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In The Wax: Topps UEFA Champions League Soccer

In The Wax: Topps UEFA Champions League Soccer

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Just like with many sports, soccer card investing is very different from soccer card collecting.

While the ultra-modern era of soccer cards has seen huge growth in recent years, thousands of extremely knowledgeable collectors have been watching the market for decades.

But don’t be intimidated by hardcore soccer card collectors if you’re only somewhat intrigued by the growing hype around the game and simply want to dabble more. If you’re just learning about soccer card collecting or you’re in it to flip it, this will be the right place to start.

As we dive in, it’s important to know why UEFA Champions League (UCL) cards are a major focus for soccer collectors. The main reason is that UEFA licensed cards are typically the most important and investable soccer cards because the UCL theoretically represents the top European clubs each year and arguably the best players in the world – clubs from La Liga (Spain), the Premier League (UK), Bundesliga (Germany), Serie A (Italy), Ligue 1 (France), and professional leagues in The Netherlands, Portugal and more. In real life it’s not that simple, but in soccer card investing, it pretty much is.

It’s also important to note that Topps owns the UEFA license, not Panini. While Panini does produce licensed soccer cards, Topps owns the UEFA license, which includes the Champions League, the Europa League and the Conference League. This allows it to create the only licensed cards across all of the best European Leagues, featuring players in their team kits and branding. Panini has La Liga, Premier League, Serie A, Ligue 1, World Cup and Euro Cup licenses, allowing some official club kits, and some country kits. Because of this, Topps is able to spread across more prospects from Europe than Panini is by including pro leagues across more countries.

A good example of how this impacts players is comparing Bukayo Saka of Arsenal to Karim Adeyemi of BVB Dortmund. In many respects, Saka and Adeyemi are both considered top prospects to soccer card investors. 

Saka is only 21 years old and already plays for Arsenal, a well-known Premier League Club, and was named the sixth-best player age 21 or younger in the World by ESPN.com. He is also on England’s National Team, which means future World Cup attention and plenty of international features.

The 20-year-old Adeyemi ranked No. 29 overall under the age of 21 by ESPN.com, and is a striker for BVB Dortmund and the German National Team, meaning several World Cup appearances should also be in his future.

Other than some Obsidian cards and some stickers, Adeyemi mainly has Topps licensed cards. First featured in 2020-2021, all of his cards have the RC designation, and he also has autos in several releases. Saka has mainly Panini licensed cards, because Arsenal hasn’t made it to the Champions League since 2015-16. And because Panini doesn’t consistently put out soccer sets in the same way as Topps, nearly all of Saka’s cards are missing the Rookie Card designation. Many would argue that the lack of the RC designation could be a huge deal breaker for newcomers to the soccer card market – potentially driving up guys like Adeyemi, while leaving prospects outside of the UEFA licenses to be overlooked.

Given that Topps can create officially licensed cards in the first team kits of the top teams across Europe, in theory, Topps can put together the best rookie cards, rookie variations and rookie autos possible. This is not always the case, but the chases have become deeper in these sets than they are in Panini sets due to the fact that they’re not limited to just one professional league.

While Panini does have brands that sell very well, like Obsidian, Prizm and even Chronicles on occasion, narrowing down soccer card investing to the Topps UEFA Champions League is a solid first step.

Now that we’ve laid the groundwork, it makes sense to go “In the Wax” to analyze the entire release schedule and point out which sets are likely the most and least investable.

Topps Merlin Heritage UEFA Champions League Soccer – The 2020-21 release is a tribute to the 1995 Merlin sticker set (1 auto per hobby box), and the 2021-22 followup release (1 auto and 2 parallels per hobby box) pays homage to the 1996-97 Merlin Premier League stickers design by creating the main base cards with that look and feel.

The 2020-21 set has some gimmicky stuff like the 3D series (each hobby box comes with a set of retro 3D glasses), but also has some investable cards like rookie autos for guys like Gio Reyna (print run of 333), Jude Bellingham, Ryan Gravenberch, Eduardo Camavinga, and autos of other stars like Ansu Fati, Alphonso Davies, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mason Mount, Weston McKennie and Vinicius Junior.

Parallel Cards are typically also the best investments. This set has the following parallels in addition to the base cards: B/W Background #/99, Blue #/50, Purple #/25, Red #/10, Orange #/5, Gold 1/1. 

The 2021-22 set features Parallels #/99, #/49, #/25, #/10, #/5, 1/1, and similar names on the auto checklist as the previous year, but with solid additions like Antony, Erling Haaland, Neymar Jr., Pedri and Robert Lewandowski.

Investment Potential: Medium

Topps Knockout UEFA Champions League Soccer – Making its debut and issued through the Topps On Demand series, 2022 Topps Knockout UEFA Champions League Soccer features only the 16 UCL clubs in the knockout stage of the 2021-22 tournament. Each box has one parallel with a chance for an autograph. The fact that there are fewer teams, and not guaranteed autographs in every box, makes this a bit less desirable. Investors also haven’t really gravitated to the design just yet, as even the singles autos haven’t sold for more than $200.

Investment Potential: Medium

Topps Pearl UEFA Champions League Soccer – Another new release, 2021-22 Topps Pearl UEFA Champions League Soccer debuted in May of 2021 as a one-off “unique anniversary set” honoring 30 Champions League seasons. Boxes sold out on Topps’ European websites quickly with each box containing one numbered autograph and one numbered parallel.

While the set really doesn’t have any top rookies (no Gavi), the autograph checklist is long and strong, featuring Fati, Messi, Kai Havertz, Mount, Neymar Jr., Pedri, Vinicius Junior and Robert Lewandowski.

Investment Potential: Medium

Topps UEFA Champions League 1st Edition Soccer – This is an important release for Topps each year. It’s a full standalone set that essentially acts as a preview of sorts to both the Topps flagship paper product and Topps Chrome product.

Being that it is a limited edition print run with a distinct “1st” logo on the front of each card, picking the right player and card can be a very smart investment from a singles perspective.

There are also rare 1st Edition Future Stars (1:681 packs) inserts, which are serial numbered to 30.

Being that star 18-year-old Barcelona midfielder Gavi has his first Topps non-team set and non-NOW card in the 2021-22 release, his parallels are extremely investable and sought after. They of course feature the RC logo shield and are the biggest chase in the set along with the Future Stars 1st Edition inserts.

Investment Potential: High

Topps Simplicity UEFA Soccer – Only sold on Topps websites in Spain, Simplicidad (Simplicity), features a super clean design, almost rivaling Panini’s Obsidian. It opened at only 40 Euros per box, and is now reselling on eBay for $375. Because it includes UEFA stars from both the Champions League and Europa League, it features rookie cards for Jonathan David, who plays for Lille in Ligue 1 in France.

It also has beautiful Gavi rookies, an outstanding auto checklist and parallels like Black #/99, Green #/49, Blue #/25, Purple #/10, Red #/5, Gold 1/1.

Investment Potential: High

Topps UEFA Champions League Soccer – This is an exciting release every year, and kicks off (no pun intended) the true season for soccer collectors. That said, it’s a paper product full of base cards, and even though there are some autographs and parallels, it’s very much dependent on its rookie class for actual long term investability. And the reality is that neither Topps or Panini really have flushed out the way that rookie cards are released. The rookie cup cards also add an element of confusion for new collectors and investors, as they’re actually second-year base cards with an “All-Star Rookie” Trophy logo on it (aka — worth nothing).

The hobby configuration doesn’t guarantee any autos, but includes 8 cards per pack, 24 packs per box, 12 boxes per case, and an average of 8 Starball Foil Parallels. A blaster box is 6 cards per pack, 7 packs per box and an average of 4 Sparkle Foil Parallels.

Inserts include: 1975-76 Topps Footballers, Best of the Best, Flags of Foundation, Future Stars, Perfect10n, and Road to St. Petersburg.

Investment Potential: Medium

Topps UEFA Champions League Jade Edition Soccer – This release is based on the same checklist and configuration as the flagship paper product above, but is exclusive to the Chinese market and features a green foil finish on each card in the 200-card base set.

Investment Potential: Medium

Topps Chrome UEFA Champions League Soccer This is the premium release every year. The most recognizable, most liquid, most sought after hobby box, offering one Chrome autograph along with many exclusive base parallels and refractor parallels.

In its fifth season, the 2021-22 Topps Chrome UEFA Champions League checklist includes Future Stars (1:6 packs) and Golazo (1:12 packs), and there are also Chasing Glory Autographs, Future Stars Autographs, Golazo Autographs, Chasing Glory and Framed Rookie Stickers.

This is also the set each year with traditionally the strongest auto checklist. The 2021-22 auto checklist includes: Antony, Alphonso Davies, Anthony Elanga, Ansu Fati, Cristiano Ronaldo, Erling Haaland, Gareth Bale, Giovanni Reyna, Jude Bellingham, João Félix, Kai Havertz, Lionel Messi, Neymar Jr , Pedri, Ryan Gravenberch and Robert Lewandowski.

From an investable rookie card standpoint, the 2020-21 release features some of the top rookie auto short prints and serial-numbered refractors like Pedri, Adeyemi and Jude Bellingham.

The 2019-20 hobby boxes features Erling Haaland’s first “rookie” autos, and are now reselling for $1,125. The debut product hobby boxes from 2017-18 resell for $2,650.

Investment Potential: High

Topps Museum Collection UEFA Champions League Soccer – Debuting in 2017-18 by merging the popular Museum Collection and UCL brands, the product has done relatively well over the last five years, becoming a favorite of collectors and a very respectable product for investors.

Museum traditionally features 75 of the top players from across the UCL, and relic autos and non-autos of players numbered to /99, /75, /50, /25 and 1/1.

The autograph checklist grew in 2019-20, and also started featuring dual autos, framed autos and auto jumbo relics among other relic inserts.

While parallels have stayed pretty consistent over the last five years, hits have changed up a little bit each year. 

In 2017-18 it started as a one-pack box including one autograph, one relic and one auto relic. The following year, it moved to a more traditional hobby configuration, with 8 cards per pack, 1 pack per box, 12 boxes per case, with the following hits:

  • 3 Hits (1 Autograph / 1 Auto Relic / 1 Relic)
  • 2 Base Parallels (#/99 or less)

In 2019-20, the configuration and hits stayed the same except instead of 2 parallels /99 or less it featured only 1 base parallel. The 2019-20 release also featured Erling Haaland “rookie” autos.

The 2020-21 release featured the same format, but has rookie autos and relics of top prospects like Pedri, Jude Bellingham, Malik Tillman, Eduardo Camavinga, Karim Adeyemi and Ryan Gravenberch – and also has more inserts and parallels of the previous releases.

The 2021-22 set mirrors the previous year, but features some new inserts such as the Rookie Reverend Dual Auto Relics.

Investment Potential: High

Topps Chrome Sapphire Edition UEFA Champions League Soccer Sapphire was first released in 2019-20, the third year of Topps Chrome, and was sold directly from Topps’ online store to Montgomery Club members for $80 per box. The inaugural edition now sells for $1,499.99 on eBay. Sapphire famously contains no autos, with a configuration of 4 cards per pack, 8 packs per box.

Base image variations of Messi, Pulisic and Ronaldo, as well as Future Stars inserts for Davies, Félix, Sancho, Havertz, and Vinicius Junior, as well as the base version of Haalad are some of the top singles in the set.

The rookie checklist here is also huge, featuring Pedri, Jude Bellingham, Malik Tillman, Eduardo Camavinga, Karim Adeyemi and Ryan Gravenberch.

At $500 per box on eBay, the investability of the 2020-21 hobby boxes is extremely high due to the strong rookie class and base image variations of Haaland, Bellingham and Gravenberch.

The 2021-22 product release contains the same configuration but a slightly different parallel breakdown and the addition of new “Legend Variation” Sapphire parallels. The base checklist also expanded to 200 from 100 in earlier years.

Investment Potential: High

Topps UEFA Champions League Japan Edition Soccer – In short, this is a paper product only available in Japan and features no autos. It is not investable at all.

Investment Potential: Low

Topps Inception UEFA Club Competitions Soccer – The inaugural year of 2020-21 features 7 cards per pack, 1 pack per box. Each pack features 1 autograph and 1 numbered parallel. The auto checklist in both years is very strong, and the designs are slick, making it a solid product to buy into. The lineup of patches also makes this product unique. For example, the Lionel Messi 1/1 FCB patch auto was likely the top chase in the inaugural season, even though it also featured rookie autos from Bellingham, Gravenberch, as well as autos for Davis, Haaland, Havertz, Messi, Mount, Lewandowski and McKennie, and short print autos for Davies, Fati, Ronaldo, Camavinga and McKennie.

There’s also a dual auto of Ronaldo and Messi with /25 purple, /10 red /5 orange and 1/1 gold parallels.

The 2021-22 release features Gavi rookie parallels and a strong auto checklist.

Investment Potential: High

Topps Finest UEFA Champions League Soccer Debuting in 2018-19 with a chromium finish and strong resemblance to the 2018 MLB set, Finest has a strong sticker auto checklist and some on-card autos were added in 2019-20. The most notable autos in the first two years were Ronaldo, Haaland and Messi – but players that collectors would enjoy like Antoine Griezmann, Ivan Rakitic, Jordi Alba, Rodrigo and Tim Weah were included, too.

In 2020-21, many more autos were added of second-year stars like Fati and Reyna and rookies like Camavinga, Bellingham, Malik Tillman and Pedri.

More parallels were added in 2021-22, with 2 autos per hobby box and an extended auto checklist. It features base and insert rookies of Gavi, the top chase in the 2021-22 rookie class, but he hasn’t signed anything yet.

In spite of the autos, overall, the brand is not quite recognized enough by the soccer community to be considered a top investment.

Investment Potential: Medium

Topps Football Festival by Steve Aoki UEFA Champions League Soccer – Steve Aoki, a well-known musician and artist, collaborated with Topps to create this online-only release for the US and UK markets. The boxes sold for $45 each, with 30 cards in each box, one limited parallel and a 50% chance at an auto.

The auto checklist features base, /99, /49, /25, /10, /5 and 1/1 parallels with signatures from Fati, Elanga, Havertz, Neymar, Reyna, Mount, Antony, Adeyemi, Messi, Pedri, Vini Jr., Yeremy Pino (a sleeper I really like), Camavinga and McKennie, among others.

Investment Potential: Medium

Topps Match Attax UEFA Champions League Soccer – This is a trading card game, not an investable set, but the 2022-23 release does feature a 500-card base set of players from the UCL, Europa League, and Europa Conference League cards. 

Match Attax, unlike Panini’s Adrenalyn Trading Card Game, does feature autos and both base and parallels /25, /10 and 1/1s of guys like Elanga, Antony, Camavinga, Messi and Pedri.

Investment Potential: Low

Topps Stadium Club Chrome UEFA Champions League Soccer – Debuting in 2020-21, Topps Stadium Club is another chromium release and comes in hobby-only configurations containing one auto.

Inserts include “Championship Contributions,” “Cup Holder’s Honor,” and “Glimpses of Gold.”

Top investable singles from 2020-21 include image variation autos of rookies Gravenberch, Camavinga and Bellingham.

The Chrome auto checklist is strong too, featuring Davies, Fati, Reyna, Havertz and rookie autos for Bellingham, Adeyemi, Tillman and Pedri.

The 2021-22 release is similar in configuration, but not as strong of an investment due to the checklist.

Investment Potential: Medium

Topps Merlin Chrome UEFA League Soccer – After a gap with no Merlin, the brand came back in a big way in 2020-21. Remember that Saka rookie with no RC designation? Well, the 2020-21 Merlin Chrome set has one, because it includes Europa League players.

The best investments in this set are rookie autos for Bellingham, Tillman, Pedri, Gravenberch and Camavinga, and base rookie image variations of Camavinga, Bellingham and Pedri in low serial numbers.

The U23 Stars insert auto checklist includes Davies, Fati, Camavinga, Reyna, Havertz, Mount and Vini Jr.

The 2021-22 hobby release features 4 cards per pack, 18 packs per box, 12 boxes per case. Each hobby box has one auto. Blasters come with 3 aqua prism refractors.

Investment Potential: High

2022 Bowman Chrome Road to UEFA Under-21 European Championship Soccer – New this year, this is the first ever Bowman release featuring UEFA Under-21 European Championship top prospects. Hobby boxes come with one autograph and Hobby Lite boxes have four exclusive parallels.

This set is the ultimate target for super prospectors who want to be ahead of the game as it opens up a whole new world of soccer prospecting. Investors will have to wait a while to see how things pan out, and may not have a very liquid situation on their hands.

Investment Potential: Medium

2022 Topps Chrome Road to UEFA Nations League Finals Soccer – This is a debut product for 2022, featuring the top players in the European tournament for their national teams. The base set of 100 features some sporting a “National Debut” flag designation. The most investable cards being a Gavi (Spain) National Debut in low serial-numbered parallels, as well as a Romelu Lukaku auto.

Investment Potential: Medium

Topps Now UEFA Champions League Soccer Cards Checklist – Topps Now has been around since 2018-19, documenting significant moments around the UCL, and sold in an on-demand, limited print run directly from Topps websites around the world.

Despite some parallels, generally these don’t last as investable assets.

Investment Potential: Low

2021-22 Topps Mason Mount Future Champions Curated UEFA Champions League Soccer Cards – Each sealed box contains one numbered parallel and a chance for limited autos. Sold for around $50 on Topps websites, the design is slick, but has limited investable pieces. One that sticks out is Gavi’s rookie in low numbered parallels.

Investment Potential: Medium

2021-22 Topps UEFA Champions League Summer Signings Soccer Cards Checklist – Kind of an interesting release – online-only, 5 cards per pack, 5 packs per box. Featuring 40 players, 2021-22 Topps UEFA Champions League Summer Signings covers a mix of stars and sells at $25 per box.

It appears only Messi and Ronaldo signed. Autos are rare (apparently there are only 22 of them), and not guaranteed. 

Investment Potential: Medium

Ultimate Topps Living Set UEFA Champions League Europa League Soccer Cards This online-only set mirrors the baseball release that began in 2018 on Topps.com. The first print run began in 2019 with Lionel Messi (No. 1), and has continued through 2022 all the way through Frank Kessie (No. 509).

What makes these cards not investable at all is the print run. The more popular the player, the higher the print run, as they’re in-demand. For example, Mason Greenwood (12,809), Pedri (10,976), Ronaldo – Juventus (10,942), Ronaldo – Manchester United (10,215), Eduardo Camavinga (8,340) and Gavi (8,012) are the highest so far. In a way, this is a decent data tool to see how popular certain players are – but this set is not investable.

Investment Potential: Low

Paul Hickey is a regular contributor to Sports Card Investor, the creator of the Sports Card Investment Report at NoOffseason.com, and the host of the Sports Card Strategy Show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and YouTube. He can be found on Instagram at @sportscardstrategy and on Twitter @nooffseasoncard.

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