Top 15 Champions League Winning Teams, Ranked

Since the European Cup was rebranded to the ‘UEFA Champions League’ in 1992, several world-class teams have won the iconic tournament. But which one is the best? Sir Alex Ferguson’s Treble-Winning team of 1999? Gerrard’s unlikely Scousers in 2005? Or Pep Guardiola’s Revolutionary Tiki-Taka Barcelona?

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Posted: April 6, 2024

Since the European Cup was rebranded to the ‘UEFA Champions League’ in 1992, several world-class teams have won the iconic tournament. But which one is the best? Sir Alex Ferguson’s Treble-Winning team of 1999? Gerrard’s unlikely Scousers in 2005? Or Pep Guardiola’s Revolutionary Tiki-Taka Barcelona?

About a week before the current UCL edition’s quarterfinals get underway, we at Estrakt have decided to rank the greatest Champions League-winning teams of all time.

Defining ‘the best’ is a difficult task, but not an impossible one. Playing styles, results, difficult opponents, and several other factors will all help in determining the list of the greatest Champions League Winning Teams of all time.

15. Manchester United 2007/08

Manchester United win the Champions League final on penalties
UCL Top ScorerCristiano Ronaldo (8 goals)
Final OpponentChelsea
Final Score1-1 (6-5) (after penalties)
Final Man of The MatchEdwin van der Sar
ManagerSir Alex Ferguson

This star-packed team won Sir Alex Ferguson his 2nd and final Champions League trophy in an illustrious managerial career with Manchester United. Manchester United breezed past most of their competition, to face Chelsea in an all-English Champions League final. However, the side was less exciting compared to their 1999 team. Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Carlos Tevez formed a lethal attacking trio but only combined for 8 goals in 7 knockout games.

Manchester United kept five clean sheets in the knockout, with their wins being credited to a great defensive line of Edwin van der Sar, Rio Ferdinand, and Nemanja Vidić. The Chelsea Blues forced a 1-1 draw, but John Terry famously slipped when taking the crucial kick in the penalty shootout and United took home the trophy. The team did do immensely better in its forthcoming seasons but was thwarted multiple times by a Pep Guardiola-led Barcelona team.

14. Liverpool 2004/05

Gerrard picks up the Champions League trophy after the Miracle of Istanbul
UCL Top ScorerLuis Garcia (5 goals)
Final OpponentAC Milan
Final Score3-3 (3-2) (after penalties)
Final Man of The MatchSteven Gerrard
ManagerRafael Benítez

In the 2004/05 season, Liverpool wasn’t even the best team in England, so they were far from the best team in Europe. So much so that they ended up 5th in the Premier League that season. However, the character the team showed in Europe, along with the immense support from their fans, was second to none.

The Miracle of Istanbul stands tall as one of the greatest feats in Champions League history, as Liverpool erased a 3-0 deficit against a star-studded AC Milan side in a matter of 6 minutes. The game went to penalties, where Liverpool pulled off the greatest UCL final comeback ever. It was here that Steven Gerrard cemented himself as Liverpool’s greatest legend and one of England’s greatest players ever. AC Milan would get their revenge on Liverpool 2 years later in 2007, albeit with a much weaker team.

13. FC Barcelona 2005/06

Puyol, Deco and Ronaldinho with the coveted UCL trophy
UCL Top ScorerRonaldinho (7 goals)
Final OpponentArsenal
Final Score2-1
Final Man of The MatchSamuel Eto’o
ManagerRafael Benítez

Frank Riijkard built this insane FC Barcelona team around the Brazilian maestro and Ballon d’Or winner, Ronaldinho, in hopes of getting the club their first Champions League trophy since the Cruyff-led team in 1992. Ronaldinho scored seven goals during this campaign, spearheading Barcelona to a final against Arsenal while Lionel Messi made his debut in the competition. However, he was infamously fouled by Chelsea’s Asier Del Horno in the second round.

The final seemed to be pretty even, with Henry on one side looking to pick up the coveted trophy on one side, while Ronaldinho and Eto’o eyed up silverware from Barcelona’s side. However, the odds quickly shifted after Arsenal goalkeeper, Jens Lehmann saw red in the 18th minute after a challenge on Barcelona’s Samuel Eto’o. Despite this setback, Arsenal took the lead in the 37th minute and went into half-time with a goal advantage. However, 10-man Arsenal couldn’t hold back Barcelona as Eto’o and Belletti scored 2 late goals in the span of 5 minutes, to seal the game for Barcelona and bring the club their 2nd ever Champions League title.

12. Real Madrid 2001/02

Zidane's legendary volley against Leverkusen in the UCL final
UCL Top ScorerRaul (6 goals)
Final OpponentBayer Leverkusen
Final Score2-1
Final Man of The MatchZinedine Zidane
ManagerVicente del Bosque

Real Madrid’s Galacticos may not have lived up to expectations, with them having their worst domestic performance in 2001/02, finishing 3rd in the league with only 66 points. However, with their success in Europe, they showed that their world-record signing of Zinedine Zidane wasn’t for nothing. The star-studded team of Zidane, Raul, Roberto Carlos, and Luis Figo scored 27 goals in only 12 matches in the tournament.

The club even disposed of arch-rivals FC Barcelona in the semi-finals of the competition to make it to the final. The icing on the cake was Zidane’s brilliant left-footed volley to seal the club’s 9th Champions League title. It’s one of the best goals in tournament history and belongs to one of the very best Champions League teams of all time.

11. Real Madrid 2013/14

Ronaldo goes topless after Madrid seal their Champions League win over Atletico
UCL Top ScorerCristiano Ronaldo (17 goals)
Final OpponentAtletico Madrid
Final Score4-1 (a.e.t)
Final Man of The MatchÁngel Di María
ManagerCarlo Ancelotti

Real Madrid, the most successful club on the European stage, has won the Champions League a whopping 14 times. It had been 12 years since their last Champions League, and for a club like Real Madrid, that is a long wait.

The team had just come off a close La Liga title race, in which they came 3rd, with their opponent in the final being the same team that snatched La Liga away from them, Atletico Madrid. On their way to the final, Real Madrid had beaten both previous winners of the competition, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich with relative ease as they were led by an in-form Cristiano Ronaldo, who set the record for most goals in a UCL season at 17 goals during their campaign. While the scoreline shows a huge margin, Real Madrid trailed until injury time, during which Sergio Ramos scored a clutch header to take the game to extra time. From there, Real Madrid ran away with it for their 10th European title.

10. Manchester City 2022/23

Haaland picks up the UCL trophy after Man City complete the treble
UCL Top ScorerErling Haaland (12 goals)
Final OpponentInter Milan
Final Score1-0
Final Man of The MatchRodri
ManagerJosep Guardiola

The first English team to complete the historic treble since Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in 1999. Manchester City had just sealed their 5th Premier League title in 6 years, and in historic fashion, snatching it away from Arsenal, who had been top of the league for most of the season. Erling Haaland, City’s main man, who they had just signed from Borussia Dortmund, had a record-breaking first season with the club, smashing the Premier League single-season goal record and leading the goalscoring charts on the European stage as well.

City had been favourites for several years but always seemed to come short in the Champions League. However, this time, they had the edge in Erling Haaland. They swept through the knockout stages, even wiping the floor with the previous winners, Real Madrid, who had kicked City out of the Champions League the year prior. Going into the final, Manchester City were clear favourites, and they didn’t disappoint as they finally brought home their first ever Champions League trophy.

9. FC Bayern Munich 2012/13

Arjen Robben scores a clutch goal against Dortmund to win Bayern the Champions League trophy
UCL Top ScorerThomas Müller (8 goals)
Final OpponentBorussia Dortmund
Final Score2-1
Final Man of The MatchArjen Robben
ManagerJupp Heynckes

Bayern had an absolutely fantastic team this year, highlighted by a 7-0 obliteration of FC Barcelona in the semi-final of the UCL, along with a 4-0 thrashing of Juventus prior to it. The final was an all-German head-to-head. Bayern beat Dortmund to the league title with relative ease, racking up a record total of 91 points. Dortmund were looking for revenge and the teams were evenly matched for much of the evening. By this time, Arjen Robben had gained a reputation for missing chances in pivotal moments, having missed a penalty in the previous Champions League final and missing golden chances in the 2010 World Cup final against Spain. However, this time, even he put this to the side to score an 89th-minute goal to win Bayern their 5th Champions League title.

The team completed a continental treble the week after, beating Stuttgart in the DFB-Pokal final. They won the Super Cup and Club World Cup in the same year, which lured Lewandowski to the German side, with an illustrious club career in the works. Franck Ribery had a brilliant season that made him a serious contender for the Ballon d’Or. However, he fell short of Cristiano Ronaldo, who had a brilliant goal-scoring season. Jupp Heynckes gave Bayern a season to remember, before finally retiring from a jam-packed managerial career.

8. Ajax 1994/95

Van Gaal's legendary Ajax team with the Champions League trophy.
UCL Top ScorerJari Litmanen (6 goals)
Final OpponentAC Milan
Final Score1-0
Final Man of The MatchPatrick Kluivert
ManagerLouis Van Gaal

Ajax may not have been the strongest of teams, but their 1994/95 season was one to remember. There wasn’t much experience on the team; most players were young and had barely begun their football careers, but everyone on that team was so well-synced that they ran through everyone on the European stage. Not only that, but they faced a loaded AC Milan team in the final, who also happened to be the defending champions of Europe. However, Ajax had gained someone who AC Milan had last season, Rijkaard, which seemed to make all the difference.

A large portion of the team was homegrown from Ajax’s own academy, and Patrick Kluivert, who had an absolutely brilliant Eredivisie campaign, scored the lone goal in the final to earn the right to lift the UCL trophy and wrote down that Ajax’s team in the history books, immortalised forever.

7. Bayern Munich 2019/20

Lewandowski with his signature celebration during a legendary season with the sextuple-winning Bayern Munich
UCL Top ScorerRobert Lewandowski (15 goals)
Final OpponentParis Saint-Germain
Final Score1-0
Final Man of The MatchKingsley Coman
ManagerHansi Flick

Statistically, this may be the greatest Champions League season ever. Bayern had run through their competition in the Bundesliga and had a flawless campaign of 11 wins from 11 games in the Champions League. This Bayern team battered Spurs 7-2 and sent Chelsea home after a 7-1 aggregate score. However, none of those are their best wins in this campaign as they beat a Messi-led Barcelona in embarrassing fashion, winning 8-2 and sending the Catalan Giants home in possibly the most convincing German win since they defeated Brazil 7-1 in the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Only the 2nd team to win the sextuple, Bayern took Europe by storm. Lewandowski had a huge season, which would have won him the Ballon d’Or if it hadn’t been canceled that year due to COVID-19. He broke several Gerd Müller records that had stood tall in the Bundesliga for decades, and entertained with one of the greatest individual seasons ever. The final definitely wasn’t the most eventful, as a single goal from a former PSG player, Kingsley Coman, broke French hearts, giving Bayern their 6th Champions League title.

6. Manchester United 1998/99

Sir Alex Ferguson leads Manchester United to a treble.
UCL Top ScorerDwight Yorke (8 goals)
Final OpponentBayern Munich
Final Score2-1
Final Man of The MatchMario Basler
ManagerSir Alex Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson held the reigns of Manchester United for 27 years, during which he led them to 13 Premier League titles and 2 Champions Leagues. The first of those two, which came as part of a historic treble, took place in the 1998/99 season. The team was filled with superstar names, from David Beckham to Paul Scholes to Ryan Giggs and even former United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær.

The team received a big scare in the semi-finals against an at least scary Juventus team, as they scored 2 goals in the first 11 minutes of the away league. However, the Red Devils scraped through as they advanced to the final, winning 4-3 on aggregate after a great on-field battle. Even in the final, United looked doomed as Bayern scored early and had a plethora of chances to increase their lead. However, the SAF lead United scored two insanely clutch goals in the 91st and 93rd minutes of the game, coming from Sheringham and Solskjær. While there were huge obstacles in their way, Manchester United willed their way through to a historic treble, the first in English history.

5. FC Barcelona 2014/15

MSN lead Barcelona to their 5th Champions League Trophy
UCL Top ScorerLionel Messi, Neymar Jr. (10 goals)
Final OpponentJuventus
Final Score3-1
Final Man of The MatchAndrés Iniesta
ManagerLuis Enrique

Every single FC Barcelona UCL-winning campaign has been a historic one, from Johan Cruyff’s European Cup-winning side that revolutionized football to the MSN-led team in 2015, which is why you’ll see Barcelona quite a few times on this list. MSN may as well be the best trio the world of football has ever seen. They combined for 27 goals in the Champions League alone, beating several worthy teams from Manchester City to PSG and even dismantling Bayern Munich in the semi-finals as Messi and Neymar completely took over. FC Barcelona had already sealed the Copa Del Rey and La Liga. Winning the UCL would seal their 3rd treble in 6 years.

The final was completely one-sided, with Rakitic scoring the opening goal four minutes into the game. Suarez and Neymar sealed the deal by scoring the next two goals as Barcelona ran away with the Champions League win despite several Gigi Buffon heroics. This allowed, the club legend and captain, Xavi, to be given a farewell for the ages. This was the year that Messi floored Boateng and Suarez nutmegged David Luiz. Definitive Champions of Europe.

4. AC Milan 1993/94

AC Milan beat FC Barcelona 4-0 to win the Champions League
UCL Top ScorerDaniele Massaro (4 goals)
Final OpponentFC Barcelona
Final Score4-0
Final Man of The MatchDejan Savićević
ManagerFabio Capello

This was the AC Milan team that battered Johan Cruyff’s famous FC Barcelona 4-0 in the final. The same Barcelona that introduced the 4-3-3 attack gave birth to the early form of Tiki Taka and revolutionized football as we know it. Over the time period itself, the team may have been slightly overshadowed by Barcelona. Still, in 1994, the Fabio Capello-led Milan delivered one of the greatest Champions League final performances ever witnessed. Paolo Maldini, Van Basten, and Ruud Gullit dismantled the Barcelona team like no one had done before, a feat that can absolutely never be understated.

The dominance displayed by this AC Milan team in Europe from 1989 to 1994 had never been seen before at that time and has been matched by very few teams since. Such an immense feat of sustained success was unseen and cemented this AC Milan team as one of the best teams to ever grace a football pitch.

3. Real Madrid 2017/18

Gareth Bale scores a legendary bicycle kick against Liverpool in the Champions League final
UCL Top ScorerCristiano Ronaldo (15 goals)
Final OpponentLiverpool
Final Score3-1
Final Man of The MatchGareth Bale
ManagerZinedine Zidane

The first and only team to three-peat in the UEFA Champions League. Zidane’s final crop of Real Madrid players showed Europe how real champions play. The team beat both Bayern and Juventus in the knockout stages before beating runners-up Liverpool in the final by a comfortable 3-1 margin, which was partially due to Liverpool’s keeper, Karius.

Gareth Bale’s overhead kick sealed the deal for La Decima as they picked their 13th Champions League trophy. Ronaldo had executed a similar bicycle kick against Juventus that took the world by storm. Both of these goals were serious contenders for the Puskar Award, but unfortunately, they missed out on a Mohamed Salah goal. Zidane’s legendary Champions League team dominated the tournament for 3 straight years, putting its name down in the history books as one of the greatest teams of all time.

2. FC Barcelona 2010/11

Messi dismantles Real Madrid with a brilliant solo goal at the Bernabeu in the UCL semi-final
UCL Top ScorerLionel Messi (12 goals)
Final OpponentManchester United
Final Score3-1
Final Man of The MatchLionel Messi
ManagerJosep Guardiola

FC Barcelona feature heavily on this list, and naturally so, considering the sheer strength of each of their Champions League-winning squads, and their 2010/11 side just misses out on the top spot. This was the side that absolutely dominated Manchester United at Wembley as if they were a team of little school boys. Sir Alex Ferguson himself claimed that this side under Guardiola was the best he’d ever faced after Barcelona dismantled United with ease in the Champions League final.

This was also Barcelona’s talisman, Lionel Messi’s most productive Champions League season for a title-winning team, but he wasn’t alone. He was accompanied by one of the greatest midfields of all time, in the Spanish trio of Xavi, Iniesta, and Sergio Busquets. Messi scored 12 goals during this UCL campaign, including two important goals at the Bernabeu against Real Madrid in the semi-finals. This Barcelona team showed no mercy and dismantled every single team that came in its path. Villa, Messi, and Pedro, each scored a goal in the final. This team was only just shy of a sextuple, a feat they achieved in 2009, as they lost to Real Madrid in the Copa Del Rey final. Pep Guardiola earned his 2nd Champions League trophy with Barcelona in an era of football dominance that has, perhaps, never been matched.

1. FC Barcelona 2008/09

Lionel Messi and Andres Iniseta with the UEFA Champions League trophy after defeating Manchester United
UCL Top ScorerLionel Messi (9 goals)
Final OpponentManchester United
Final Score2-0
Final Man of The MatchXavi Hernández
ManagerJosep Guardiola

FC Barcelona’s 2011 team pales only in comparison to yet another FC Barcelona team that came 2 years earlier. This team was also led by Pep Guardiola’s managerial brilliance and a young Lionel Messi’s ability to consistently find the net as he came into the role of the best player in the world. Henry, Samuel Eto’o, and Lionel Messi formed an outrageously talented attack as Barcelona won everything on offer in Guardiola’s first season in charge. The 2008/09 Barcelona was outstanding to watch, playing fluent football, with each player having a distinct role to stick to. Barcelona demolished Bayern 4-0 in the quarter-finals, before overwhelming Sir Alex Ferguson’s Cristiano Ronaldo-led side in the final. This legendary season also led Messi to his first of several Ballon d’Or trophies.

This team changed how football was played forever, influencing countless teams, including the dominant Spanish team, which won the World Cup and 2 Euros. Barcelona tiki-taka is the pinnacle of football, as the team played with both intricacy and penetration, freedom and organization, that put every other manager’s well-trusted tactics to shame. The sextuple winning squad didn’t only win everything, but did it in style. Pep’s Barcelona cemented itself as not only the greatest Champions League team of all time but also the greatest team of all time, and it’s not close.

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