The Champions League is, without a doubt, the biggest club competition in world club football. In its various guises, first as the European Cup and now in its current format, the Champions League is the competition every self-respecting elite European club strives to win.
However, which teams have been the most successful in the history of the competition?
Real Madrid (14-time winners)
The Spanish giants are by far the most successful club in the competition’s history. In fact, in its early stages, Los Blancos dominated the European Cup, as the men from Madrid won the competition in its first five years of existence from 1955 until 1960, when it was the European Cup.
Los Merengues also enjoyed a dominant spell in the Champions League from 2014 until 2018, when they were crowned European champions in four of the five seasons.
Real Madrid has become synonymous with the competition, and the Spanish giants are likely to continue to thrive in the Champions League, as the players may change in their team. Still, their thirst for European glory never dies down.
Milan (7-time winners)
The Rossoneri have thrived in European football’s top competition, claiming the trophy an impressive seven times. Milan first tasted victory in the 1962 European Cup at Wembley, as they dispatched Eusebio’s Benfica 2-1 at Wembley, with iconic forward Jose Altafini grabbing a brace in the final.
Milan also won lifted the trophy in 1969 but then had to wait 20 years for their next success in the competition, as not only did they win the European Cup in 1989 but retained the trophy the following season.
The men from Milan were back to claim the trophy in 1994, 2003 and 2007. The club has been unable to find any consistency in recent decades, which has hindered its chances of adding to its already impressive collection of victories in the competition.
Bayern Munich (6-time winners)
The Bavarians are one of the elite clubs of the European game and have proven that by lifting the Champions League trophy six times in’s various guises.
The club’s most successful period in European football’s big competition was in the 1970s when Die Bayern lifted the trophy in three successive seasons from 1974 to 1976, with the legendary Gerd Muller and Franz Beckenbauer playing critical roles in the victories.
Bayern have since gone on to lift the trophy on three more occasions in 2001, 2013 and 2020. The German giants continue to be a force in the competition, regularly qualifying for the latter stage of the competition.
Liverpool (6-time winners)
Like Real Madrid, the men from Merseyside have become synonymous with the European Cup. However, Liverpool has some catching up on Real Madrid, as the Reds have won the trophy just six times.
Liverpool’s first success in European football’s elite competition came back in 1977 when they defeated Monchengladbach 3-1 at Stadio Olimpico to lift the trophy. They retained the trophy the following seasons while also winning the competition in 1981, 1984, 2005 and 2019.
The 1981 final actually pitted Liverpool against Real Madrid, which would become a familiar Champions League fixture over the years, with the Reds triumphing 1-0 in the Paris final courtesy of a goal from Alan Kennedy.
The Reds were also involved in one of the best comebacks the competition has ever seen in the 2005 final. Rafa Benitez’s team, led by inspirational captain Steven Gerrard, came back from three goals down at half-time against Milan to win the final via a penalty shootout.
Barcelona (5-time winners)
Like most of their contemporaries on our list, Barcelona are one of the elite clubs of European football. When it comes to the Champions League, the Catalan giants have won the competition on five occasions.
The Blaugrana first became European champions in 1992, as they recorded a 1-0 extra-time victory over Sampdoria at Wembley, with club hero Ronald Koeman scoring the game’s only goal.
Barcelona also lifted the trophy in 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2015. The Catalan giants continue to be a force to be reckoned with in the competition and have been an almost constant in the latter stages of the competition for decades.
Ajax (4-times winners)
The Dutch giants are another iconic name in the European game. In the 1970s, Ajax was a formidable force, as the great Johan Cruyff led his team to three straight European Cup wins from 1971-73, playing the team’s now iconic Total Football brand of football devised by legendary Dutch coach Rinus Michels.
Unfortunately for Ajax, their only other European triumph since the success-laden 1970s came in 1995 when Louis van Haal’s band of youngsters lifted the trophy in Vienna, with a Patrick Kluivert goal enough to see off Milan in the final of the competition.
Manchester United (3-time winners)
Considering their success throughout their history, it’s maybe slightly surprising that the Red Devils have won the Champions League on just three occasions. The first time United lifted the trophy was in 1968 at Wembley.
Sir Matt Busby’s team recorded a 4-1 extra-time victory over a Eusebio-inspired Benfica, with United legend George Best scoring an iconic goal.
United had to wait for another 31 years before lifting the trophy again. The Red Devils claimed a dramatic 2-1 win over Bayern Munich in the Camp Nou in the final. Stoppage-time goals from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham saw Sir Alex Ferguson’s team complete one of the greatest comebacks the competition has ever seen.
Arguably United’s 2008 victory was slightly less eventful, as United recorded a penalty kick win over compatriots Chelsea in the final after the game had finished 1-1 after normal and extra time.
Inter Milan (3-time winners)
The Nerazzurri are one of the giants of Italian football. The men from Milan first tasted European success in 1964, as the legendary Sandro Mazzola led his team to a 3-1 final victory over Real Madrid in Vienna.
Inter retained their crown the following season by recording a 1-0 win over Benfica at the San Siro. Their only other success in the competition came in 2010 when the Nerazzurri, under head coach Jose Mourinho, defeated German giants Bayern Munich 2-0 in the final at the Santiago Bernabeu, with Argentinian forward Gabriel Milito grabbing a final brace.