In a seismic shift for European football, the 2023-24 UEFA Champions League season unfolds without the star power of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo—two titans who have collectively lifted the trophy nine times. For the first time in 20 years, Messi, now dazzling fans in Major League Soccer with Inter Miami, and Ronaldo, continuing his scoring spree for Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia, will be absent from the tournament's grand stage. Their absence marks the end of an era and a profound transformation for the competition they have dominated for two decades.
Cristiano Ronaldo, from teenage sensation to Mr. Champions League
Cristiano Ronaldo made his inaugural appearance in the UEFA Champions League on August 14, 2002, playing for Sporting Lisbon in a qualifying match against Inter Milan. Though Sporting would not progress far that season, this moment marked the beginning of Ronaldo's legendary journey in European football.
Ronaldo's influence on the Champions League is immeasurable both in titles and numbers. He has been a transformative figure in the competition with a record five championships under his belt—starting with Manchester United in 2008 and then four wins with Real Madrid in 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2018. Moreover, his scoring prowess is unmatched; with 140 goals, Ronaldo is the all-time leading scorer in Champions League history. Not surprisingly, he also boasts the record for the most goals in a Champions League campaign with 17 strikes.
Today, Ronaldo continues his prolific career with Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia, leaving the Champions League without his iconic presence for the first time in over two decades. His absence doesn't just signify the end of an era—it heralds a new chapter filled with unpredictability for a tournament that his extraordinary achievements have dramatically shaped.
19 years since Messi made UCL debut for Barcelona
On December 7, 2004, a young Lionel Messi stepped onto the field against Shakhtar Donetsk for his UEFA Champions League debut. At that time, Barcelona had just a single European crown to their name. Little did anyone know, this was the genesis of an era (led by a footballing genius) that would redefine Barcelona's status in European football.
Messi's influence became a transformative force from that momentous game in Ukraine. His captivating dribbling, vision, and scoring capabilities led Barcelona to four Champions League trophies in 2006, 2009, 2011, and 2015. Before Messi, the Catalans had secured only one such title; with him, they became a European juggernaut. Messi ranks second behind Cristiano Ronaldo on the all-time Champions League record goalscorers list. However, he is the top scorer in the tournament's group stage with 78 strikes, five more than CR7.
As Messi continues to captivate audiences in Major League Soccer with Inter Miami, the Champions League sets sail on its first season without its Argentine luminary in nearly two decades. His absence closes an epochal chapter in the tournament's history and heralds a period of uncertainty and transformation for the Champions League—a competition forever shaped by Messi's unparalleled contributions.
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