Mbappe next? An incredible XI of the best signings made by Champions League winners

Matt Stead
Chelsea forward Eden Hazard, AC Milan player Kaka and Real Madrid striker Kylian Mbappe
Can Kylian Mbappe break into this stupidly good team?

Kylian Mbappe has joined Champions League winners Real Madrid but has some work to do to get into this particularly brilliant XI of celebratory signings.

Mbappe’s numbers are ridiculously impressive and should only improve in Spain. With that said, this lot will take some shifting.


GK: Pepe Reina (Liverpool, 2005)
Just as he himself had replaced Sander Westerveld in the immediate aftermath of Liverpool’s budget Treble in the summer of 2001, Jerzy Dudek was barely six weeks into his reign as a jelly-legged European champion before Rafael Benitez drafted in Reina from Villarreal.

The Spaniard was ten years younger and infinitely better than his adversary, barely breaking a sweat as he wrestled the starting spot from Dudek’s grasp.

Reina’s relatively meagre haul of one FA Cup, a League Cup, a Community Shield and a UEFA Super Cup masks what was generally an excellent nine years on Merseyside. Alisson is the better keeper by almost every metric but few defences have ever been organised as effectively as the one his natural predecessor helped marshal.

Reina’s career Premier League clean sheet average of 45.79% remains a record for those with more than 100 shutouts – and that tally is tainted by 12 middling to disastrous appearances for Aston Villa in 2019/20. The Spaniard was a match for anyone at Liverpool, and all for just £6.8m.


CB: Pepe (Porto, 2004)
Jose Mourinho spent no more than another week each as manager of both the clubs he guided to Champions League glory; Fenerbahce cannot say they haven’t been warned when Fred lifts the famous trophy in 2025.

Ricardo Carvalho followed soon after on both occasions, with Paulo Ferreira in tow when Chelsea appointed “a special one” in 2004. All three of Porto’s Champions League final goalscorers headed elsewhere: Deco to Barcelona, Carlos Alberto to Corinthians and Dmitri Alenichev to Spartak Moscow.

Derlei (Dinamo Moscow), Pedro Mendes (Tottenham) and Sergio Conceicao (Standard Liege) were just three more of those who left Porto’s poor Treble winners in the lurch.

Sixteen-year-old midfield prodigy Anderson arrived, as did Helder Postiga, Diego, Ricardo Quaresma and Luis Fabiano. But perhaps the most notable signing Porto made during their unexpected time in the sun was that of Pepe from Maritimo. The 21-year-old soon became a first-team fixture under Victor Fernandez, eventually joining Real Madrid in 2007 for €30m.


CB: Paolo Montero (Juventus, 1996)
Just as no player has received more Serie A red cards (16), no player has appeared in more Champions League finals (three) without ever winning one than Montero.

There is a certain cruelty in joining the newly-crowned European champions in 1996 only to fail to ever clear that last hurdle during an otherwise productive nine-year stay in Turin. The Uruguayan, once described alongside Ciro Ferrara as “the toughest defenders I played against” by Ryan Giggs, won four Serie A titles, three Supercoppas Italiana and a Super Cup and Intercontinental Cup each before returning to South America.


CB: Antonio Rudiger (Real Madrid, 2022)
Few players have ever responded quite so emphatically to being dropped by a manager. The situation between Rudiger and Frank Lampard remains shrouded and guarded as such things do, but it lit a fire under the centre-half which has not stopped raging since.

He inspired Chelsea to Champions League glory a matter of months later, with Real vanquished in the process. He scored against the Spanish giants the following season in a spirited defence of that crown but the Blues were eventually beaten. And when Los Blancos went on to reign Europe again by beating Manchester City and then Liverpool in the following rounds, they could not move fast enough to capitalise on Rudiger’s expired contract.

The German has won the equivalent of a trophy every 17 games since. It is difficult to think of a player and club more perfectly suited.

📣 TO THE COMMENTS! Will Kylian Mbappe be a success at Real Madrid? Join the debate here


DM: Claude Makelele (Real Madrid, 2000)
As the engine of a Celta Vigo side that combined La Liga finishes of fifth and seventh with consecutive UEFA Cup quarter finals in his first two seasons in Spain, Claude Makelele’s eventual ascension to the Real Madrid throne felt inevitable. And while a painfully short three years at the Bernabeu ended amid manager sackings, contract requests and Bentley comparisons, the midfielder solidified his reputation as one of the world’s leading defensive midfielders.

Real did not win another title for four years after his departure, in which time he won the Premier League twice with Chelsea.


DM: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid, 2014)
How much do you reckon he regrets turning down David Moyes and Manchester United?


AM: Zinedine Zidane (Juventus, 1996)
1995 brought Tim Sherwood-fuelled rejection by Blackburn. By 1996 it was written in black and white: Zinedine Zidane was headed to either Newcastle or Juventus.

“I offered him to Newcastle at the beginning of the season for £1.2m,” agent Barry Silkman said in 2010. “And they watched him and said that he wasn’t good enough to play in the First Division, which is the Championship now.

“Three months later he went to Juventus for £1.2m and two years later he went for £48m. So I think the people at Newcastle got it slightly wrong.”

Quite. Zidane joined Marcello Lippi’s side shortly after their victory over Ajax, winning two Serie As, a Ballon d’Or and even a World Cup during his time in France. Was still bossed by Paul Lambert in a Champions League final, mind.


AM: Kaka (AC Milan, 2003)
As Rio Ferdinand no doubt tells himself before drifting off to sleep every night, only three players not named Lionel or Cristiano have won any of the last 16 Ballons d’Or. Luka Modric and Karim Benzema were powered by the Real Madrid PR machine but Kaka’s prime came before his Bernabeu move.

In the six-year period from signing for Milan in 2003 to his world-record Real Madrid switch in 2009, the Brazilian really was consistently and uniquely brilliant. Not that Carlo Ancelotti foresaw his impact.

Milan celebrated victory in the dirt worst Champions League final in history by spending a bargain €8.5m on a player Ancelotti initially mistook for a ‘college student’ or ‘Jehovah’s Witness’. As the manager added: ‘The Jehovah’s Witness was actually someone who spoke directly with God. And, I’m sure in one of those conversations, they talked about football.’

👉 Ranking every Champions League final from worst to best
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RW: Luis Figo (Real Madrid, 2000)
When Lorenzo Sans attempted to capitalise on Real Madrid’s second Champions League trophy in three seasons by hastily arranging a presidential election in 2000, the result seemed certain. Yet his failure to foresee rival Florentino Perez’s grandiose promises was his downfall.

And so the Galactico era was born, with Perez pledging to sign Luis Figo from Barcelona as his first action. The vote was swung, the world-record move was completed that summer, the Ballon d’Or arrived later that year, and the pig’s head was thrown soon after.


CF: Ronaldo (Real Madrid, 2002)
The greatest player never to win the Champions League joined Real four months after they won their third European crown in six seasons. He proceeded to stun Old Trafford with a hat-trick and played just 40 games in the competition before succumbing to knee injuries.

Ronaldo pledged the best years of his career to the Bernabeu, but was only rewarded for his brilliance with two La Liga titles, a Supercopa de Espana and an Intercontinental Cup; Daniel Sturridge has started two Champions League knockout games in his entire career and has a couple of winner’s medals.

Real was the only team Ronaldo played at least 100 games or scored 100 goals for – and that includes Brazil. That his Wikipedia page still appears below Cristiano’s is the sickest joke of all.


LW: Eden Hazard (Chelsea, 2012)
‘Good afternoon guys. I made up my mind. see you later. Thanks,’ was Hazard’s well-mannered social-media message on May 28, soon to be followed by long-awaited confirmation of his decision that evening: ‘I’m signing for the Champions League winner.’

Chelsea’s victory over Bayern Munich little over a week earlier clearly had a direct influence over the Belgian’s decision. “Chelsea could interest me now,” he said with his future still uncertain. “They’ve won the Champions League and will therefore be in it next season. It’s really important for me to be playing in that competition. Chelsea are a big club with some great players – of course it’s a possibility.”

What was previously thought to be a two-horse race between the two Manchester clubs saw both pipped at the post by the managerless European champions. He departed seven years and six trophies later with two goals in a Europa League final win; Chelsea are somehow still reaping the rewards of a truly stupid transfer.