Football

Top 10: Most successful teams in Europe

Real Madrid's last Champions League triumph came in 2002 (©GettyImages)
Real Madrid's last Champions League triumph came in 2002 (©GettyImages).

The greatest club sides in the world have won the Champions League. However, few have been able to achieve the feat more than once. Here are ten of these great teams.

1. Real Madrid

Times won: 9 (1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1966, 1998, 2000, 2002).

Real Madrid raised the bar for European clubs at will, signing the game's biggest stars even in the early 1950s. The likes of Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas and Raymond Kopa were all lured to the Bernabeu, and this paid dividends as Los Blancos went on to win the first five European Cups.The most famous was a 7-3 victory over Frankfurt in the 1960 final as Di Stefano scored a hat-trick, and Hungarian striker Puskas netted four.

However after 1966, the Spanish giants' would have to wait for more than thirty years to be crowned champions of Europe once again, and capture what is now known as the Champions League for the very first time. Spanish and former Real striker Raul remains the competition's top scorer ever with a phenomenal 71 goals, 66 of which he scored for the nine-time European champions.

Key players:  Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas, Raul.

2. AC Milan

Times won: 7 (1963, 1969, 1989, 1990, 1994, 2003, 2007).

Much like the country they represent, AC Milan have proved a dominant force in tournament football with seven European triumphs. The Italian club first lifted the trophy in 1963 with a 2-1 win over Benfica and before dominating Johan Cruyff's Ajax six years later.

After a number of years in financial difficulty, Milan returned to the pinnacle of European football in the late 1980s, signing the Dutch trio of Ruud Gullit, Marco Van Basten and Frank Rijkaard and with these stellar names, Milan are to date the last club to retain the European Cup/Champions League with victories against Steaua Bucharest and Benfica once again in 1989 and 1990 respectively.

Four years after the club's last triumph, Milan had won Europe's top prize for a fifth time and also won the Champions League for a first time with a 4-0 win over Spanish giants' Barcelona in the final. The team was heavily influenced by inspirational captain Paolo Maldini who led the side in defeating domestic rivals Juventus on penalties in 2003 at Old Trafford.

The club won their seventh European title in 2007, defeating Liverpool 2-1 courtesy of two Filippo Inzaghi and with it Milan got their revenge on the English side who defeated the Italian side two years earlier on penalties.

Key players: Gianni Rivera, Marco Van Basten, Paolo Maldini.

3. Bayern Munich

Times won: 5 (1974, 1975, 1976, 2001, 2013).

The current champions enjoyed a golden period during the mid 1970s with the likes of Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller and Sepp Maier led the club to a hat-trick of European titles during this era. The prolific Muller scored 18 European Cup goals during Bayern's three triumphs as it spelled a reign of sheer dominance for German football. 

The club had to wait 25 years to taste the glory of claiming Europe's top prize again. Goalkeeper Oliver Kahn was the hero as the German giants defeated Spanish side Valencia to win the Champions League for the first time.

In May this year, Bayern won their fifth European title with a 2-1 win over domestic rivals Borussia Dortmund, and French star Franck Ribery won the UEFA Best Player of the Year following his excellent displays in Bayern's Champions League journey last season.

Key players: Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller, Franck Ribery.

4. Liverpool

Times won: 5 (1977,1978, 1981, 1984, 2005).

The Anfield club are the most succesful English team in Europe. You need only look at Liverpool's great teams during the 1970s and 80s to see why the club were so dominant both domestically and in Europe for a number of years. Scottish stars Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness remain two of the greatest players to play for Liverpool and were instrumental in the club's European success during this period.

However arguably the most famous night in Liverpool's history came on the 25th of May, 2005 in Istanbul. The English side faced AC Milan in the Champions League and were trailing 3-0 at half-time and it seemed as though their opponents were a class apart on the night. However, with the help of their influential captain Steven Gerrard, Liverpool staged an almighty comeback to level the game at 3-3 with three goals in six minutes.The match went to penalties and Liverpool shocked the world by winning their fifth European title.

Possibly the greatest achievement in a European Cup final ever.

Key players: Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness, Steven Gerrard.

5. Barcelona

Times won: 4 (1992, 2006, 2009, 2011).

Some of the games greatest ever players have played for Barcelona. From Johan Cruyff, Diego Maradona, Michael Laudrup to more recently Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi. Having played second fiddle to domestic rivals Real Madrid for countless years, Barcelona finally won the last ever European Cup tournament in 1992 under the coaching of Johan Cruyff who described his Catalan side as the ''Dream Team.'' Ronald Koeman's extra time strike against Sampdoria gave Barca their first taste of European silverware.

The club would have to wait almost 15 years to regain the giant trophy. This time another Dutchman, Frank Rijkaard led the side a 2-1 victory over English club Arsenal in the final in 2006.

Under new manager and former player Pep Guardiola, Barcelona introduced a new playing style to their game known as tiki-taka. With the likes of Spain stars Xavi and Iniesta pulling the strings in midfield, Barcelona demonstrated their class by twice defeating Premier League giants Manchester United in the Champions League final in 2009 and 2011.

The Catalan club is still one of the top teams in Europe, thanks in no small part to the goalscoring exploits of striker, Messi, who has scored 57 Champions League goals at the age of just 26.

Key players: Michael Laudrup, Xavi, Lionel Messi.

6. Ajax

Times won: 4 (1971, 1972, 1973, 1995).

The Dutch masters are the pioneers of the term ''Total Football'' epitomised by the legendary Johan Cruyff who remains the country's greatest ever player along with being one of the best players of all time.

Ajax reached their apex in the early 1970s with three consecutive European Cup triumphs. The Amsterdam team of this era paved the way for future great sides such as Barcelona and AC Milan with their relentless attacking flair and panache and charisma. If football is a theatre, then Cruyff's Ajax were the original conductors. 

In 1995, 22 years since their last European Cup triumph, Ajax returned to the top of the club football with arguably the last homegrown team to win the Champions League.

Edwin Van Der Sar, Frank De Boer, Ronald De Boer and Clarence Seedorf were all brought through the famous Ajax youth system. However it was another youth star, Patrick Kluivert who grabbed the decisive winner against Milan in the final, giving the Amsterdam club their first and only Champions League triumph and fourth overall.

Key players: Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Frank Rijkaard.

7. Inter Milan

Times won: 3 (1964, 1965, 2010).

Inter Milan is a club that has spent its entire footballing life in the shadow of neighbours, AC. However in the mid 60s the Nerazzurri won two European Cups, thanks in no small part to three players, Giancinto Facchetti, Luis Suarez and Sandro Mazzola.

Then manager, Helenio Herrera adopted a new 5-3-2 formation, which was more commonly known as, Catenaccio. This allowed Inter to play with wing-backs as opposed to defensive minded full backs and ensured that Facchetti became one of the best players in the world at the time, not only helping Inter to two European Cup wins but also the 1968 European Championship with Italy.

In 2010, almost 50 years after their last triumph, manager Jose Mourinho led the Milanese side to their first Champions League win with not one single Italian player in his starting lineup for the 2-0 final win over Bayern Munich.

Wesley Sneijder proved the creative mastermind and was arguably the best player throughout the tournament that year, while Diego Milito's six goals including two in the final helped Inter become champions of Europe for a third time.

Key players: Giacinto Facchetti, Luis Suarez, Wesley Sneijder.

8. Manchester United

Times won: 3 (1968, 1999, 2008).

One of the most significant events in football history occurred in 1958. This was known as the Munich Air Disaster which claimed the lives of a number of Manchester United players, including Duncan Edwards. Few survived, namely manager Matt Busby and Bobby Charlton.

However as the years went by, United began to rebuild and put together a fantastic team consisting of Charlton, George Best and Denis Law. Under the management of Busby, United went on to defeat Eusebio's Benfica in the 1968 European Cup Final and thus becoming the first English team to lift the prestigious trophy.

It was more than thirty years later before United got their hands on the trophy again. United took on Bayern Munich in the final in Barcelona and were a goal down within the first five minutes. Bayern led the match for more than 85 minutes but two injury time goals firstly from Teddy Sheringham and the winner from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ensured United were champions of Europe for a second time.

As commentator Clive Tyldesley appropriately said: ''No team will ever win a final more dramatically than this.''

Nine years later, United won the Champions League for a second time, defeating domestic rivals Chelsea in the final on penalties. The club's success that year was largely due to the goalscoring prowess of Cristiano Ronaldo. Fittingly, the 2008 triumph was 40 years after the club won the trophy for the first time and the 50 year anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster.

Key players: Bobby Charlton, George Best, Cristiano Ronaldo.

9. Porto

Times won: 2 (1987, 2004).

Porto became European Champions for the first time in 1987 following a late rally to give the Portuguese side a 2-1 win over German giants Bayern Munich. Despite this being a huge achievement by the club, the Champions League win in 2004 under the guidance of manager Jose Mourinho that has made Porto famous.

Despite making the final, Porto were seen as underdogs to French side Monaco who had been red hot throughout the tournament and had the two top scorers in the competition that year. The odds were stacked against Mourinho's men, however, the now Chelsea manager proved he is indeed a tactical mastermind as his side ran out 3-0 winners against Monaco.

A fine achievement given that Porto were not even considered to reach the quarter-finals after being pitted against English champions, Manchester United.

Key players: Ricardo Carvalho, Maniche, Deco.

10. Juventus

Times won: 2 (1985, 1996).

In 1985, Juventus put an end to the dominance which Liverpool thrived on since a decade previous. The Serie A side boasted arguably their best team ever with Zbigniew Boniek, Gaetano Scirea, Marco Tardelli, Paolo Rossi and French star Michel Platini all key figures in the Old Lady's squad.

Led by Giovanni Trapattoni, Juventus defeated the English side by a goal to nil courtesy of a second half penalty from Platini. Astonishingly it was the first time the Italian giants had won the European Cup, despite being the top team in their country for decades along with AC Milan. 

Eleven years later and Juve would once again reign supreme in Europe by seeing off Dutch side Ajax in the final on penalties following a 1-1 draw after 120 minutes. The side was heavily influenced by Italian star, Alessandro Del Piero who would play for the club for almost twenty years.

Surprisingly, Juventus hold an unwanted tally of being runners up in five European Cup/Champions League tournaments. Nonetheless, the Italian club has showcased some of the greatest players in the biggest club competition in the world.

Key players: Michel Platini, Gaetano Scirea, Alessandro Del Piero.

Which team was the greatest to win the European Cup/Champions League? Have your say below.

Topics:
Liverpool
Manchester United
Inter Milan
UEFA Champions League
Real Madrid
Football
AC Milan
Bayern Munich
Barcelona
Ajax

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