Opta has collated data from the early years of the UEFA Champions League previously unaccounted for, meaning we can now bring you the definitive stats for the most assists in Champions League history.
The two most high-profile players in Europe over the last 30 years have been Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, and they have been battling it out to be both the top scorer and the top creator in the Champions League. A small cottage industry has sprung up over the debate over who the GOAT is, but while everyone knows how many goals those two players have scored in Europe’s premier competition, until now nobody knew whether one of them or someone else had the most assists because no source has all assists counted back to the date that the European Cup became the Champions League.
Thanks to our team’s relentless investigative skills and diligent research, Opta can exclusively reveal the player with the most assists in Champions League history, and it isn’t Messi or Ronaldo… though they do come very close. Opta has the most widely used definition of assists. We don’t count penalties won, or award assists for goals after saves, rebounds or significant deflections. We thoroughly check slow-motion videos and official reports to compile the most consistent and accurate database on the planet and, unlike some sources, our definition does not change season to season or competition to competition.
There are eight players with 30 or more assists in the competition. The first player to reach 10 goal assists was Zinedine Zidane. Long before Messi and Ronaldo were dominating the Ballon D’Or, the Frenchman was the top creator and best player in Europe. Zizou was also the first player to reach 20 assists, on both occasions pipping David Beckham to the milestone.
The former captains of England and France battled each other at the top of the charts while playing for Man Utd and Juventus and then while in the same team as part of Real Madrid’s Galacticos. One third of Beckham’s assists came from dead-ball situations while only 16% of Zidane’s were from free-kicks or corners. But Zidane doesn’t even make the top 10, coming in joint 12th in the ranking. Beckham fared a little better, though.
So, who are the top five all-time players for goal assists in the Champions League?
5. Ángel di María – 35 Assists
The Argentine winger has played in five of Europe’s top seven leagues according to the current UEFA rankings and is the top creator still active in the competition, with his first Champions League assist coming for Benfica against Celtic back in October 2007. A successful spell at the Portuguese club earned him a transfer to Real Madrid where he spent four seasons, culminating in a Champions League winners medal in 2013-14 after beating city rivals Atlético in the final.
A one-year spell at Manchester United saw him miss a season in the competition as David Moyes’ side had finished seventh the previous year, but he helped United to qualify for the following season’s Champions League with 10 assists in the Premier League. However, Di María moved on to Paris Saint-Germain, where he recorded 18 of his 35 Champions League assists, setting up Kylian Mbappé more times than he had any other player in his career (five times). Di María then added three assists in the competition for Juventus, before returning to Benfica in the 2023 summer transfer window. Can he move further up the ranking? That remains to be seen.
4. David Beckham – 36 Assists
David Beckham is arguably the best set-piece expert the Champions League has ever seen. He was an integral part of Manchester United’s treble-winning team and held the record for assists in the competition until 2011. Only Luis Figo has more assists from dead-ball situations than the current owner of Inter Miami, who linked up with (spoiler alert!) one of the top three creators after his club signed Lionel Messi from PSG.
Beckham’s first assist came when he set up Roy Keane in 1994 against Galatasaray, and he ended with 29 assists for the Red Devils before leaving the Premier League and adding seven more during his stint at Real Madrid. Dwight Yorke was the main beneficiary of the Englishman’s pinpoint crossing and passing, scoring six goals from Beckham’s deliveries. No player in the history of the Champions League has assisted more headed goals than Beckham, with 18 of the goals he created being nodded home.
3. Lionel Messi – 39 Assists
Lionel Messi had to wait until his sixth Champions League appearance to open his account for both goals and assists. His first goal and assist came against Panathinaikos in a 5-0 win at the Camp Nou in 2005-06, as Messi pounced to score Barcelona’s third goal after a defensive mix-up, and then set up Samuel Eto’o’s hat-trick goal to make it 5-0.
His final assist in the competition, meanwhile, was for an Mbappé goal against Juventus, which came just six weeks before the two players starred in the epic 2022 World Cup final. Meanwhile, the player assisted by Messi the most in the Champions League was Neymar, with five, four of which came at Barcelona plus one more at PSG.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo – 40 Assists
It’s a little-known fact that Cristiano Ronaldo failed to score in his first 26 Champions League matches. At that stage of his career, most people would naturally have seen him as a creator rather than goalscorer.
In his 27th appearance, against Roma, he had already laid on a goal for Michael Carrick to register his sixth assist in the competition when he scored twice himself in a 7-1 rout. The Portuguese legend then developed into a goal machine rather than a creator; he registered just two assists in his final 25 Champions League games while scoring 19 goals in the same span of time.
His first ever assist came against Lyon in 2004-05, and they were the opponent he managed to register the most assists against. Ronaldo has the most goal involvements in Champions League finals with five, with his one assist coming as Real Madrid won the title in 2013-14.
1. Ryan Giggs – 41 Assists
Longevity and ability are two key factors in breaking any record, and Ryan Giggs had both. He spent 20 years in the Champions League, including one as player/coach, and he won the trophy twice.
Perhaps the most important of his assists came at a particularly crucial time – in the 1999 Champions League final. With United on the verge of defeat, he mishit a shot from the edge of the box that Teddy Sheringham poked home to equalise and set up the dramatic denouement, which led to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s winner just a minute later.
Giggs also assisted United’s goal in the 2009 final defeat to Barcelona, and is therefore one of seven players to assist a goal in two separate finals, while he is behind only Andrés Iniesta, who assisted a goal in three finals.
Giggs’ final assist came against Bayer Leverkusen in November 2013, and he is one of just five players who have assisted four goals in a single Champions League game, which the Welsh wing wizard managed in the aforementioned 7-1 win over Roma in 2007. The player he assisted most often was Wayne Rooney, who reaped the benefit of six Giggs assists.