Ahead of its post-winter return, we thought we’d take a look at the most successful teams in the history of the UEFA Champions League. The UCL was introduced in the 1992/93 season when the European Cup was revamped and rebranded. Although many articles and lists relating to teams that have been crowned European champions combine the stats from the Champions League and its predecessor (which began in 1955), here we are examining only the data in the Champions League era, i.e. from the 1992/93 season to the present day.
First we’ll give a quick rundown of all the winners of the competition, then we’ll take a closer look at the most successful teams in the Champions League.
Which Teams Have Won the Champions League: 1992/93 to 2021/22
|1998/99||Manchester United||Bayern Munich|
|2001/02||Real Madrid||Bayer Leverkusen|
|2009/10||Inter Milan||Bayern Munich|
|2012/13||Bayern Munich||Borussia Dortmund|
|2013/14||Real Madrid||Atletico Madrid|
|2015/16||Real Madrid||Atletico Madrid|
|2019/20||Bayern Munich||Paris Saint-Germain|
- Champions League Titles – 8 (1998, 2000, 2002, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2022)
- Runners-up – 0
There really is no disputing Real Madrid’s position as the kings of European football. Okay, they may have got a head start on their rivals by bagging the first five European Cups. But they have shown that they are almost as dominant in the Champions League era. The fact they have never lost a CL final certainly speaks volumes, as do their eight victories in the competition, double that of their nearest challenger.
- Champions League Titles – 4 (2006, 2009, 2011, 2015)
- Runners-up – 1 (1994)
Although Barcelona have only won the fifth-highest number of European titles when you include European Cups, they are in second place when we look at just Champions League titles. In fact, they only ever won one European Cup, and that was in the final year the tournament took place in that format and under that name. It’s therefore fair to suggest that Barca have long lived in the gigantic shadow cast by rival Real Madrid when it comes to European titles. But at least they’ve got a few of their own in the Champions League era.
- Champions League Titles – 3 (1994, 2003, 2007)
- Runners-up – 3 (1993, 1995, 2005)
Although Milan are second behind Real when it comes to European titles overall (i.e. including European Cups), they have to settle for joint-third place in the Champions League era (alongside Bayern Munich). Milan played two finals against Liverpool, including the so-called Miracle of Istanbul that Liverpool won on penalties after being 3-0 down at half time and battling back to 3-3 by the final whistle. Milan got their revenge in Athens in 2007, however, when they beat Liverpool 2-1 to win the tournament. Indeed, that was the last time Milan went all the way in the Champions League.
- Champions League Titles – 3 (2001, 2013, 2020)
- Runners-up – 3 (1999, 2010, 2012)
Like Milan, Bayern have won the Champions League three times and lost in the final three times. Unlike Milan, the Bavarians have continued to be successful in recent times. The German side last won the tournament in the 2019/20 season when they beat Paris Saint-German (who have never won either the Champions League or the European Cup). Bayern have lost in the final to English opposition twice: to Chelsea in 2011/12 and to Manchester United in 1998/99, when two late United goals did the business for Alex Ferguson’s men at Camp Nou in Barcelona.
- Champions League Titles – 2 (2005, 2019)
- Runners-up – 3 (2007, 2018, 2022)
Liverpool have enjoyed success in this competition in both of its guises but their record was certainly stronger prior to the 1990s rebrand. Even so, their two wins from five CL finals make them the most successful English side in the modern era. Under Jurgen Klopp they have made three out of five finals between 2018 and 2022, a fine achievement. Despite enduring a torrid 2022/23 season domestically, they won five out of six games in Champions League Group A. Might they be set to make it through to yet another big final?
- Champions League Titles – 2 (1999, 2008)
- Runners-up – 2 (2009, 2011)
Speaking of the Red Devils, they have won the Champions League twice (to add to their European Cup from 1968). After their heroics against Bayern in 1999, Man United also beat Chelsea in the 2007/08 final in Moscow. After a tight game, it all came down to penalties, and as it turned out, three of the game’s most loveable (!) players – Cristiano Ronaldo, Nicolas Anelka and John Terry – all failed to convert their spot-kicks, much to the amusement of many a neutral, especially when Terry completely fluffed his lines. United won 6-5.
United have also lost twice in Champions League finals, going down on both occasions to the great Barcelona side of the era. In both finals (2008/09 and 2010/11) Barcelona were the better side and the scorelines (2-0 and 3-1) reflected the way the games played out, much to Ferguson’s disappointment.
- Champions League Titles – 2 (2012, 2021)
- Runners-up – 1 (2008)
We mentioned Chelsea’s loss to Man United above, but they’ve won the Champions League as many time as the Manchester side: in the 2011/12 season when they beat Bayern Munich on their own patch on penalties, and in the 2020/21 season when they got the better of Manchester City (who, like PSG, have also never won a Champions League or European Cup – for now at least). Chelsea went into the final against City very much the underdogs, but they put in an excellent tactical performance to sneak a 1-0 victory and frustrate City fans.
Best Champions League Sides: Conclusions
Whether you choose to include European Cups or – as we have – exclude them, there’s only one European side at the top of the footballing tree: Real Madrid. Given that some of the biggest-spending clubs of recent years are yet to win even a single European title, we can’t see that changing any time soon. But there’s certainly scope for Barcelona and – perhaps more likely – the ever-consistent Bayern Munich to close the gap on Real in the coming decade or two if they can kick on in the Champions League.