History mostly remembers winners. Teams which have won the European Cup or Champions’ League have been immortalized by fans and critics. Some top quality sides which have come very close to winning the title but have missed out on last moment are often forgotten. Let us take a look at five such great sides which were never crowned European champions.
Borussia Monchengladbach (1971-1980)
The rivalry between Bayern Munich and Borussia Monchengladbach in 1970s shaped German football. A big chunk of their teams graduated from respective clubs’ Academy. Players from Bayern and Borussia combined to turn West Germany national team into a juggernaut in the mid-70s. Sadly, Borussia could never match Bayern’s exploits in the continent despite matching them domestically.
When Hennes Weisweiler took over as coach in Borussia, the club from North Rhine-Westphalia was a strictly modest club. With his legendary talent for scouting and grooming youngsters, Weisweiler turned them into one of the eminent teams in Germany in next six years. Under Weisweiler, Borussia went on to win three German Cups and captured a UEFA Cup title in 1975. In 1975/76 season Udo Lattek, who had coached rivals Bayern till then, took up the mantle from Weisweiler. Under Lattek, Borussia’s winning cycle continued unabated as they captured two back to back domestic titles.
Berti Vogts was one of the key players for Borussia in that era. A Borussia man through and through, Vogts was one of the most rugged defenders of his era and famously marked Johann Cryuff out of the game in the 1974 World Cup final. He was ably assisted by “Iron Lung” Herbert Wimmer in central midfield. Gunter Netzer, perhaps the most elegant German player of all times, performed creative duties. Midfielder Rainer Benhoff was one of the best set-piece specialists in 1970s. The biggest folly of Jupp Heynckes career was the fact that he played in the same era with Gerd Muller. Muller’s super human goal scoring abilities often over shadowed Heynckes’ wonderful talent. Heynckes, another talent from Borussia’s Academy, scored 220 goals in 369 matches. Dynamic Danish striker Allan Simonsen was a major reason Borussia’s deeds in Europe in that era. The first ever Danish to win Ballon d’Or in 1977, Simonsen scored 76 goals in 7 seasons with the Fowls.
In their very first European Cup they had dismantled Internazionale 7-1 in home leg but the match was cancelled under dubious circumstances. They finally reached European Cup final in 1976-77 after a hard fought semi-final against Dynamo Kiev. In the final, they came up against a ruthless side coached by Bill Shankly – Liverpool. ‘Gladbach got the first taste of the treatment numerous other teams would get in next few seasons as the Reds dominated the match from start to end. With his team down 1-0, Simonsen grabbed an equaliser but couldn’t prevent his team from going down 3-1. ‘Gladbach won one more UEFA Cup title in 1980 but couldn’t replicate their success in later decades.
Leeds United (1969-1974)
Very few teams have suffered the ignominy in media as Don Revie’s Leeds United. Films and books have often focused on the rough side of Leeds’ play in that era, successfully managing to turn them into “Dirty Leeds”. Fact is, along with Valeriy Lobanovsky, Revie was one of the first managers to take a scientific approach to coaching. Leeds won numerous titles in that era but missed out on many more.
Revie once commented that he wanted Leeds to play like Real Madrid. He kept detailed records of each opposition player and designed his stratagem according to that. His micro-management helped Leeds to gain a strong footing in European football in 1970s when most of the other English clubs struggled in Europe. Jack Charlton and Billy Bremner were two ever-present figures in the team. Leeds’s European campaigns were marked by numerous unfortunate incidents. The club from Yorkshire failed to cope with a congested schedule as they slumped to a two legged semi-final loss to Celtic in 1969/70 European Cup. By 1972, Leeds United was slowly fulfilling Revie’s vision as they thumped Manchester United 5-1 and Southampton 7-0 in the league.
Leeds played the 1972/73 Cup Winners Cup final against AC Milan. Despite missing Bremner, Allan Clarke, Johny Giles and Eddie Gray Leeds dominated the exchanges in one of the most controversial finals. They were undone by dubious decisions by Greek referee Christos Michas as Milan won 1-0. That defeat coupled with a surprise loss to Sunderland in FA Cup final led to beliefs that Leeds era was coming to an end. Leeds and Revie proved doubters wrong by staging a spectacular domestic campaign in 1973/74 and winning their second league title. Revie left to take over English national team next season but Leeds United managed to reach European Cup final in 1975. The club hired Brian Clough as a successor to Revie – move that yielded an infamously poor domestic campaign. In European Cup semi-final Leeds defeated Johann Cryuff’s Barcelona side with a 3-2 aggregate score and faced Bayern Munich in final.
The final was once again marred by controversy. While Leeds were denied atleast three penalties, their “dirty” side came to the forefront as Uli Hoeness and Sepp Weiss were subjected to career threatening tackles. In the end, the Germans won their third consecutive title as Leeds fans broke into a rampage after the game.
Hector Cuper was a strange figure at the Mestalla in early 2000s. The Argentine was a staunch believer of the Hellenio Herrara School of football and drilled his Valencia team to play defensive football based on counters. The fans didn’t like it at all – they were purists who demanded attacking football irrespective of results. Claudio Ranieri’s name was chanted despite Cuper’s Valencia setting new standards for the club. Irrespective of his popular image, Cuper managed to turn a strictly modest club into European behemoth in 1999/2001 period.
Los Che gave early warning to other teams in 1999/2000 season. In first group stage they remained unbeaten in a group containing Bayern Munich and PSV. However, it was in the knock out stages that they were clinical to the point of being unbeatable. Cuper’s side showcased two of the most perfect home leg performances in history of UCL. In the quarter final, they dispatched Italian champions Lazio 5-2 as Gerard Lopez grabbed a delightful hattrick. In the semi-final, Luis van Gaal’s Barcelona couldn’t control Mendieta and Kily Gonzalez as Valencia demolished them 4-1. Valencia who had won just one Copa del Rey in over a decade was now on verge of a European title. Sadly, nerves got to them in the final. Cuper’s famed defence imploded against Morientes and Raul as Real Madrid ran out 3-0 victors.
In the following season Cuper made radical changes in the team as well as in the strategy. Valencia was more offensive in 2000/2001 season as the midfield triumvirate of Mendieta-Gonzalez-Baraja became a dominant force. Argentine whiz kid Pablo Aimar came to spotlight playing behind target man John Carew. After knocking out Arsenal and Leeds United, Valencia became the first Spanish team to reach back to back Champions’ League finals. In the finals, they took on Bayern Munich as two tactical masterminds – Cuper and Ottmar Hitzfeld squared off. The match was a tense and tight affair as two penalties for each side ensured a 1-1 scoreline after extra-time. In penalty shootout Oliver Kahn became a hero as Valencia suffered another heart break. Cuper left Valencia to join Internazionale after that and led them to UCL semi-final, while Valencia won two Liga titles and a UEFA Cup with Rafa Benitez. However, none of them managed to replicate the same level of success in Champions’ League.
In Serie A’s golden age of 90s, fans witnessed some of the greatest teams of all times as well as some of the most eccentric ones. The Sampdoria side, which won the club’s first and only Scudetto in 1990/91 season, was easily one of the most wild and exciting teams in Italy in that period. Serbian Vujadin Boskov had molded his bunch of merry men into a solid team which was ruthless on counter attacks. In goal, Gianluca Pagliuca performed brilliantly game after game. His performances earned him a starting spot in Arrigo Sacchi’s Italy team of 1994 world cup. The defence was marshalled by veteran yet unshakeable centre-back Pietro Vierchowod, along with Moreno Mannini. Sublimely skilled Brazilian Toninho Cerezo added flair to the midfield, while fleet-footed winger Attilo Lombardo came to prominence with the pace of a shooting star.
However, Sampdoria’s biggest strength was the good cop-bad cop combination of Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini upfront. Vialli was a beast who could physically dominate any defender he came up against. The diminutive and sly Mancini worked as a perfect foil to Vialli with his tight dribbles and vision to unleash wonderful passes to his partner.
Boskov’s team romped to back to back Coppa Italia titles in 1988 and 1989 and a memorable Serie A triumph in 1990/91 season, which saw them lose just three games all season. They performed brilliantly in Europe, winning Cup Winners Cup in 1990 (Vialli scored two goals in three minutes of extra time in the final) while losing to Barcelona in the 1989 final. Their crowning glory came in the 1991/92 season when as Serie A champions they made their way to the European Cup final after piping defending champions Red Star Belgrade in group stages.
At Wembley, Sampdoria dominated the proceedings from start to finish against Cryuff’s “Dream Team”. Mancini and Lombardo were unstoppable as they set up numerous goal scoring chances for Viallli. Sadly, the striker who had scored 19 goals in 26 Serie A games in the previous season had an off day and wasted every opportunity. In extra-time, Ronald Koeman unleashed one of the most iconic free-kicks of all time to break Italian hearts as Sampdoria lost a final they never deserved to lose. They would never rise to the same heights again, after losing their best players in the following seasons.
The Guardian has an excellent article on this Sampdoria team.
Chelsea, never Champions’ League contenders in their history, suddenly found themselves competing with the big boys after the Abramovich takeover. As the Russian oil baron pumped in millions into Chelsea’s coffers, they began attracting top players and turned into a formidable force in Champions’ League.
After the takeover, Chelsea faced off against Didier Deschamps’ swashbuckling AS Monaco side in their first ever UCL semi-final. Claudio Ranieri once again faltered in the big stages as Monaco ran out clear winners with a 3-1 home win. Roman Abramovich acted fast and roped in a young hotshot named Jose Mourinho who had just won Champions’ League with FC Porto. Under the “Special One” Chelsea was unstoppable in the domestic league as they captured their first title in half a century. Chelsea once again reached semi-final but was undone by Luis Garcia’s infamous “ghost goal”. In the 2005/06 season, Chelsea was once again undone by controversial refereeing as Mourinho bitterly complained against Barcelona coach Frank Rjikaard’s influence on the official.
The worst nightmare for Chelsea fans was probably the UCL final of 2007/08 season. Despite losing Jose Mourinho, Chelsea had finally managed to reach a UCL final under Avram Grant. A drab final ended at 1-1 as penalty shoot-out ensued. John Terry, their inspirational captain, stepped up to take a kick which would have handed the Blues their maiden UCL title. Millions of Chelsea fans watched in horror as Terry slipped and skied his kick. Despite coming agonizingly close Chelsea once again faltered when it mattered the most.
Guus Hiddink’s Chelsea side came close to knocking out eventual treble winners Barcelona in 2008/09 season but was left ruing several calamitous decisions by referee Henning Ovrebo. When Roman Abramovich took over the London club, one of his biggest targets was the win the Champions’ League – a dream which still remains unfulfilled.
Read this article to know more about Chelsea’s UCL woes.
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