With three more trophies up for grabs over the coming months, Dan Roberts looks back at the continent’s most successful clubs in terms of the number of major European titles won.
The names of the clubs here will not come as a surprise, as they are some of the biggest in the world. Although there have been some memorable upsets and surprises over the years – and new wealthy owners have tried to gatecrash the party – the most successful clubs in European tournament history remain very familiar.
Real Madrid – 19 European titles
Los Blancos famously won the first five editions of the European Cup in the 1950s and eventually lifted ‘la decima’ in 2014. There have been further triumphs since and Madrid have now won 19 major European titles in all.
Barcelona – 14 European titles
Now ever-present in the Champions League, it took Barca until 1992 to win their first title in Europe’s premier club competition. Without Lionel Messi though, they may have some trouble climbing any higher in this list.
Milan – 9 European titles
The Italian giants come next and can point to two separate eras of continental dominance, the 1990s and the early 2000s. There hasn’t been as much success recently, but the Rossoneri are back in the Champions League this season for the first time since 2013-14.
Liverpool – 9 European titles
The Premier League side were the biggest club in Europe in the late 1970s and early 1980s and spearheaded the English domination of the European Cup at that time. There was a long wait for more glory, but now Liverpool have won the big cup six times.
Bayern Munich – 8 European titles
Bayern may completely dominate the German game but they have not been quite as successful on the European stage. They did win the Champions League in 2020 though to complete a treble alongside the Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal – as well as the European Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup.
How it used to be in Europe
Before the Champions League was even a spark of an idea in the mind of a UEFA marketing genius, there were three coveted European competitions on the football calendar. The champions of each country went straight into the European Cup, or the European Champion Clubs’ Cup to give it its formal title. The next two or three qualified for the UEFA Cup – previously called the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup – and the cup winners from each association went into the imaginatively titled Cup Winners’ Cup.
All three competitions were played on a purely knockout basis, meaning clubs might only last one round before their European dream was over. All of the clubs wanted more of the money on offer and the group stage formats that we know today were brought in when the European Cup was rebranded as the Champions League in 1992.
The Cup Winners’ Cup was abolished in 1999 and merged with the UEFA Cup to become the Europa League. Until this season there have been just two competitions to qualify for, making domestic cup matches far less popular virtually overnight.
UEFA have introduced the new Europa Conference League as a way to deliver a third tournament, while also offering clubs from smaller leagues the chance of European football, and the money that comes with it. The bigger clubs may still make their league campaigns the priority – for financial reasons once again – but there is no doubt that more chances of qualifying for continental competition is a positive step for the whole of the UEFA family.
This article was from a past issue of Soccer 360 magazine. Click here to subscribe to future issues.