Who Has the Most Wins in Champions League History?


In Europe and indeed around the world, no other soccer competition can claim to be as prestigious and as hotly contested as the UEFA Champions League. Formerly known as the European Cup, the tournament pits the top clubs from the top flights in Europe against each other and unequivocally establishes who of them is the best of the best. Over the years, many clubs have lifted the coveted trophy. However, only one club has conquered the competition on so many occasions that they have become synonymous with it and garnered such notoriety that almost designates them as the prohibitive favorites to win it every season.

Who has the most wins in Champions League history? Real Madrid has the most wins in Champions League history with an awe-inspiring 14 titles. The Spanish giants have won the honor in almost every decade of its existence since its inception in the mid-1950s and are responsible for a good number of its defining moments and heated rivalries.

First Out of the Gate

Before the Champions League, many attempts had been made at organizing multinational club competitions. A look back at history reveals that similar tournaments had existed at one time or another. Examples include the Football World Championship (1876), the Challenge Cup (1895), the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy (1909), and the Coupe des Nations (1930).

One such competition, Campeonato Sudamericano de Campeones (South American Championship of Champions, which was founded in 1948, inspired former L’Équipe journalists Gabriel Hanot and Jacques Ferran to conceptualize and propose the idea for the European Cup tournament to the UEFA Congress in March 1955. The proposal was greenlit the very next month and the competition began the following year.

The inaugural competition was invite-only and featured top-flight winners from seven European countries. Madrid made history by beating French side Stade de Reims 4–3 to lift the maiden trophy in June 1956. Forward duo Héctor Rial and Alfredo Di Stéfano and defender Marquitos provided the scoring for the Spaniards.

Los Blancos repeated the feat over the next four years beating Fiorentina (2-0), Milan (3-2), Reims (2-0), and Eintracht Frankfurt 7–3 to end the decade with five consecutive titles. Madrid was able to assert their dominance thanks to their continued fielding of star players like Ferenc Puskás, who scored four goals in their latter fixture. Their opponents however got better with time as the number of participating teams grew from the initial 7 to 27.

A Glorious Return

After their dream start to the competition, Madrid suffered a dip in form on the international stage resulting in a half-decade-long hiatus from the European Cup finals. Portuguese and Italian sides Benfica and Inter Milan capitalized on the void created by Madrid’s absence to multiple back-to-back trophies over that duration.

Madrid nevertheless reclaimed their spot atop Europe in their 1965/66 season after beating Serbian side FK Partizan 2-1 before missing out on the title for a little over three decades. A lot happened over that duration: Dutch, German and English teams had their own extended eras of dominance, the competition was renamed the UEFA Champions League, and the tournament expanded the number of participating teams to include the runners-up of the top-flight leagues.

The latter provision is actually what allowed Madrid to claim its first title in 32 years. The club also went back to its tradition of recruiting “galacticos” and fortified its squad with the likes of Raúl González, Predrag Mijatović, and Roberto Carlos.

Another two titles followed in the next four years. The first in their 1999/00 season after beating Valencia 3-0 and their second and ninth overall trophy by routing Bayer Leverkusen 2-1. Among the notable players that joined these squads include Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, Fernando Morientes, Samuel Eto’o, Nicolas Anelka, and goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

Kings of Europe

In what is arguably considered their most successful era in the Champions League, Real Madrid won four Champions League trophies in the five years between 2014 and 2018. The only blemish in their otherwise spotless record is a 2015 collapse that handed bitter La Liga rivals their fifth and final title to date.

Led by their formidable attacking trio of five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, and Karim Benzema, Madrid overcame city rivals Atlético Madrid for their 2013/14 and 2015/16 titles. The four-time UEFA Super Cup winners won 4-1 in their first meeting but had to go to penalties for their second, where they still prevailed 5-3 after.

Madrid then made history by becoming the first club to win consecutive titles in the Champions League in their 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons by thrashing Juventus and Liverpool 4-1 and 3-1 respectively. Cristiano Ronaldo was Madrid’s ace in the hole during this era.

The four-time European Golden Shoe winner put up performance after spectacular performance in the competitions en route to becoming the top goal scorer in the competition’s history. A considerable chunk of his record 141 goals was scored during his tenure at the Santiago Bernabéu.

Aside from their three-headed “hydra” on the offensive end, Madrid’s squad also boasted of the likes of marksman Álvaro Morata, midfield maestros Luka Modrić, Toni Kroos, and James Rodríguez, and defensive trio Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, and Pepe.

Magical Run

After Ronaldo left for Juventus in 2018, Madrid entered a bit of a soft reboot having lost their best goal scorer. Los Vikingos naturally struggled both in domestic and international competition, exiting at the Round of 16 stages at the hands of Ajax and Manchester City respectively in their next two seasons.

The club had a better Champions League outing in 2021 but still exited the competition at the semi-final stage after losing to Chelsea 3-1. Madrid nevertheless with a renewed focus, cruising through the group stages before beating Ligue 1 juggernauts Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) 3-2 on aggregate in their Round of 16 clashes.

Madrid then upped the ante by beating the then defending champions Chelsea 5-4 on aggregate at the quarter-finals stage before exacting sweet revenge on Manchester City for ousting them from the competition in 2020 by an aggregate of 6-5 in the semi-finals.

A big test in the form of 2019 champions Liverpool stood between them and the ultimate prize in the finals. The match was neck and neck until winger Vinícius Jr. broke the deadlock in the second half, earning them their 14th crown.

The win brought long-time Madrid trio Karim Benzema, Luka Modrić and Dani Carvajal on par with former teammate Cristiano Ronaldo, who held the record for the most Champions League trophy wins by virtue of the title he won with former and current club Manchester United in 2008.

James

I started watching football in the early 90s and was hooked. I fell in love with Chelsea and have supported them ever since.

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