrid
The Brazilian makes this list for putting in one of the best Champions League seasons of all time with AC Milan in the '06-'07 season which saw him win the title, win UEFA Best Forward, and win UEFA Club Footballer of the Year. He scored 10 goals in 14 games.
Who misses out: Zidane
Zidane had one player of the year award in 2002. Kaka did the same, except put his team completely on his back. He simply outplayed Zidane in the champions league, which is a near impossible feat.
Lionel Messi - FC Barcelona
Barcelona’s number ten has 3 Champions League trophies, in '06, '09 and '11. He was the CL leading scorer three seasons in a row '08-'11, UEFA Club Footballer of the Year '09, UEFA Club Forward of the Year '09, and UEFA Best Player in Europe in 2011. He is currently tied for most goals in the CL so far this season. At 24 years old, Messi is already a CL legend. He has 42 goals in 63 games.
Who missed out: Ronaldinho
Ronaldinho for a period of time was the best player in the world. Lionel Messi's Champions League displays of individual brilliance puts him among the best of all time.
Ruud Van Nistlerooy - Manchester United, Real Madrid
The Dutchman was the leading goal scorer in the '02 '03 and '05 Champions League Seasons. In 2003 he won UEFA Club Forward of the Year. He is second all time in CL goals behind former teammate Raul. RVN narrowly beats out the Spaniard because of his impressive 60 goals in only 81 appearances, making the Malaga hitman the most explosive scorer of the modern champions league era.
Who missed out: Raul
Ruud has .76 goals per game ratio where as Raul only has .49. Raul only has 15 more goals, which have been scored in a hefty 64 more games. Nearly double the amount of games Ruud played to amass his incredible tally.
Champions League Trophy - Wembley Final Barcelona vs. Manchester United
Cristiano Ronaldo - Real Madrid
These were the choices based purely on statistics and the importance of each player to their team. Are there any additions who deserve a spot? Are there any selected who are undeserving? What do you think?
Remember that this is based off of Champions League Performances alone!