The Champions League: Why has no-one ever retained the trophy?

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The mark of a great team is the ability to win consecutive league titles, therefore it can be argued that there has been no truly great European team in the Champions League era. 

Since the old European Cup was rebranded in 1992, even the very good Barcelona teams, of which the MSN-inspired incarnation is just the latest, cannot claim to be truly great. 

Three-time winning manager Carlo Ancelotti said recently: "I think it's difficult to win the Champions League because now the Champions League is more and more competitive compared to the past. When we won it [as a player with AC Milan] in 1989 and 1990 there were not a lot of games to reach the final and to win, and not a lot of teams.”


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Therefore it is only by winning back-to-back Champions Leagues that a team will be crowned ‘The Greatest European Team Ever’ so here, in reverse order, are four possible reasons why no team has yet claimed the crown.

4. Lucky the first time

Liverpool (2005), Manchester United (1999 and 2008), Chelsea (2012), Porto (2004) were all the beneficiaries of a fantastic run in the competition.  They were by no means the best team or the favourites but played the knockout phase like it was the FA Cup.  With a fortunate draw and brave performances the stars aligned to make it their year but it was always very unlikely to happen again the following season.

Ancelotti confirmed as much, saying: "It's not a [league] championship - it's two games, home and away, and if you're not in good condition for one you go out. For this, the little details, luck and injuries are really important; key aspects to consider when you reach the final part of the competition."

3. Eliminated by a league rival

With the top leagues – Spain, Germany and England – having four entrants, the Champions League is definitely more competitive than the old European Cup. 

The domestic league rivals are in a better position to beat each other over two legs as they play each other more often and there is less of a fear factor. 

In La Liga, Barcelona are currently only ahead of Atletico Madrid on goal difference, therefore, this year’s Champions League quarter-final held no fear for Diego Simeone’s victorious side.

2. Losing your manager / best player(s)

Keeping a Champions League winning team together would seem like a ‘no-brainer’, but it is easier said than done.  

The Ajax (1995) team managed by Louis van Gaal who beat defending champions AC Milan were promptly dismantled as the academy graduates were poached by the European elite.

When goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel left treble-winners Manchester United (1999) it took the Old Trafford club many years to find a suitable replacement.  Superstar manager Jose Mourinho led Porto (2004) and Inter Milan (2010) to Champions League glory and then left both teams in the lurch the same summer. 

German giants Bayern Manager (2013) also lost a treble-winning manager in Jupp Heynckes and even Pep Guardiola was not able to retain the trophy.

1. Expectation is overwhelming

With 13 games to play in the Champions League against only nine in the old European Cup format, it is certainly more difficult to win and the expectation can be overwhelming as Barcelona found to their cost this season. 

Even in reaching their ninth consecutive quarter-final, by trying to win a ‘double-treble’, they dropped the ball and will probably be kicking themselves now. 

The Catalans had the same problem dealing with expectations under Guardiola in 2010 and 2012, but if Barca had ignored the Club World Cup and not greedily aimed for the ‘double-treble’ they could have easily defended the Champions League title. It is just a matter of priorities.

Why is it so hard to win the Champions League back-to-back? Have YOUR say in the comment section below!

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