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European Champion Clubs’ Cup
Every May, the eyes of the world turn to a stadium in Europe to see which team is able to claim the European Champion Clubs’ Cup, the trophy awarded to the winner of the UEFA Champions League Final.
The tournament itself, a yearly competition between the previous season’s winners in Europe’s top leagues, actually began without a trophy at all. The original prize was donated to UEFA by the French newspaper L’Equipe and given to the first winners, Real Madrid, who came out on top of a 16-team field at the Parc des Princes in Paris on June 13, 1956.
In winning the first five competitions, the club became the first to keep the original on a permanent basis. UEFA bylaws now state the trophy is given to champions after three consecutive or five overall wins, which made them eligible in 1958, but the rule wasn’t put in place until before the 1968-69 season. Thus, the presentation actually didn’t happen until nearly a decade after Los Merengues were the class of Europe, when a new design was announced and the original “Coupe de Clubs Champion Européens,” as it is officially known, was sent to Madrid in March 1967.
Commissioned by UEFA, a jeweler in Bern, Switzerland named Jorg Stadelmann was paid 10,000 Swiss francs to create a replacement, one which would be used for each subsequent competition. The new silver iteration boasts larger handles and a wider barrel, which has led to a peculiar nickname in Spain: “La Orejona” – the big ears. Most schoolchildren would hate to hear the name thrown at them on the playground, but there are hundreds of grown men who compete every year for it with all the ferocity and skill they can muster. The Spanish, you could say, know it better than everyone else: Real Madrid and rivals Barcelona have combined for 13 titles, including four of the ten awarded during the first decade of the 2000s.
The current trophy is the sixth produced and, thanks to new regulations, will be the last ever made. After Liverpool claimed the prize for the fifth time and took the cup back to Anfield in 2005, UEFA took steps to come up with a different procedure to recognize clubs with multiple wins. This resulted in plans beginning in the 2009 season to focus attention on a special blue-colored badge with a number denoting the titles won on the left sleeve of uniforms for match day (which had been in place since 2000) while awarding champions a full-sized replica of the original trophy engraved with the club name to display in perpetuity.
Real Madrid (1956-60)
It is unlikely the feat of winning five consecutive titles will ever be replicated, which will put this first collection of champions in rarified air for all of history. Loaded with a huge collection of talent, including the Portuguese international Eusebio, the Argentine goalscorer Alfredo Di Stefano and Hungarian star Ferenc Puskas, it is little wonder the rest of the continent struggled to keep up.
Much of the backbone of the Dutch national team that would rise to prominence and capture the imaginations of soccer fans everywhere with Total Football at the 1974 World Cup came from this squad. Led by manager Rinus Michels, legends like Johann Cruijff, Barry Hulshoff, Johan Neeskens and Ruud Krol stormed to three straight triumphs.
Bayern Munich (1974-76)
Following the domination of Ajax, few could have guessed another three-time winner would follow, but that’s exactly what happened. Four of the Germans on the field for the first trophy were World Cup winners with West Germany just a few months later (a match featuring eight European Cup winners between the two sides). With the imposing Franz “Der Kaiser” Beckenbauer at the back and free-scoring Gerd “Der Bomber” Muller up front, they were nearly irresistible.
AC Milan (1989-95)
In the modern era of soccer, in which players move from place to place with fewer regulations after the Bosman ruling in 1995, it is unlikely a team will remain constant from season to season like this one did. Filled with Italian greats like Franco Baresi, Roberto Donadoni and Paolo Maldini, not to mention French star Jean-Pierre Papi and Danish international Brian Laudrup, the squad made five of seven finals in the period, winning three.
Regardless of where allegiances lie, few teams inspire awe in the way this group of blaugrana do. With established stars from the Spanish national team like Carles Puyol, Xavi and Andres Iniesta – as well as the diminutive World Player of the Year, Argentine Leo Messi – this team brought stadiums to light with breathtaking displays of attacking excellence. Winners of two of the four trophies awarded during the era, some have entered them into the discussion as greatest squad of all time.
Real Madrid (9; 1956-60, 1966, 1998, 2000, 2002)
AC Milan (7; 1963, 1969, 1989, 1990, 1994, 2003, 2007)
Liverpool (5; 1977, 1978, 1981, 1984, 2005)
Barcelona (4; 1992, 2006, 2009, 2011)
Bayern Munich (4; 1974-76, 2001)
Ajax (4; 1971-73, 1995)
Video: European Champion Clubs’ Cup