First, a Champions League-size caveat: any team to have won this competition is, clearly, pretty damn good. You don't get to the position of competing for, let alone winning, the big-eared trophy without being a fine football side.
However, not all winners are made equal; that's why we've set out to rate and rank the cream of European club football since 1992. Factored in is the quality of the team, performances throughout the tournament (not just in the final), the entertainment they offered - and how memorable their achievement was.
It still didn't make the process much easier. Although selecting the side in last place was a simple choice...
30. Marseille (1993)
Marseille were a magnificent team, with Didier Deschamps leading by example in midfield, Abedi Pele adding improvisation, while German veteran Rudi Voller starred alongside the young Croatian Alen Boksic in attack. Their 1-0 win over heavy favourites Milan (opens in new tab) in the first ever Champions League final was richly deserved, Basile Boli scoring with a glorious header – but they were not rightful winners.
This team was born in sin. The infamous Valenciennes affair eventually stripped Marseille of their French league title of 1992/93, as owner Bernard Tapie had gone to great lengths to try to fix a match so his side could wrap up the league early, avoid injury and have plenty of rest before the Champions League final. Marseille should have been stripped of this title too, and they don't really belong on this list at all.
29. Chelsea (2012)
Chelsea (opens in new tab) were one of the most surprising winners, and neutral fans usually love such scenarios, but the Blues weren't overly popular. Their style was too defensive, and some might say that they were lucky under Roberto Di Matteo. The Italian managed to outfox a dominant Barcelona (opens in new tab) in the semi-finals, then proceeded to frustrate Bayern Munich (opens in new tab) in the final at their own Allianz Arena.
A patched-up Chelsea were out-gunned 35-9 on shots attempted, but managed to draw 1-1 thanks to Didier Drogba's late equaliser. Arjen Robben could have won it in extra time with a penalty, but it was saved and the Blues won the eventual shootout.
Petr Cech deserves a statue for his heroics, but the irony is that Chelsea had far astronger teams which narrowly failed to win this trophy - only to win it at last in one of their weakest seasons.
28. Milan (2003)
With Andrea Pirlo, Clarence Seedorf, Rui Costa, Filippo Inzaghi and Andriy Shevchenko in their ranks, it is especially disappointing that this Milan side played such boring football at times. They are partly responsible for the only goalless draw in the history of Champions League finals so far, after a drab affair against a Pavel Nedved-less Juventus (opens in new tab) at Old Trafford.
Overall, Milan scored only four goals across five knockout matches, having bagged just five in six at the second group stage. Carlo Ancelotti was delighted to win the first title of his coaching career, but more impressive triumphs were to follow - for coach and club.
27. Porto (2004)
This remarkable success turned Jose Mourinho into the Special One, but Porto (opens in new tab) rode their luck on the way to lifting the trophy. The last-minute equaliser by Costinha at Old Trafford in the second leg of the last 16 was preceded by Paul Scholes wrongly having a goal disallowed.
In the semi-finals, Deportivo La Coruna were superior to the Portuguese side but couldn't find the net over the 180 minutes and lost 1-0.
Eventually, Mourinho’s side faced equally inexperienced Monaco in the final, and won 3-0 thanks to a brilliant exhibition of counter-attacking football. Deco and Maniche were masterful in midfield, but overall Porto were one of the less attractive and entertaining winners.
26. Milan (1994)
The final against Barcelona in Athens was undoubtedly one of the greatest in history. Johan Cruyff expected his Dream Team to win without problems and was rather cocky in the build-up, but Fabio Capello's outstanding tactical plan worked perfectly, as Daniele Massaro, Dejan Savicevic and Marcel Desailly struck to demolish the Catalans 4-0.
That performance was absolutely stunning, but few neutrals supported Milan that evening, because they had been so negative beforehand. This was the team that scored just six goals in six matches at the group stage, while netting just 36 times in 34 matches on the way to winning Serie A. This Milan were probably the best ever at catching their opponents offside, but for those who want to enjoy football they could be close to unwatchable at times.
25. Inter (2010)
There was a lot to admire about Inter (opens in new tab)'s tactical discipline and fighting spirit, but their main weapon was still the ability to kill off games. Employing Samuel Eto'o as an auxiliary extra right-back, Jose Mourinho liked to allow opponents to have the ball: Bayern Munich enjoyed 68% of possession at the Santiago Bernabeu, yet were still soundly beaten 2-0 thanks to a Diego Milito brace.
Perhaps it shouldn’t matter, especially given the derivation of their name, but Inter didn't have a single Italian in their starting line-up. Subverting the old clichés about carefree South American football, Mourinho's masterclass was achieved with a starting XI featuring four Argentinians and three Brazilians.
24. Real Madrid (2016)
Real Madrid (opens in new tab) are the most successful club in the Champions League with five trophies, yet this one was arguably the least impressive. Zinedine Zidane's team were highly effective, but hardly produced a true world-class performance on their way to lifting the cup, with the final against Atletico Madrid (opens in new tab) eventually decided on penalties.
Cristiano Ronaldo was sensational throughout the tournament with 16 goals, but even that tally was inferior to his record two years previously when the Portuguese superstar netted 17. Los Blancos prevailed thanks to their defensive qualities, having kept a clean sheet in five knockout fixtures, including the two games against Manchester City (opens in new tab) in the semi-finals.
23. Borussia Dortmund (1997)
This is how you settle a #UCL final 👌Happy Birthday, @BVB hero Lars Ricken! 💛🖤 pic.twitter.com/oivwJlBYafJuly 10, 2019
The historic triumph of Ottmar Hitzfeld's team is largely remembered for the amazing feat by the young Lars Ricken, who lobbed Angelo Peruzzi just 16 seconds after coming on as a substitute and secured the sensational 3-1 win in the final over heavy favourites and holders Juventus.
There were more significant heroes, though. Paulo Sousa won the trophy for the second time in a row against his former club, Karl-Heinz Riedle scored a quick brace in the first half, and the captain Matthias Sammer proved that he was one of the very best sweepers in history. Sadly, that was one of Sammer's last matches before he was forced to retire due to a knee injury.
22. Real Madrid (1998)
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Real Madrid waited 32 years for this moment, and finally managed to end their drought by beating the two previous winners. Deprioritising La Liga, Jupp Heynckes decided to focus solely on the Champions League, and his team deservedly beat Borussia Dortmund (opens in new tab) in the semis before surprising Juventus in the final at Amsterdam Arena.
Predrag Mijatovic scored the only goal in what was a rather disappointing affair, and the curse had finally been dealt with. Despite the low-key final, this was a magnificent team, with Fernando Hierro at the back, Clarence Seedorf and Christian Karembeu in midfield and the young Raul calling the shots in attack.
However, regaining the crown as champions of Europe was still not enough for Heynckes to keep his job: the German was fired because Madrid only finished fourth in La Liga.
21. Liverpool (2005)
In Rafa Benitez's first season as manager, Liverpool (opens in new tab) were far from the best team in England - so much so that they finished fifth - but the character they showed in Europe was second to none.
The miracle of Istanbul will be remembered forever, as the Reds came back from 3-0 down at half-time to score three themselves in just six minutes against Milan. Jerzy Dudek then produced one of the greatest saves in history from Andriy Shevchenko's effort, and the Pole proved to be the hero in the penalty shootout as well.
Liverpool were a rather tactical side those days, able to outfox Juventus in the quarter-finals, before remaining unbreached throughout 180 minutes against Jose Mourinho's Premier-pummeling Chelsea in the semis, beating the Blues with a controversial Luis Garcia goal. They were not always exciting, but the final heroics simply can't be ignored.
20. Chelsea (2021)
Chelsea's second Champions League final showdown against a Manchester club went far better than the first. The Blues dispatched of both Madrid sides and Porto conceding just twice, before finishing off City in Portugal.
Thomas Tuchel arrived in at the start of the year and implemented a rock-solid defensive shape, giving the freedom to Chelsea's star-name attackers to go out and deliver. It worked a treat - and while this side was a work in progress who came good, it was head and shoulders better than Chelsea's other Champions League-winning side.
19. Manchester United (2008)
😶 Ronaldo's miss💥 Hargreaves top bins😢 Terry's slip🙌 Van der Sar's saveIt's ten years to the day since that Champions League final between Chelsea and Manchester United... pic.twitter.com/DiVkILglqeMay 21, 2018
Alex Ferguson enjoyed the journey to his second Champions League win, but the Red Devils were less exciting in 2008 than their 1999 vintage. Despite having Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez in a flexible attacking line, they weren’t always potent as you might think and scored just eight goals in seven knockout games.
This triumph was mostly down to a brilliant defensive line, led by Edwin van der Sar, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand. Manchester United (opens in new tab) kept five clean sheets in the knockouts and managed to neutralise Barcelona in a dull semi-final. They also had a stroke of luck against Chelsea in the final on that wet night in Moscow.
The Blues had an equal share of the 1-1 draw, but John Terry famously slipped when taking the crucial kick in the penalty shootout and United took home the trophy.
18. Juventus (1996)
During the mid-90s Marcello Lippi's Juventus overtook Fabio Capello's Milan as Italy's most dominant team, and the ultimate proof was their Champions League triumph. The Old Lady's most difficult hurdle was in the quarter-finals when they lost 1-0 to Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu, but they managed to win 2-0 in the return leg thanks to the brilliant performance of Alessandro Del Piero.
The Golden Boy of Italian football flourished that season, and he was very influential in the final against Ajax (opens in new tab) at Stadio Olimpico, even though it was decided on penalties. This was a typically well-oiled Serie A machine with Didier Deschamps ably helped in midfield by Paulo Sousa and Antonio Conte – all of whom would later become top coaches.
17. Real Madrid (2000)
After shotgunning through seven managers in four years, Real Madrid found stability under a man they had already twice turned to temporarily. Vicente Del Bosque moulded several sexy signings into a team with a fluid style which won over the hearts of many neutral fans.
The most famous moment of that season was the outrageous trick Fernando Redondo performed in order to get past Manchester United's Henning Berg before assisting Raul in the superb 3-2 win at Old Trafford in the quarter-finals.
Raul was unstoppable with 10 goals in the competition that term. Having taken care of the holders, los Blancos then threw out the 1999 finalists Bayern Munich, before thrashing Valencia 3-0 in the final at Stade de France. Steve McManaman scored and had a great game that night, and that was the Englishman's best season in Spain.
16. Liverpool (2019)
Were it not for some last-gasp heroics from Alisson Becker in the final minute of Liverpool's final group game, the kings of 2019 would not have made it through to the knockout rounds. But goalkeepers are part of the team too, and this Liverpool side grew stronger from that moment onwards.
Their pre-Christmas performances were patchy, though, and the Reds lost four games in total in 2018/19 - a high tally for an eventual winner. A 3-1 aggregate victory over Bayern Munich was ultimately impressive in the last 16, even if Liverpool stuttered in the home leg, before Jurgen Klopp's side dispatched of Porto with ease in the quarters.
Their most memorable triumph came not in the final, a rather drab 2-0 defeat of Tottenham, but in the semis. A 3-0 loss to Barcelona in the first leg left Liverpool on the brink of elimination, only for them to turn things around with a stunning 4-0 victory at Anfield. Liverpool were far from invincible in Europe this season, but their spirit and character was second to none.
15. Milan (2007)
Some feared that Carlo Ancelotti's Milan could run out of steam after Andriy Shevchenko was sold to Chelsea in 2006, but they actually became more efficient, and saved their best performances for the Champions League knockout stages.
The 2-0 win over Bayern Munich at Allianz Arena was a masterpiece. The 3-0 thrashing of Manchester United at San Siro in the semi-finals was superb, and it followed the dramatic 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford that is remembered as one of the best games in the competition.
Kaka scored three goals against the Red Devils, and the Brazilian maestro was in his prime, helped by Andrea Pirlo, Clarence Seedorf and Gennaro Gattuso in a vibrant midfield. Filippo Inzaghi, one of the greatest strikers in the tournament's history, scored a typical brace against Liverpool in the final.
14. Barcelona (2006)
If 2006/07 belonged to Kaka, 2005/06 was Ronaldinho's time. Frank Rijkaard built his side around the Brazilian's genius, and the Ballon d'Or winner led Barcelona to their first European success since 1992. Ronaldinho scored seven goals in the Champions League that term, while Lionel Messi made his debut in the competition and was infamously fouled by Chelsea's Asier Del Horno in the second round.
The Basque's subsequent dismissal was crucial in that tie, as were the marching orders given to Jens Lehmann early in the final at Stade de France. Arsenal (opens in new tab) managed to take the lead with 10 men, only for substitute Henrik Larsson to provide two late assists and give Barça a deserved Champions League triumph. But their best was yet to come.
13. Bayern Munich (2001)
Bayern were traumatised by the extraordinarily dramatic defeat by Manchester United in the 1999 final, when they came so close to being crowned winners. Ottmar Hitzfeld, who aspired to lead two German clubs to the Champions League triumph, made his team even stronger, and they prevailed in 2001 with some remarkable achievements in the knockout stages.
Bayern managed to beat both previous holders home and away, overcoming the Red Devils in the quarter-finals and then Real Madrid in the semis.
Giovane Elber scored three crucial goals in those matches for a team that also starred Oliver Kahn in goal and was captained by Stefan Effenberg. They might have required a penalty shootout against Valencia in the final, but this was a superb side.
12. Real Madrid (2012)
From the outset, it seemed as if this creaking old steamer would barely make it out of the harbour. Sergio Ramos, the man whose sheer force of will dragged Real through previous campaigns, had departed for PSG, and the Ronaldo years were a distant memory by this stage.
Instead, Los Blancos would be forced to rely on the goalscoring of 33-year-old Karim Benzema and the midfield creativity of Luka Modric, who turned 35 before a ball was kicked. Turns out they were more than up to the task. Benzema was a blur of relentless pressing and instinctive goalscoring from start to finish, while the Croatian genius ground teams down with his metronomic passing and sublime vision. The burley striker managed 15 goals in 12 European outings, including hat-tricks against PSG in the last 16 and then Chelsea in the quarters.
Together, the old guard defeated the Parisians, the Blues, Manchester City and then Liverpool en route to glory – possibly the most difficult run to victory in the Tournament's history. Sensational.
11. Barcelona (2011)
This was Lionel Messi's most productive Champions League season for a title-winning team. The Argentinian genius scored 12 goals in the competition – and none more important than the brace against Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu in the semi-finals, including one goal of particularly outrageous quality.
Barcelona were in sparkling form more often than not this season, with Xavi and Andres Iniesta calling the shots in midfield, and David Villa enjoying a positive first season up front. Villa found the net, alongside Pedro and Messi, in the final against Manchester United, when Barcelona dominated Alex Ferguson's team in a 3-1 win at Wembley.
10. Real Madrid (2002)
On this day, 2002:Zinedine Zidane scored *that* volley...One of the greatest ever goals in a Champions League final 🙌 pic.twitter.com/XXowuodSBOMay 15, 2018
That was the season when the Galacticos dream of Real Madrid president Florentino Perez was supposed to become reality. With Zinedine Zidane joining Raul, Roberto Carlos and Luis Figo, this was an incredibly talented team that scored 27 goals in 12 matches over the two group stages.
They also proved to have a lot of character when Bayern Munich scored a pair of late goals in the quarter-final first leg, as los Blancos were resilient enough to win 2-0 in the away leg and go through.
They proceeded to beat Barcelona 2-0 at the Camp Nou in the semis, then Zidane scored one of the most iconic goals in the Champions League history in the final against Bayer Leverkusen. Sadly for the Spaniards, Perez didn't understand how crucial Claude Makelele was to the team, and the project fell apart a year later when the Frenchman was sold to Chelsea and not replaced.
9. Real Madrid (2014)
As time went by, the elusive decima became an obsession in Madrid. They waited 12 years before lifting their 10th European Cup/Champions League trophy and achieving that that goal was a major feat under Carlo Ancelotti.
Cristiano Ronaldo had the best scoring record in the competition's history with 17 goals, but it was a real team effort which included some outstanding results. The most incredible of all was the 4-0 demolition of holders Bayern Munich at Allianz Arena in the second leg of the semi-finals, with Sergio Ramos scoring a quick brace to settle the tie.
Before that, the other 2013 finalists – Borussia Dortmund – were demolished 3-0 at Santiago Bernabeu in the quarter-finals. Ronaldo was relatively quiet in the final against Atletico Madrid, who came so close to winning, but Sergio Ramos scored the injury-time equaliser before three extra-time goals sealed the decima in style.
8. Ajax (1995)
Happy birthday @PatrickKluivert 🎂 At just 18 years old, Kluivert came off the bench to score the winner in the 1995 Champions League Final 👏He went on to play for AC Milan, Barcelona and Newcastle 😎#beINUCL pic.twitter.com/w06dYmCyeyJuly 1, 2020
They might not have been one of the very best teams ever, but this Ajax vintage were certainly one of the most popular winners.
The young team assembled by Louis van Gaal was a joy to watch. With the veteran Frank Rijkaard guiding them from defensive midfield, the likes of Clarence Seedorf, Edgar Davids, Jari Litmanen, Finidi George and Marc Overmars flourished.
Milan were considered the strongest team in the world at the time, but Ajax managed to beat them three times – twice in the group stage and then on the most important stage in Vienna, when 18-year-old Patrick Kluivert entered as a substitute to become the youngest-ever scorer in the final. This was a win of historic proportions, with Van Gaal and many of his troops proceeding to have great careers.
7. Bayern Munich (2013)
Jupp Heynckes wasn't the luckiest coach throughout his career, and the unfair dismissal from Real Madrid in 1998 is a good example of that – but it all came together for him in 2012/13, as the veteran specialist won the treble before retiring.
His Bayern were a terrific side this year, as they found the perfect balance between attack and defence. They almost toyed with their opponents, beating Juventus 2-0 home and away in the quarter-finals, then thrashing Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate in the semis.
Even Arjen Robben broke his habit of wasting chances when it mattered most to score a dramatic winner two minutes from full-time in the final against Borussia Dortmund at Wembley. A team to remember and cherish.
6. Real Madrid (2017)
Real were imperious throughout the 2016/17 Champions League, disposing of Napoli, Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid in the knockout stages. Their opponents in the final were a strong Juventus side bent on adding a Champions League to their domestic dominance – but Real brushed them aside, strolling out 4-1 winners in Cardiff.
This was an imposing team, marshalled by Sergio Ramos at the back, while Toni Kroos and Luka Modric controlled midfield and Cristiano Ronaldo scored 12 goals in attack.
The fact that Marco Asensio, Gareth Bale and Alvaro Morata came off the bench in the final tells you all you need to know about the depth of quality of a side which delivered Real’s first Liga and European Cup double since 1958.
5. Real Madrid (2018)
Having many of the world's top players and getting the best out of them is a philosophy in itself. Many looked down their nose at this star-studded Real Madrid side for not having a defined style of play or reinventing the game à la Guardiola's Barcelona or Sacchi's Milan, but it was impossible to deny their quality after a third consecutive Champions League triumph.
The Madrid of 2018 were very similar to their crop of 2017. They might have been less successful in La Liga, but their path to European glory was as hard as it possibly could have been, against PSG (opens in new tab), Juventus and Bayern Munich. They scored two of the best goals in the competition history with a pair of obscene overhead kicks.
Cristiano Ronaldo's wondergoal against future club Juve, and Gareth Bale's winner against Liverpool in the Kiev showpiece, will be remembered for decades to come. It was only logical that Zinedine Zidane decided to step aside after lifting the trophy – los Blancos had reached the pinnacle.
4. Barcelona (2015)
This was the season when the world witnessed the MSN trio for the first time, and it was quite a show. Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez established a phenomenal mutual understanding and swept aside all-comers on their way to winning the treble.
One of the best teams in history, Barcelona easily knocked out the champions of England (Manchester City), the champions of France (PSG) and the champions of Germany (Bayern Munich) before beating the champions of Italy (Juventus) in the final.
The MSN trio scored 27 goals between them but the pick of them belonged to Messi, who had fun with Bayern's Jerome Boateng in the 3-0 win at the Camp Nou.
3. Bayern Munich (2020)
When Bayern put 🎱 past Barcelona in Lisbon 🤯 What will the result be today? 🤔 #UCL pic.twitter.com/BX39PaMo6mDecember 8, 2021
It may well be that in years to come, the Bayern Munich side of lockdown become underrated. They didn't have Robben or Ribery – let alone crowds – and it's easy to look at the injury crisis that Die Roten had in defence and surmise that typical of the Germans, Hansi Flick simply… found a way.
But that would do a huge disservice to simply how formidable this outfit was. Manny Neuer was as good as he ever had been, David Alaba and Jerome Boateng struck up an unlikely but steely duo at the back, while Alphonso Davies put in what might just be the most electric example of what a full-back could possibly be capable of. Coman, Gnabry, an on-loan Coutinho and Muller all snatched the spotlight from one another, Thiago, Goretzka and Kimmich were all supreme – and that's without touching on Robert Lewandowski, who found god levels as the pandemic hit.
The record speaks for itself: and not just the 8-2 spanking of Barcelona or the 7-2 mauling of Tottenham (yes, that was really that season). Bayern won every single match, most of them at a canter, as they turned a continent into their extended Bundesliga and marched to six trophies.
A perfect storm of Bavarians bullying their opponents for fun: some would want to put an asterisk by this win – and maybe we should. But only to signify quite how unreal this Bayern side were.
2. Manchester United (1999)
Alex Ferguson and his players won their treble in the most incredible fashion imaginable. Manchester United were the team of ultimate winners this season, responsible for a dramatic comeback both in the semi-finals and in the final.
Everyone remembers the wild scenes at Camp Nou, but even to reach the big stage United had to overcome a strong Juventus from a terrible position: having drawn 1-1 at Old Trafford they trailed 2-0 in the second leg in Turin. There was seemingly no hope, but Roy Keane, Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole scored to make it 3-2, and the team felt anything was possible – even with key players Keane and Paul Scholes suspended for the final against Bayern Munich.
The Germans probably deserved to win, but two David Beckham corners in injury time resulted in goals for Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Those heroics and the thrilling football the team played in getting there made this team one of the best in history.
1. Barcelona (2009)
To put it simply, the first season of Pep Guardiola at Barcelona was his best. This was the purest team the famous coach has ever built, before becoming obsessed with tactical changes. The 2008/09 model of Barça were outstanding to watch – they played fluent team football without specific superstars standing out, before everything had to be adjusted for Lionel Messi.
Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets were close to perfection at times, and that team also included Yaya Toure in his prime, while Samuel Eto'o starred alongside Thierry Henry in his last season at Camp Nou.
They might have been lucky with refereeing decisions in the semi-finals against Chelsea, but their 4-0 demolition of Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals was amazing, while the 2-0 win over Manchester United in the final at Stadio Olimpico was overwhelming. This treble-winning side are the best Champions League winners by a distance.
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