Champions League-winning teams ranked from 'simply legendary' to 'better forgotten'

  • Kobe Tong

The Champions League anthem won’t be blaring throughout stadia and living rooms for the foreseeable future.

The coronavirus pandemic has seen Europe’s premier competition take a back seat and only time will tell how the remaining knockout games of the 2019/20 season will be executed.

But let’s ignore the speculation about one-legged games or a tournament extravaganza in Istanbul for one second and cast our minds back to why we love the Champions League in the first place.

Throwback videos have been doing the rounds recently with so many people in self-isolation or lockdown, so it’s inevitable that legendary European teams are being reminisced upon.

Some people would argue that Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona is the greatest we’ve ever seen, while others would point towards the star-studded teams of AC Milan and Real Madrid over the years.

Greatest ever Champions League winners

But regardless of which team has been the fondest for you to look back on, there’s no denying the fun in opening up a debate about the greatest Champions League teams in history.

And here at GIVEMESPORT, we love the medium of TierMaker to settle these sorts of squabbles and we decided to filter every single Champions League winner into our tier system.

So, yes, that’s every single winning side since 1992 – with the only exception being Real’s hat-trick winners, who we’ve rolled into one – and you can check out how we ordered them down below:

Better forgotten

Marseille (1992/93)

With the likes of Didier Deschamps, Abedi Pele and Rudi Voller glittering in this remarkable team, which breached one of football’s greatest ever defence in the final, this Marseille side is legendary.

So, why does it finish rock bottom of our rankings? Well, because it’s debatable whether the French side, the only club from their country to win the competition, should have been stripped of the title.

That’s because Marseille had their Ligue 1 title revoked that very same year after their owner Bernard Tapie attempted to fix league matches to bide time to prepare for the European final.

It remains, to this day, a stain on the opening year of the Champions League as we know it.


AC Milan (1993/94)

Manchester United (1998/99)

Look, overrated doesn’t mean bad by any stretch of the imagination, every team in this list won the Champions League and that makes all of them fantastic on that basis alone. Anyhow, disclaimers aside…

Milan’s 1994 side have been wildly overrated for the fact they obliterated Barcelona 4-0 in the final, which – albeit mightily impressive – was grossly unrepresentative of their snooze-inducing football.

Scoring just six goals in six games during the group stages, while also winning Serie A by finding the net just 36 times, made this offside-trap-loving side almost unwatchable at times.

As for United, they deserve to be heralded in the history books for winning all three major trophies, but things become far less impressive when you take their Champions League win in isolation.

That’s because they’re statistically one of the competition’s worst ever champions, winning just five games and boasting both the worst win rate and defensive record of any side on this list. Woof.

Rode their luck

Liverpool (2004/05)

Chelsea (2011/12)

FC Porto (2003/04)

It goes without saying that you make your own luck in sport. So, this category is for the teams who drew on their underdog spirit, which is a pretty big compliment depending on how you look at things.

Liverpool weren’t exactly vintage during their 2005 triumph – this was a side that finished fifth in the Premier League, after all – and their semi-final win over Chelsea remains a topic of controversy.

And while there can never be any denying their unbelievable character in the final, Milan should have seen off the game either through parking the bus or sharper shooting from Andriy Shevchenko.

Chelsea were one of the most surprising ever winners in 2012 and the fact they were slaughtered 35-9 for shots attempted in the final underlines how they flew by seat of their pants that year.

The Blues were dreadful during the group stages, needed a dramatic comeback against Napoli, were lucky that Barcelona didn’t finish them off and won via penalties when the chips were down.

As for Porto, you only need to look at their last-minute equaliser at Old Trafford, the fact they were second best against Deportivo in the semi-finals and drawing Monaco in the climax to see how fortune favoured them.  

Middle of the road

Borussia Dortmund (1996/97)

AC Milan (2002/03)

Inter Milan (2009/10)

Real Madrid (1997/98)

Dortmund are arguably the strongest team in this category with heroes like Lars Ricken, Paulo Sousa, Karl-Heinz Riedle and Matthias Sammer coming within a whisker of ‘brilliant’ status.

Meanwhile, Milan were pretty drab in 2003, scoring just four goals in a spell of five knockout games as well as five from six in the group stages were partly responsible for the first ever goalless final. 

Depending on what you’re into, Inter were either God tier in 2010 or a travesty to football with their wily tactics under Jose Mourinho, so we think putting them bang in the middle is the fair thing to do.

And Real’s first ever Champions League win was most definitely their weakest, although defeating a Juventus side spearheaded by Zinedine Zidane in the final is nothing to be sniffed at.


AC Milan (2006/07)

Real Madrid (2001/02)

Bayern Munich (2000/01)

Real Madrid (2013/14)

Barcelona (2005/06)

Juventus (1995/96)

Barcelona (2014/15)

Manchester United (2007/08)

Real Madrid (1999/00)

A packed category, this one. Milan get us underway with a team that delivered masterpiece victories over Bayern, United and Liverpool with a Ballon d’Or-winning Kaka galloping in their midfield.

Real’s ‘Galatico’s also sneak into this tier having won ‘Big Ears’ thanks to Zidane’s legendary volley in Glasgow, forming a coherent team body that would be lost when the spending got out of control.

Bayern are here too as one of the most underrated winning teams in history and the fact it took a penalty shootout – shoutout to Oliver Kahn – to defeat Valencia in the final does them a disservice.

The La Decima winners comfortably reach this category as the best attacking winners of the modern era, according to statistics, although their Lisbon triumph over Atletico Madrid was certainly shaky. 

Similarly, Barca had a rocky ride during their 2006 final against Arsenal, but still overcame strong Chelsea and Milan teams en route to glory with Ronaldinho at his shimmering best in attack. 

Juventus’ last and distant victory was also achieved by one of Europe’s greatest ever sides of which Alessandro del Piero was the crown jewel, famously striking back at United in the semi-finals.

The second Barca team in this had arguably the greatest ever front three in Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez, brilliantly defeating Bayern and Juventus on their way to victory in Berlin.

United’s Moscow winners are pretty overrated in the attacking department despite the big names of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo, but their mind-blowing defensive record earns them a place in ‘brilliant’. They should still thank John Terry for it, mind.

And finally, this packed category is rounded off by a Real side that was on the cusp of blossoming into the ‘Galaticos’, but were still impressing by routing fellow Spaniards Valencia 3-0 in the final.


Bayern Munich (2012/13)

Ajax (1994/95)

Real Madrid (2015/16, 2016/17, 2017/18)

Liverpool (2018/19)

Oh mama. Bayern created one of the best-oiled teams in history under Jupp Heynckes: defeating Juventus 2-0 home and away, annihilating Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate and exacting final revenge on Bundesliga champions Dortmund in the final.

Ajax might be the most exciting team on the entire list, overthrowing the great Milan team of the 1990s with a bunch of starlets – Patrick Kluivert, the goal-scorer in the final, to name just one – that would become household names.

And it would be mindless not to include the Real side that not only became the first team to retain the Champions League trophy, but win it three times in a row with final wins over Atletico, Juventus and Liverpool.

Speaking of which, the Reds were blistering on their way to becoming European champions last season, outclassing Bayern and delivering a comeback for the ages against Barca. They barely put a foot wrong in the final, too.

Simply legendary

Barcelona (2008/09)

Barcelona (2010/11)

Sorry Real fans, but Guardiola’s two Champions League-winning Barcelona sides were worthy of a tier all to themselves and we simply couldn’t separate this majestic pair of teams.

The 2009 Barca team admittedly rode their luck during the semi-final with Chelsea, but their 4-0 obliteration of Bayern and 2-0 win over United in the final were displays for the history books.

Messi led an unstoppable offensive trident with Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry, while the midfield triumvirate of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets is arguably the greatest ever assembled.

Two years later and many of those players were still present, although we’d argue that Messi’s new strike partners of Pedro and David Villa made for an even more coherent attack than in 2009.

All three players penned their names on the scoresheet during the final at Wembley, humiliating United once again, on the back of having eliminated Arsenal and bitter rivals Real Madrid.

Full graphic 

And breathe.

So, it would be fair to say that the Champions League has seen more remarkable winning teams over the years and it’s incredibly difficult to separate them when they’re all so brilliant.

And whether or not you agree with 2012 Chelsea being above 1999 United or any other decisions, let us reassure you by saying that all 24 teams achieved something that many legends failed to do.

We’ve simply broken one of the most esteemed tiers in all of football down into much smaller ones. Think of it as picking the best of the best from the best of the best.

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