Cristiano Ronaldo holds the record for the most free-kick goals in Champions League history with 12, but who else is in the top five?
One of the questions Opta was able to answer after completing its project to add historical data to its archive for the whole of Europe’s premier competition was which player has scored the most free-kicks in UEFA Champions League history.
Scoring direct from a free-kick seems to be a dying art. There were just three direct free-kick goals scored in the whole of the 2022-23 season, compared with six the year prior and nine the year before that. The last two seasons have seen around one of every 83 goals scored in the competition come from a direct free-kick, compared to a competition high in the 1998-99 season where one in 12 goals was scored directly from a dead-ball situation.
As such, it’s no surprise that some familiar names from the past feature prominently among the players with the most Champions League free-kick goals.
However, despite his remarkable free-kick prowess from club and country, Lionel Messi doesn’t make the cut. But who does?
7 – David Beckham and Roberto Carlos
Whenever free-kick scorers are mentioned, David Beckham and Roberto Carlos inevitably spring to mind. Goals like Beckham for England against Greece or Roberto Carlos in the Le Tournoi against France are classics.
The two players might have scored more but had to share free-kick duties while playing for Real Madrid, not only between themselves but with other players like Luís Figo.
Beckham scored his first Champions League free-kick in September 1998 against Barcelona, and the last of the midfielder’s five for Manchester United came against Real Madrid in April 2003. He added two more for the Spanish giants to bring his tally to seven in the competition.
All seven of Roberto Carlos’ were for Real Madrid, but only one came after Beckham’s arrival at the Santiago Bernabéu.
8 – Rivaldo
Brazil has produced many fine set-piece takers. Stars such as Rivelino, Zico, Didi, Pelé, Roberto Carlos and even goalkeepers like Rogério Ceni were known for their aptitude from dead-ball situations. The first ever free-kick goal in the Champions League was scored by another Brazilian, Romário, for PSV Eindhoven against FC Porto.
It’s no surprise therefore that three of the top six most prolific free-kick scorers are Brazilian, and Rivaldo earned his spot with eight free-kick goals in the Champions League.
Rivaldo scored seven direct free-kicks in a span of three years for Barcelona from 1998 to 2001 and then added one more while playing for Olympiacos at Anfield in 2004. His strike that night looked set to send Liverpool out of the competition but was overshadowed by a late comeback and a stunning long-range effort by Steven Gerrard which sent the Reds through. They would famously go on to win the trophy in Istanbul against AC Milan.
Rivaldo was also the first player to score two direct free-kicks in the same Champions League match when he netted two against AC Milan in October 2000. The game also equalled the record for the Champions League match with the most free-kick goals (three) as Demetrio Albertini also scored one for Milan. That has only happened on one other occasion in the competition, with the other instance being Dynamo Kyiv 3-3 Bayern Munich in April 1999.
10 – Juninho Pernambucano
The top Brazilian free-kick taker in the Champions League is none other than free-kick specialist Juninho Pernambucano. He netted just 18 goals in the competition and 10 of those came from direct free-kicks while three more came from penalties, emphasising his speciality from dead balls. Four of his 18 goals came against Barcelona and two of those were via direct free-kicks, one of which was from 44 yards out!
Lyon were a force to be reckoned with in the mid-2000s and in 2005-06 Juninho became the first player in Champions League history to score four direct free-kick goals in a single season. Only Willian for Chelsea in 2015-16 has managed to match that feat.
Juninho is the only one of the top six players for most free-kick goals who did not win the Champions League at some point in his career.
11 – Alessandro Del Piero
Alessandro Del Piero has held the record for the most direct free-kick goals for the longest period of time in the history of the competition. The Italian was the first player to reach three goals and four goals respectively, and apart from a brief period between 2000 and 2002 where Rivaldo was either the record holder or joint-record holder, Del Piero had the most free-kick goals until 2016.
His favourite opponent in the competition was Real Madrid, and two of his five strikes against Los Blancos came from free-kicks; though he probably wishes he’d saved one for the Champions League final of 1998 where Madrid triumphed 1-0 against Juventus to make it back-to-back runners-up spots for the Bianconeri.
Del Piero ended with three runners-up medals in the competition and is also runner-up in this list to…
12 – Cristiano Ronaldo
If you were asked to guess who’d scored the most free-kicks in Champions League history, Cristiano Ronaldo would probably be the top of your list. Ronaldo, who is the competition’s all-time leading goalscorer, equalled and then overhauled Del Piero’s record in 2016, and then didn’t manage another before his departure to Saudi Arabia. With the dearth of free-kick goals in the competition these days, it may be a record that never gets broken unless he makes a comeback and beats his own tally. The highest total of players currently playing in a Champions League side is Leroy Sané who has three to his name.
Ronaldo netted two in a single game against FC Zürich in September 2009 and only Rivaldo (as mentioned above) and Neymar (against Crvena Zvezda in October 2018) have matched that achievement.
He is the master of late drama, scoring four of his 12 free-kicks in the 89th minute or later and it is a quirk of fate that his first and last direct free-kick goals in the Champions League both came against Sporting CP, the club that gave him his professional breakthrough.