With nine assists in the 1999-2000 UEFA Champions League season, Luis Figo holds the record for the most assists in a single Champions League campaign. But who else makes up the top five?
Which players have registered the most assists in a single Champions League season?
Opta has now collated new data from the early years of the UEFA Champions League previously unaccounted for, meaning we can now bring you the definitive stats on the most assists in a single Champions League campaign.
One of the joys of researching old games is to see players you had forgotten about displaying their skills at a time when football was less homogenous, and you caught brief glimpses of players who you didn’t see week to week in the top leagues.
You also get to discover interesting facts about a competition, a team or a player you might never have otherwise come across.
This article celebrates those who have had impressive campaigns in the Champions League, creating the most goals for teammates in a single season in Champions League history, and how the record evolved.
Most Assists in a Single Champions League Campaign
- Luis Figo, Barcelona – 9 (1999-2000)
- David Beckham, Manchester United – 8 (1998-99)
- Gaizka Mendieta, Valencia – 8 (2000-01)
- Neymar, Barcelona – 8 (2016-17)
- James Milner, Liverpool – 8 (2017-18)
The First Season
The Champions League was a very different competition in its first iteration. There were qualifying rounds involving all teams, which meant the title winners of Europe’s elite leagues were not guaranteed spots in the group stage. Indeed, in that first season, the English, Spanish and German champions were all eliminated and any goals that they scored in Round 1 or Round 2 don’t count towards any Champions League records.
The group stage saw eight teams split into two groups, and the two teams who won their groups – Milan and Marseille – went straight to the final. There were fewer games in the whole competition than there are these days on a single matchday.
Marseille went on to win the final, with Rudi Völler setting up four goals in that campaign to set the initial bar for the most assists in a single season of the Champions League.
His tally was matched in 1993-94 by Barcelona full-back Sergi Barjuán, and Milan’s Balkan duo Dejan Savicevic and Zvonimir Boban, and those two teams competed in that season’s final, which the Italian side won 4-0, still the biggest margin of victory in a final. Savicevic scored a stunning strike, which is one of the most iconic goals of that era, but also assisted the opening goal in Athens for Daniele Massaro.
Savicevic also registered the first hat-trick of assists in the competition in December 1993 when he set up all three goals in a 3-0 victory over FC Porto.
A New Leader
Sergei Yuran was the first to reach five assists in a single season, helped by the fact he registered four in two games against Rosenborg. Spartak Moscow became the first team to win all six group stage matches in the Champions League, with Yuran providing the ammo, but he didn’t stay with the Russian side for the knockout stages, choosing instead to sign on loan for Millwall in England’s second tier.
Somewhat of a nomad, Yuran had seven clubs in seven seasons between 1994 and 2001. He netted just one goal for Millwall in a spell where partying rather than football seemed to be his priority. He was quoted as saying “I forgot about football. I’d turn up for training after yet another wild night at a disco with my beloved new wife. Not only did I learn nothing, but I lost what I did know.” He called Millwall “the worst club…in the world” and complained that teams in England, apart from the top clubs, played rugby.
Manager Jimmy Nicholl, who took over from Mick McCarthy shortly after Yuran’s arrival, was very critical. “Sergei was an absolute disgrace. He contributed the worst level of enthusiasm and commitment I’ve ever seen and was an embarrassment to himself and the club. The only thing the other players could have possibly learned from him was how to steal a living.”
Yuran departed that summer but looked back on that period several years later and reflected: “Jimmy Nicholl said I was the most unprofessional player he’d ever met. And that was true.”
Yuran wasn’t the only player to reach five assists that season, though. Benoit Cauet of Nantes matched the Russian’s feat, including a hat-trick of assists in one game against Juventus in the semi-final second leg, which the French champions won 3-2. They ultimately lost the tie 4-3 on aggregate, though.
Cauet was a dynamic midfield player who worked hard in both attack and defence, but these proved to be his only assists in the competition, partly because he only played one more season in the Champions League while at Inter in 1998-99.
“He’s More Like a Dancer Than a Football Player” – Franz Beckenbauer
The record didn’t last long as it was broken the following season once again, this time by Zinedine Zidane. The 1996-97 tournament was the last edition of the Champions League where only the champions of each country were eligible to participate. Reigning European champions Juventus had decided to invest in Zidane, a creative playmaker who had been impressing with Bordeaux in Ligue 1. The French midfielder settled in immediately, winning the Serie A title, the league’s foreign player of the year award, and helping his side to reach the second of three successive Champions League finals.
The elegant Zidane registered six assists in his team’s Champions League campaign, all in home games. Edgar Davids described him as “a special player. He creates space where there is none”, while Edwin van der Sar called his teammate “a very normal guy. I remember guys coming in with their Ferraris, Porsches and Lamborghinis, and Zizou comes in with a Fiat Punto. The aura he had, the way he moved on the pitch was special.”
Zidane would be the first player to go on to register double figures for assists in total and also the first to reach 20. His output dried up slightly in his later career. He managed 16 assists in 35 games for Juventus, but just 10 in 45 Champions League appearances for Real Madrid.
Bend It Like Beckham
We didn’t have to wait too long to see the record beaten once again. Manchester United’s treble-winning season was remarkable in many ways, but on completion of this project we can now reveal that not one, but two players surpassed Zidane’s tally of six assists in 1998-99, and both came from the same club.
Dwight Yorke managed seven assists as the Red Devils posted some incredible scores and became the first team to win the trophy where they had not been champions of their own league in order to qualify. There were 31 goals netted in their six group games, 20 for and 11 against and Yorke set up six of those for the Premier League club. It’s no surprise that three of those came for his strike partner Andrew Cole, with whom the Trinidadian goalscorer had formed a deadly partnership.
By the end of the group stage, Yorke was ahead of one of his Man Utd teammates by one assist, but it wasn’t the Champions League assists record holder Ryan Giggs, but David Beckham, who added three more in the knockout phase to break Zidane’s record and then ironically extend it with his final assist of the campaign in the semi-final against the Frenchman’s Juventus side. Yorke recorded his seventh assist in that same game after Beckham had racked up number eight and it is interesting to note that the former England captain’s assist in that game was the only one from a dead-ball situation in that season.
Beckham played in central midfield in the final against Bayern Munich at the Camp Nou, and while he didn’t get credited with an assist, it was of course two corners from the best crosser in the business that led to United’s dramatic late comeback with two goals in injury time.
The Current Record Holder
UEFA love to tinker with the format of their competitions and this fact probably contributed to a new record being set in the 1999-2000 season. The qualifying pool was extended to 32 teams from 24 and a second group stage was implemented to guarantee clubs more matches and thereby more revenue. Instead of 11 matches to win the trophy, now a team would have to play 17 games.
These additional matches allowed Barcelona’s Luis Figo to reach a tally of nine assists and his performances in 1999-2000 led to a controversial move to rivals Real Madrid after they activated a buyout clause in the Portuguese winger’s contract, and also contributed to him winning the 2000 Ballon D’Or.
Figo’s chances of achieving the record were helped by the fact he took corners from both sides of the pitch and four of his nine assists came directly from his corners, with two each for Frank de Boer and Abelardo.
He followed up with seven and six assists respectively in the following two seasons of Champions League football at Madrid and finished his career with 34 assists in the competition overall, making him sixth on the all-time list for most Champions League goals created.
Close But No Cigar
Several players have come close to matching Figo’s record but to date, everyone has fallen short. Three more players have managed to rack up eight assists in a single campaign, but with fewer games per season from 2003 onwards, people could be forgiven for thinking perhaps it might never be broken.
If we were to tell you that a Spanish midfielder threatened the record, you might think it was someone like Xavi or Andrés Iniesta. However, the first to go close was Gaizka Mendieta in 2000-01, who registered eight assists as Valencia made their way to the final, only to lose on a penalty shootout against Bayern Munich. Mendieta scored in the final from the penalty spot and also netted in the shootout but sadly for the La Liga side, they lost the competition’s showpiece for the second season in a row.
We had to wait 15 seasons for someone to go as close again and it was another Barcelona player who almost equalled the record. Neymar was in his pomp alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez. The Brazilian’s tally was boosted by registering four assists in one match against Celtic and indeed, he holds the record for most assists by a player against a single opponent in the competition with eight against the Scottish giants.
The most recent attempt to come close to matching Figo’s record came in 2017-18 when James Milner recorded eight assists for Liverpool on their run to the final. Mohamed Salah may have been the star of that team but it was Milner who led the way creatively. A hat-trick of assists against Spartak Moscow was the highlight of his contribution and his tally of eight in that single season matched the total of assists that the versatile Milner mustered in his nine other campaigns put together.