Champions League/ European Cup winners history

The European Cup began in 1955 with 16 clubs, initially as a straight knockout tournament for the winners of Europe’s domestic leagues.

The History of the European Cup

Italy’s AC Milan, Denmark’s AGF Aarhus, Belgium’s Anderlecht, Sweden’s Djurgarden, Poland’s Gwardia Warszawa, Scotland’s Hibernian, Serbia’s Partizan, the Netherlands’ PSV Eindhoven, Austria’s Rapid Wien, Spain’s Real Madrid, Germany’s Rot-Weiss Essen, Germany’s Saarbrucken, Switzerland’s Servette, Portugal’s Sporting CP, France’s Stade de Reims and Hungary’s Voros Lobogo were the first clubs to feature in the competition.

The competition expanded to 32 teams five years later in 1960 and changed its format.

Besides the preliminary round, which started in the second season, the European Cup was made up of just four knockout rounds (first round, quarter-finals, semi-finals and final) when only 16 teams participated in it.

An additional round (second round) was added when 16 more teams joined, which changed when UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) adopted a new name for the competition in 1992.

The Champions League Group Stages

The European Cup has been known as the Champions League since then, with the first round replaced with a group stage.

The group stage consists of 32 clubs drawn into eight groups of four teams.

The teams are seeded into four pots, each of eight teams, to determine which of the eight groups they would be drawn into.

  • Pot 1 contains the Champions League and Europa League title holders, and the champions of the top six associations based on their country coefficients from the previous year.
  • Pots 2, 3 and 4 contain the remaining teams, seeded based on their club coefficients of the current year.

After the group draws are sorted, each club plays the other three in their group in a double round-robin format home and away.

The winners and runner-ups of the groups progress to the round of 16, where the usual knockout-stage process (round of 16, quarter-finals, semi-finals and final) continues.

While only 32 teams enter the group stages, up to 80 teams from 55 European countries – called associations – are eligible to feature every season.

Some qualify automatically for the group stages due to their finishing positions and the ranking of their leagues.

The winners of the Champions League and Europa League for a season are given spots in the group stages of the next season if they miss out on qualification through their domestic leagues.

Europe’s elite leagues (English Premier League, Italian Serie A, Spanish La Liga and German Bundesliga) often have up to four teams playing in the Champions League every season, while only the league winners in some of the other associations secure automatic berths in the group stages.

The number of teams that each association enters into the Champions League is based upon the UEFA coefficients of the member associations, which are generated by the results of clubs representing each association during the previous five seasons in the three European club competitions.

The higher an association’s coefficient, the more teams represent the association in the Champions League, and the fewer qualification rounds the association’s teams must compete in.

England, Spain, Germany and Italy are the highest-four ranked countries in the association coefficient at the moment and have been the top four for a couple of years.

Associations ranked 1st to 4th each have four teams qualify, associations ranked 5th to 6th each have three teams qualify.

Associations ranked 7th to 15th each have two teams qualify, while associations ranked 16th to 55th each have one team qualify.

There are four qualifying rounds (which consist of the preliminary round, first qualifying round, second qualifying round and third qualifying round) and a play-off round all played over two legs to determine which six teams in associations ranked outside the top four will make it to the group stages. The ranking of an association also determines which of the qualifying rounds it will join, with those ranked higher only having to play the play-off round.

The six surviving teams enter the group stage, joining 26 teams that have already qualified in advance through their domestic league position and by winning the previous year’s Champions League and Europa League.

Most successful countries in the Champions League

  • Spanish clubs have won the most (19) Champions League titles and have runners-up 11 times, while English teams have won the trophy 15 times and also lost 11 finals.
  • The Italians are the third-most successful in the elite Europe competition, with 12 trophies to their name, but they have also lost the most finals (16).
  • German clubs have eight Champions League titles to their name and have lost 10 finals, while clubs from the Netherlands have won it six times and lost twice in the final.

Champions League New Format

The current format of the Champions League will undergo major changes in 2024-25, with the number of participating teams set to be increased to 36.

Two of the four new slots will be given to the two nations whose sides had the best collective performance in Europe during the previous season, another slot will be given to the club that finishes third in UEFA’s fifth-highest ranked league (currently France), while the final extra slot will be given to the winner of the next-highest league not to have already qualified.

A single league phase involving all 36 teams will replace the famous group stages of the current format, with each side playing eight games (four at home and four away).

Clubs will earn points and come up against opponents of different ranks to decide qualification for the next stage.

The top eight will advance to the knockout stages, clubs that finish between ninth and 24th will meet each other in eight two-legged play-off matches, with the eight winners joining the top eight, while the bottom-ranked eight clubs get eliminated.

The new Champions League format will see a total of 189 matches played every season, compared to the existing 125 games under the current format.

While clubs from the same country could not play each other until the quarter-final at the earliest in the current format, they can each other at any point of the competition in the new format.

Previous winners of the European Cup/Champions League

SeasonChampion
1955-56Real Madrid
1956-57Real Madrid
1957-58Real Madrid
1958-59Real Madrid
1959-60Real Madrid
1960-61Benfica
1961-62Benfica
1962-63AC Milan
1963-64Inter Milan
1964-65Inter Milan
1965-66Real Madrid
1966-67Celtic
1967-68Manchester United
1968-69AC Milan
1969-70Feyenoord
1970-71Ajax
1971-72Ajax
1972-73Ajax
1973-74Bayern Munich
1974-75Bayern Munich
1975-76Bayern Munich
1976-77Liverpool
1977-78Liverpool
1978-79Nottingham Forest
1979-80Nottingham Forest
1980-81Liverpool
1981-82Aston Villa
1982-83Hamburger SV
1983-84Liverpool
1984-85Juventus
1985-86Steaua Bucuresti
1986-87Porto
1987-88PSV Eindhoven
1988-89AC Milan
1989-90AC Milan
1990-91Red Star Belgrade
1991-92Barcelona

UEFA Champions League

SeasonChampion
1992-93Marseille
1993-94AC Milan
1994-95Ajax
1995-96Juventus
1996-97Borussia Dortmund
1997-98Real Madrid
1998-99Manchester United
1999-2000Real Madrid
2000-01Bayern Munich
2001-02Real Madrid
2002-03AC Milan
2003-04Porto
2004-05Liverpool
2005-06Barcelona
2006-07AC Milan
2007-08Manchester United
2008-09Barcelona
2009-10Inter Milan
2010-11Barcelona
2011-12Chelsea
2012-13Bayern Munich
2013-14Real Madrid
2014-15Barcelona
2015-16Real Madrid
2016-17Real Madrid
2017-18Real Madrid
2018-19Liverpool
2019-20Bayern Munich
2020-21Chelsea
2021-22Real Madrid
2022-23Manchester City

 

MOST SUCCESSFUL TEAMS IN EUROPEAN CUP/CHAMPIONS LEAGUE HISTORY

REAL MADRID

Year founded: 1902

No. of UCL trophies: 14

Highest goalscorer in UCL: Cristiano Ronaldo (105)

No. of UCL finals lost: 3

Results of UCL finals won:

  • 1955-56: Madrid 4 – Reims 3
  • 1956-57: Madrid 2 – Fiorentina 0
  • 1957-58: Madrid 3 – Milan 2
  • 1958-59: Madrid 2 – Reims 0
  • 1959-60: Madrid 7 – Eintracht Frankfurt 3
  • 1965-66: Madrid 2 – Partizan 1
  • 1997-98: Madrid 1 – Juventus 0
  • 1999-2000: Madrid 3 – Valencia 0
  • 2001-02: Madrid 2 – Bayer Leverkusen 1
  • 2013-14: Madrid 4 – Atletico Madrid 1
  • 2015-16: Madrid 1 (5) – Atletico Madrid 1 (3)
  • 2016-17: Madrid 4 – Juventus 1
  • 2017-18: Madrid 3 – Liverpool 1
  • 2021-22: Madrid 1 – Liverpool 0

Los Blancos are the most successful team in Champions League history, winning the first five editions of the competition between 1956 and 1960.

While many would argue that was because just 16 teams were participating at the time, Madrid have also been a force to reckon with on the continental stage in the 21st century, clinching five of the last 10 European titles.

Zinedine Zidane and Carlo Ancelotti played key roles in helping the Spanish giants land their recent Champions League trophies.

The La Liga heavyweights won their 10th European title under the Italian manager, and he returned to guide them to their 14th title in 2022.

Zidane was Ancelotti’s assistant during the 2013-14 campaign, and he won three consecutive Champions League titles after replacing the Italian in the dugout, becoming the first and only manager to have done so to date.

Madrid president Florentino Perez has done a brilliant job since returning for a second term in 2009, and the Santiago Bernabeu outfit are not showing signs of slowing down anytime soon.

They have consistently had one of the best squads in the world and are always one of the favourites to win the Champions League at the beginning of every season.

AC MILAN

Year founded: 1899

No. of UCL trophies: 7

Highest goalscorer in UCL: Filippo Inzaghi (29)

No. of UCL finals lost: 4

Results of UCL finals won:

  • 1962-63: Milan 2 – Benfica 1
  • 1968-69: Milan 4 – Ajax 1
  • 1988-89: Milan 4 – Steaua Bucuresti 0
  • 1989-90: Milan 1 – Benfica 0
  • 1993-94: Milan 4 – Barcelona 0
  • 2002-03: Milan 0 (3) – Juventus 0 (2)
  • 2006-07: Milan 2 – Liverpool 1

 

The Serie A giants have struggled to impress in the competition in recent years, reaching the semi-finals for the first time in 16 years during the 2022-23 campaign.

I Rossoneri will hope they can go one better next term and going forward, and their new owners RedBird Capital will be confident of getting them back to the top after taking over the club in August 2022.

Milan won the Italian top-flight league for the first time since 2010-11 in 2021-22, and they could start challenging for the Champions League again if they sustain their current momentum and get their recruitment strategy right.

The San Siro club used to be a force to reckon with domestically and continentally, and the stars will need to align if the glory days are to return.

Their recent resurgence could mean they are back on track, though, and it will be intriguing to see whether they will be able to start challenging for the big prizes regularly soon.

BAYERN MUNICH

Year founded: 1900

No. of UCL trophies: 6

Highest goalscorer in UCL: Robert Lewandowski (69)

No. of UCL finals lost: 5

Results of UCL finals won:

  • 1973-74: Bayern Munich 1 – Atletico Madrid 1
  • Replay (Bayern Munich 4 – Atletico Madrid 0)
  • 1974-75: Bayern Munich 2 – Leeds United 0
  • 1975-76: Bayern Munich 1 – Saint-Etienne 0
  • 2000-01: Bayern Munich 1 (5) – Valencia 1 (4)
  • 2012-13: Bayern Munich 2 – Borussia Dortmund 1
  • 2019-20: Bayern Munich 1 – Paris Saint-Germain 0

 

While Die Roten have completely made the Bundesliga theirs, winning their consecutive 11th title in 2022-23 to take their tally to 33 titles, they have struggled for dominance in Europe.

Bayern lost in the finals in 1981-82, 1986-87, 1998-99, 2009-10 and 2011-12, losing three times by one goal difference and another after penalties.

Some of their fans are still yet to get over the defeats in 1998-99 and 2009-10, with Manchester United coming from behind to run out 2-1 winners after finding the back of the net in the 91st and 93rd minutes in the latter.

Bayern left it late to grab what appeared to be the potential winner in the 83rd minute against Chelsea in 2009-10, but the Blues equalised five minutes later and eventually won on penalties to leave the Germans heartbroken on their home turf.

They have been regulars in the knockout stages of the Champions League in the last 10 seasons, getting eliminated in the quarter-final and semi-final four times apiece.

The German giants remain a force to reckon with in Europe and will be keen to add to their six trophies soon.

Bayern have often boasted a solid squad and it will not be long before they land another Champions League if they maintain their current recruitment strategy.

LIVERPOOL

Year founded: 1892

No. of UCL trophies: 6

Highest goalscorer in UCL: Mohamed Salah (42)

No. of UCL finals lost: 4

Results of UCL finals won:

  • 1976-77: Liverpool 3 – Borussia Monchengladbach 1
  • 1977-78: Liverpool 1 – Club Brugge 0
  • 1980-81: Liverpool 1 – Real Madrid 0
  • 1983-84: Liverpool 1 (4) – AS Roma 1 (2)
  • 2004-05: Liverpool 3 (3) – AC Milan 3 (2)
  • 2018-19: Liverpool 2 – Tottenham Hotspur 0

The most successful team in England are also the most successful English club in the Champions League.

The Reds have a total of 68 trophies to their name, with six of them being the most-coveted title in the game at club level.

Liverpool have produced some of the biggest comebacks in the history of the competition, ending up winning two titles in the process.

The Anfield club found themselves 3-0 down against Milan in the first half of the final in 2005, but they managed to draw themselves level and eventually won on penalties, and the ‘Miracle of Istanbul’ has gone down in Champions League folklore as arguably the greatest final of all time.

Bonus picture – here’s me with the Champions League trophy that Liverpool won in 2005 – I worked for the club at the time, and was lucky enough to get my photo taken with the trophy!

Liverpool also appeared to have been dumped out of the competition in 2019 after losing 3-0 in the first leg of the semi-final against Barcelona at Camp Nou.

However, they won 4-0 in the second leg at Anfield to shock Lionel Messi and co before securing victory in the final against Spurs.

The Merseyside club are one of the few sides capable of producing such moments of magic on the pitch and more can be expected from them as they pursue their seventh title.

BARCELONA

Year founded: 1899

No. of UCL trophies: 5

Highest goalscorer in UCL: Lionel Messi (120)

No. of UCL finals lost: 3

Results of UCL finals won:

  • 1991-92: Barcelona 1 – Sampdoria 0
  • 2005-06: Barcelona 2 – Arsenal 1
  • 2008-09: Barcelona 2 – Manchester United 0
  • 2010-11: Barcelona 3 – Manchester United 1
  • 2014-15: Barcelona 3 – Juventus 1

 

The Catalans did not win their first European title until 1992 despite having won 11 league titles at the time.

 

They have won the most Copa del Rey (31) titles but have not managed to replicate their level of domestic success on the continent.

Seeing their bitter rival Real Madrid dominate in Europe surely has Barca seething, but they will need to get a lot of things right off and on the pitch to win the Champions League anytime soon.

The Camp Nou club have failed to progress from the group stages in the last two seasons (2021-22 and 2022-23), with the departure of Messi playing a huge role in their recent struggles in the competition.

The La Liga club have run into huge financial shortcomings in recent years and will have to sort that out to start challenging their continental rivals for the biggest European prize.

Barcelona won their 27th league title in 2022-23, their first since 2018-19, and it could be a sign of much-needed good fortune going forward.

They will need to assemble a squad capable of mounting a strong challenge in the competition, which could be tough as the likes of Madrid and co have been beating them to the recruitment of some of the best players and youngsters.

 

Honourable Mentions

AJAX

Year founded: 1900

No. of UCL trophies: 4

Highest goalscorer in UCL: Jari Litmanen (20)

No. of UCL finals lost: 2

Results of UCL finals won:

  • 1970-71: Ajax 2 – Panathinaikos 0
  • 1971-72: Ajax 2 – Inter Milan 0
  • 1972-73: Ajax 1 – Juventus 0
  • 1994-95: Ajax 1 – AC Milan 0

MANCHESTER UNITED

Year founded: 1878

No. of UCL trophies: 3

Highest goalscorer in UCL: Ruud van Nistelrooy (35)

No. of UCL finals lost: 2

Results of UCL finals won:

  • 1967-68: Manchester United 4 – Benfica 1
  • 1998-99: Manchester United 2 – Bayern Munich 1
  • 2007-08: Manchester United 1 (6) – Chelsea 1 (5)

INTER MILAN

Year founded: 1908

No. of UCL trophies: 3

Highest goalscorer in UCL: Adriano (14)

No. of UCL finals lost: 2

Results of UCL finals won:

  • 1963-64: Inter Milan 3 – Real Madrid 1
  • 1964-65: Inter Milan 1 – Benfica 0
  • 2009-10: Inter Milan 2 – Bayern Munich 0

CHELSEA

Year founded: 1905

No. of UCL trophies: 2

Highest goalscorer in UCL: Didier Drogba (36)

No. of UCL finals lost: 1

Results of UCL finals won:

  • 2011-12: Chelsea 1 (4) – Bayern Munich 1 (3)
  • 2020-21: Chelsea 1 – Manchester City 0

NOTTINGHAM FOREST

Year founded: 1865

No. of UCL trophies: 2

Highest goalscorer in UCL: Garry Birtles (8)

No. of UCL finals lost: 0

Results of UCL finals won:

  • 1978-79: Nottingham Forest 1 – Malmö FF 0
  • 1979-80: Nottingham Forest 1 – Hamburg 0

BENFICA

Year founded: 1904

No. of UCL trophies: 2

Highest goalscorer in UCL: Oscar Cardozo (11)

No. of UCL finals lost: 5

Results of UCL finals won:

  • 1960-61: Benfica 3 – Barcelona 2
  • 1961-62: Benfica 5 – Real Madrid 3

JUVENTUS

Year founded: 1897

No. of UCL trophies: 2

Highest goalscorer in UCL: Alessandro Del Piero (42)

No. of UCL finals lost: 7

Results of UCL finals won:

  • 1984-85: Juventus 1 – Liverpool 0
  • 1995-96: Juventus 1 (4) – Ajax 1 (2)

PORTO

Year founded: 1893

No. of UCL trophies: 2

Highest goalscorer in UCL: Jardel (19)

No. of UCL finals lost: 0

Results of UCL finals won:

  • 1986-87: Porto 2 – Bayern Munich 1
  • 2003-04: Porto 3 – AS Monaco 0