Who has scored the most headed goals in Champions League history? Well, thanks to Opta’s project to collect historical data on the UCL, we’re finally able answer the question.
Heading Out of Fashion
Headers are another part of the game that have been in decline since the start of the UEFA Champions League in 1992-93. The first decade of the competition saw almost one in five goals being scored by headers. In the second decade that had reduced to about one in six and it’s since dropped to around one in seven.
The highest proportion of headed goals came in 1998-99 with one in four goals being headers, while the lowest proportion was as recent as 2020-21 with around one in nine goals coming via that route.
The first ever winning goal in a final was a header, scored by Basile Boli from a corner against AC Milan. Overall, there have been 15 headed goals in Champions League finals, with the most recent being Kingsley Coman’s goal against Paris St Germain on 23August 2020 in the Covid-delayed season.
Of course, two of the UCL’s all-time top scorers feature in that list, with Cristiano Ronaldo (against Chelsea for Manchester United in 2008) and Lionel Messi (for Barcelona against Manchester United in 2009) having each netted one in a final.
But the dearth of headers is shown by the fact Coman’s goal has been the only headed goal scored in a final since Real Madrid versus Atlético Madrid in 2014 where there were three in a single match. Diego Godin’s 36th-minute strike was cancelled out by a 90th-minute Sergio Ramos equaliser and Gareth Bale notched the decisive goal 10 minutes from the end of extra time to start the celebrations for Los Blancos.
Heading Up the Rankings
Mario Jardel was the first player to reach five headed goals in November 1998. He was closely followed by Diego Simeone, just 49 minutes later as the Argentine scored for Inter against Spartak Moscow on 4 November 1998. They were joined on that mark by Christian Panucci the following night, who added two headed goals to his tally against Sturm Graz for Real Madrid.
However, by the end of that season they had all been overhauled by Dwight Yorke who scored six headers in the 1998-99 season alone. That tally is the highest number of headed goals in a single season in the history of the Champions League by any player.
Jardel retook the record in March 2000 with a brace for Porto against Barcelona and was then the first to reach 10 headed goals with a brace against Bayern Munich. The Brazilian extended his record with two headed goals for Galatasaray in 2000-01, and that record stayed until Fernando Morientes beat it in November 2006 with his 13th in the competition across games for Real Madrid, Monaco and Valencia. The Spanish international also netted one in a final when he scored against Valencia in May 2000.
Cristiano Ronaldo Heads the Rankings
The record for most UCL headed goals lasted almost a decade until Cristiano Ronaldo set a new competition-high, while playing for Real Madrid against Shakhtar Donetsk, with his 14th on 15 September 2015. The Portuguese forward has since added another 11 to his tally to set a mark that may never be equalled given the seemingly downward trend of scoring headers.
Karim Benzema and Robert Lewandowski are sitting in joint-second in the ranking with 18 headed goals apiece and the Polish striker will perhaps pull clear of the Frenchman if he manages to net a header this season for Barcelona.
Lewandowski scored 16 of those goals for Bayern Munich and the next two current players’ highest totals for headed goals are also current Bayern players, although Thomas Müller has seven and Harry Kane has just five, so it’s hard to see either player troubling Ronaldo in the near future. They might, however, boost the German record-champions tally as they have more headed goals than any other team in the competition.
Three Heads Are Better Than One
Our final fact of note is that just two players have scored a hat-trick of headers in a single Champions League match. Uwe Rösler was the first to do it for Kaiserslautern against HJK Helsinki in December 1998 and he was emulated by Walter Pandiani for Deportivo La Coruna against PSG in March 2001.