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Winning a domestic league title is great, but lifting the Champions League trophy is what every player dreams of. Only the best can win that competition. Well, usually.
Since the competition’s rebranding in 1992, we’ve seen 30 sides lift the famous trophy. Some of those teams have been all-time greats, but a few left fans scratching their heads and questioning whether it was all just one weird dream.
There’s only one thing to do – let’s rank them.
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This is a tricky one. 1992/93 Marseille were a great team. They were really great. But were they actually good enough to win the Champions League?
The squad, which featured Fabien Barthez, Marcel Desailly, Rudi Völler, Abedi Pelé and Didier Deschamps, picked up a 1-0 win over AC Milan in the final, only to later be found guilty of match fixing during their domestic campaign.
They were found to have paid Valenciennes to lose a game to ensure their squad were not tired out for the European game, so they probably deserve to be bottom of this list.
It’s probably the best Champions League final story of all time, but let’s not forget that Liverpool’s dramatic comeback against AC Milan in 2005 was only possible because they were bad enough to fall 3-0 down in the first place.
The Reds, who lost 14 Premier League games that year and finished fifth, had the likes of Steve Finnan, Djimi Traoré and Harry Kewell in their starting lineup and would have probably lost about 10-0 if Steven Gerrard didn’t turn into a superhero.
The triumph that made José Mourinho. Porto should never have won the Champions League, and you only have to look at how they had to scrape past Deportivo La Coruña in the semi-final as proof of that.
Their success was largely down to good fortune in terms of their opponents, but the likes of Deco, Maniche and Ricardo Carvalho ensured that Porto still had enough about them to cause an upset.
Chelsea, who found themselves in domestic turmoil in 2011/12, should have lost to Napoli, Barcelona and Bayern Munich that year, but somehow managed to emerge with the Champions League trophy.
There was plenty of firepower in the squad, including Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and John Terry (when he wasn’t suspended), but this squad also included a young Ryan Bertrand who made his European debut in the final…. out of position.
Chelsea were massive underdogs going into the final vs. Manchester City, but despite that, they managed to win thanks to a goal from Kai Havertz.
Was the final fun? No.
Do Chelsea fans care? Absolutely not.
This is a tricky one. On paper, Milan should have been amazing this year. The squad featured Dida, Alessandro Nesta, Paolo Maldini, Andrea Pirlo, Andriy Shevchenko – the list goes on.
Unfortunately, 2002/03 Milan were one of the most uninspiring teams in competition history.
They were all about dull 1-0 wins and were largely responsible for the first 0-0 draw in final history.
Lars Ricken, Paulo Sousa, Karl-Heinz Riedle and Matthias Sammer all flirted with stardom, with Sammar perhaps coming the closest, but the Borussia Dortmund side of 1996/97 just seemed to lack a certain je ne sais quoi.
Ricken’s goal 16 seconds after coming on as a substitute is still a record for the Champions League final, and that is a major reason why this team is still remembered.
If we’re talking purely about performances in the final, this Milan side would be right at the top. They mauled Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona 4-0, but that was pretty much the first time that they had actually played entertaining football.
It’s tough to say what was wrong with this Milan side. They still won games, but it just wasn’t that impressive to watch most of the time. There’s only so much ‘offside trap’ a fan can take.
Real Madrid are almost the victims of their own high standards. Their Champions League triumph in 1998 was their first and has since proven to be their least impressive.
Fernando Hierro was strong at the back, Clarence Seedorf and Christian Karembeu starred in midfield and a young Raúl was just coming into his own in attack, but struggles domestically detract from this side’s greatness.
We’re at that point in the list where every team is ridiculously good, it’s just a question of figuring out which sides were less ridiculously good than the rest.
1999/00 Real find themselves here because they were on the cusp of blossoming into the famous ‘Galacticos’ but were perhaps lacking a little something.
Whatever they were lacking didn’t really show as they still played an impressive brand of football which won the hearts of many.
The 2015/16 tournament wasn’t the most convincing from Real. They conceded three against Shakhtar Donetsk and came close to being eliminated by Wolfsburg, who picked up a 2-0 win in the first leg of the quarter-final.
They had to squeeze past Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and Atlético Madrid en route to lifting the trophy, but the fact of the matter is that they did squeeze past them, and that’s not easy.
Bayern Munich won the European Cup behind closed doors following a mini-knockout tournament in 2020, famously blitzing Barcelona 8-2.
They disposed of Lyon with ease to reach the final, before just edging past Paris Saint-Germain to win in Lisbon.
2009/10 Inter were football’s equivalent of marmite – you either loved them or you hated them.
With Mourinho’s signature defensive style, I Nerazzurri became impenetrable. Samuel Eto’o went from a striker to a winger (which means he became a full-back under Mourinho), and they gave up possession in almost every game they played.
Diego Milito’s fantastic goalscoring stole the show, but you always felt like this Inter side maybe could have done things in a more convincing fashion.
Three words: Alessandro Del Piero.
The Italian was the standout star in a team which featured Gianluca Vialli, Antonio Conte and Didier Deschamps, firing Juventus to glory in devastating fashion.
With Ballon d’Or winner Kaká stealing the show in midfield, 2006/07 AC Milan were something special.
They got revenge against Liverpool in the final that year, with Kaká and Filippo Inzaghi proving too much to handle in attack.
If you haven’t gathered, we’re in the section of the list for teams who were primarily led by one star. For Bayern Munich in 2000/01, that star was goalkeeper Oliver Kahn.
The victory over Valencia in the final was all about penalties. Bayern missed one in the game, before Kahn went off on one in the shootout to earn the Germans the trophy.
As a single unit, Barcelona were great in 2005/06, but this was the Ronaldinho show. Frank Rijkaard knew that and built his team around the Brazilian.
Would Barça have won the tournament without Ronaldinho? Possibly not, although Eto’o would have had something to say about that.
Zinedine Zidane rocked up to Real for the 2001/02 season and scored one of the greatest goals in competition history in the final in his debut season. Not bad.
Los Blancos scored goals for fun this season and had to prove their mental fortitude by coming back from the brink of elimination at the hands of Bayern Munich.
And then Real got caught up in the moment and tore the squad apart through mass spending – and they didn’t even replace Claude Makélélé!
Very few teams have had harder runs to the Champions League crown than this team.
Chelsea, PSG, Man City and Liverpool in the knockouts, and they bloody beat them all thanks to some remarkable performances from Karim Benzema.
Carlo Ancelotti’s brand of free-flowing football brought the best out of Real and helped Cristiano Ronaldo fire home a ludicrous 17 goals during the competition.
They dominated plenty of sides en route to glory, but their legacy takes a slight hit as they came within seconds of losing the final to rivals Atlético Madrid.
The treble winners. That alone is good enough for a high finish on this list, and that’s how it should be.
However, because we’ve got to look a little deeper when comparing these teams, we’ve got to look at how United came to be European champions, and it’s not as impressive as you might think.
Defensively, United were more than a little unconvincing at times, evident by the fact they needed dramatic comebacks in both the semi-final and the final, but the fact that they had the quality to fight back speaks volumes.
United’s squad in the 2007/08 final reads like a real who’s who of footballing greats. Edwin van der Sar, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić formed one of the best defensive trios of all time and Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez weren’t half bad in attack, either.
Defensively dominant and sublime in attack, this United side overwhelmed their opponents with terrifying ease.
They’ll always be remembered as the side who needed a Loris Karius disasterclass to win the final, but the reality is this Real side were phenomenal.
They fought through PSG, Juventus and Bayern Munich en route to the final, with a squad which featured Sergio Ramos, Cristiano Ronaldo and soon-to-be Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modrić.
Just one year earlier, a very similar Real side stormed to victory in Europe, but there’s an argument to suggest that this 2016/17 was Real at their recent peak.
Modrić, Toni Kroos and Casemiro made up perhaps the finest midfield on the planet at the time, and they tore apart a Juventus side who were expected to cause Real major problems.
Alisson and Virgil van Dijk gave Liverpool an elite defence. Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino dominated in attack. On an individual level, this Liverpool side were great, but Jürgen Klopp’s tactics brought them to a new level.
Their unbelievable 4-0 win over Barcelona in the semi-final was the greatest comeback in the competition’s history, ensuring this side will never be forgotten. Ever.
Louis van Gaal’s Ajax side were the perfect blend of outstanding talent and pure entertainment. They beat the ‘best in the world’ Milan side no less than three times, and it did by playing some stunning football.
Frank Rijkaard led from midfield, allowing Seedorf, Edgar Davids, Marc Overmars and a young Patrick Kluivert to shine on the biggest stage.
What made this Ajax side most impressive was their ability to win in various different ways. They could use pace and power, intricate passing or defensive resilience – whatever was needed, they could do it.
We’re in the real crème de la crème now, and kicking things off is the Barcelona side from 2014/15.
MSN – Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar – wreaked havoc against opponents all year long, scoring a combined 137 goals across the entirety of 2015.
When you add Marc-André ter Stegen, Gerard Piqué, Xavi and Andrés Iniesta to the mix, you’ve got one of the most terrifying teams in history.
Half of this Bayern Munich side went on to reach the 2014 World Cup final, which speaks volumes of the general level of quality in this squad.
Jupp Heynckes’ side were led by ‘Robbery’ – the wide duo of Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben – but that was just the start of it.
Manuel Neuer, Jérôme Boateng and Philipp Lahm helped make up a sublime defence, while Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Müller pulled the strings in midfield.
This side should have won the competition in 2012, but they finally got what they deserved this time around.
Pep Guardiola’s debut season with Barcelona was comfortably one of the greatest we have ever seen. Barça went on to win the treble, and they did it by completely dominating their opponents.
Messi was yet to become the focal point of Barça’s sides, so this team was all about an overall quality throughout the squad. Xavi, Iniesta and Sergio Busquets pulled the strings in midfield, and Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry ran riot in attack.
Some good fortune was needed to edge past Chelsea in the semi-final, but apart from that, it was utter domination from start to finish.
2008/09 Barcelona rewrote football, but 2010/11 took it to a whole new level.
To a man, this team may well be the greatest club side ever. Messi, Pedro and David Villa in attack, Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets in midfield, Eric Abidal, Pique, Javier Mascherano and Dani Alves in defence, with Victor Valdés in goal. Wow.
Their 3-1 win over Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in the final is often described as one of the most dominant victories ever, and it was the perfect example of what this team was about.
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